USO of Pioneer Valley Shows Solidarity with Troops in Afghanistan

From left, Brian Willette, Dick Burgess, Jim Bouchard, Steve Jimmo and Kevin Willette walk during the USO of Pioneer Valley's USO Pat Tillman Center 5K Shadow Run on April 21 on Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. Photo courtesy of Brian Willette

From left, Brian Willette, Dick Burgess, Jim Bouchard, Steve Jimmo and Kevin Willette walk during the USO of Pioneer Valley’s USO Pat Tillman Center 5K Shadow Run on April 21 at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. Photos courtesy of Brian Willette

Brian Willette was curious what was going on at Bagram Air Base.

It’s not something you’ll hear from many Americans these days, with the perception that the wars in the Middle East have all but wrapped up. But Willette isn’t exactly from a normal American family. A veteran of the Afghan War, the USO of Pioneer Valley board member was wounded by an improvised explosive device Sept. 13, 2010, in Afghanistan. He spent a week at Bagram recovering from TBI and “a lot more time,” as he describes it, at the USO Pat Tillman Center.

Nearly seven months after the retired Army staff sergeant was hurt, his son, then-Army Spec. Kevin Willette, was wounded in the same country. His daughter, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christine Luppachino, volunteered for the USO during her 2009 deployment to Iraq.

So when the patriarch of a family with strong ties to a region eight time zones away heard there was a 5K race at Bagram on April 21, he snapped into action.

“My concept was to ‘stand with Bagram by running with Bagram’” Brian Willette wrote in a recent email about the shadow 5K that USO of Pioneer Valley put on April 21 at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinvile runs during the 5K.

USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinville runs during the shadow 5K on April 21.

He credited USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinville and fellow board member and Air Force veteran Dan Ernst for their support in jumpstarting the event, which demonstrated “our support for deployed troops, USO overseas centers, Pat Tillman as well as all of our fallen comrades.”

The 5K attracted local veterans groups including Fairview American Legion Post 438, VFW Hampden District 7 and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Western Massachusetts Chapter 875. Active-duty and reserve personnel assigned to Westover also ran in the event.

–Story by USO Story Development

Cupcake Wars!

Soldiers at the Pat Tillman Memorial Center in Bagram, Afghanistan, enjoy field-expedient Soda Cupcakes during the USO birthday celebration in February, 2012.

Cupcakes have become the Hollywood starlet of sugary snacks.

From “D.C. Cupcake,” to “Cupcake Wars,” to the scores of mom-and-pop shops springing up on every hipster city block, there’s no question cupcakes have put the “in” in “binge.”

If it’s hip and it’s Hollywood, you know the USO has to get our fingers in it.

On Sunday, July 1, Food Network’s reality program “Cupcake Wars” will be “Saluting the USO” at 8 p.m. EST as competitors battle for sweet supremacy with a shot at having their confections featured during last October’s USO Gala in Washington, D.C.

And in the spirit of competition, we at USO Arlington found a way to have a little cupcake war of our own.

While supporting the men and women of the U.S. Military, there’s often little time and few supplies with which to make a batch of cupcakes at our USO Centers. So what do we do? We adapt, overcome and improvise, of course! We find ways to bake field expedient cupcakes!

Cathe Ganley—Duty Manager at USO Bagram—developed a method for making cupcakes in the microwave with only cake mix and a soda. Now that’s creative!

Other USO Centers stateside have developed a microwavable method of their own using classic ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, and sugar.

Yesterday we pit the two recipes against each other in a Field-Expedient Cupcake Battle Royale.

Who was the winner? I’m not telling.

Instead, I’m going to give you the directions and ingredients to make both cakes in your own microwave and let you be the judge. Invite some friends over to watch “Cupcake Wars” Sunday night and whip these quick snacks together to feed your guests. Then tell us what you think!

After they beg you for the recipe, you can let them know they are eating battle-tested 5-minute recipes enjoyed every day by the men and women protecting their freedom.

Soda Cupcake


1 Box of “Yellow” Cake Mix
1 Can of Sprite**
10 ten-ounce paper cups (or Dixie Cups)

**Substitute root beer for Sprite when making chocolate cupcakes.

Directions: In a large bowl, mix entire box of cake mix with the full can of Sprite. Fill 10 oz cups 1/3 of the way full with batter, then microwave three at a time for three minutes. Adjust cooking time and batter consistency as necessary to compensate for altitude.

Cake in a Mug


1 Coffee Mug
4 Tbs Flour
4 Tbs Sugar
2 Tbs Cocoa
1 Egg
3 Tbs Milk
3 Tbs Oil
3 Tbs Chocolate Chips
Splash of Vanilla Extract

Directions: Mix dry ingredients well in coffee mug then stir in the remaining ingredients. Mix well then microwave on high for three minutes. Don’t be alarmed. The cake will rise at least two inches over the top of the mug while cooking. As soon as it is done, however, it will retract back inside the mug. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Keeping Fit, Far from Home

Troops from across the branches recieve instruction before the Strong Man Competition begins. (Photo courtesy mitstephens' Flickr; all rights reserved)

Bagram, Afghanistan: Never a dull moment for the Pat Tillman USO.  Between Hail and Farewells, Cross Fit Challenges, Strong Man Competitions and United Through Reading we are always on the go.  This was not a week for the weak.

With two fitness events happening on the same day you might would think you were at muscle beach!  Service Members on BAF competed in either a Strong Man Contest or the Cross Fit Challenge. With representatives from all the Branches of Service competing it was a sight to behold.

The gym at Pat Tillman USO. (Photo courtesy of mitstephens' Flickr; all rights reserved)

For those who don’t know what Cross Fit is, it’s a strength and conditioning fitness methodology that promotes broad and general overall physical fitness. CrossFit combines weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics.  CrossFit is used in nearly 1,700 gyms worldwide and by many fire departments, law enforcement agencies and military organizations.  It was an exciting challenge, for sure.

The Strong Man Contest consisted of a bench press and dead lift, with both men and women competing for prizes from the USO.  The Service Members on Camp Alpha set out to show who was the true strong man/woman.  Congrats to all of the winners!

The runners were off to a fast start as soon as they heard the starter pistol. (USO photo courtesy of USO Baghdad Facebook page)

Baghdad, Iraq: On a beautiful Saturday morning, USO Baghdad teamed up with Sather Air Base MWR in sponsoring the end-of-summer “Fahrenheit 10K.”  This morning’s run was the second tune-up run for the upcoming US Air Force Marathon which will take place in Dayton, Ohio on 18 September, 2010.

The runners stretched in between jokes with MWR and USO staff as the remaining competitors signed in for the race.  Other USO staff and volunteers were on hand to cheer on the runners.  Despite the less-than-ideal running conditions, the fastest men and women finished the 10K in remarkable time and with enough energy to smile!

Thanks to all who participated ~ it was a great morning!  And good luck at the upcoming Sather Air Base Marathon on 12 September, 2010….we’ll see you there!

The top three male and top three female runners each received a certificate to commemorate their achievement. (USO photo courtesy of USO Baghdad Facebook page)

Pat Tillman Memorial USO Unplugged

Bagram, Afghanistan – The Pat Tillman USO has had an array of talented guest walk through the front doors. Everyone from NFL players and coaches to musical stars to members of the government. We are always happy to host these groups of celebrities and elected officials but some of the people right here on Bagram are the true stars.

Music plays an integral part of life at the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center, as this impromptu gathering of musicians and singers performing in June 2010 illustrates. (USO photo)

On any given night there are as many as 100 plus service members here. They are talented at the jobs and positions they hold and do it with out any hesitation but that is not the only talent they possess. Many nights service members come in a watch a movie, use the wireless internet, call home, or just sit and get away from the outside world. On one such night two service members got together, an airmen and soldier, grabbed a guitar and started belting out tunes for the guest here. That started a fire in the duty managers to get more of these type performances for everyone to enjoy. We are putting together an “Unplugged” night where members of the military can come and play.

On one such occasion we were privileged to listen and record Joseph from 455 ESFS and Brandon from 4ID. These two guys got together as one strummed on the guitar and the other sang quips of songs until they finally put it together and put on an impromptu performance.  Here is a clip from the unplugged show.

The first of many to come!!!

Care Packages – What It’s Like on the Receiving End

Regular blog readers often hear about our USO Care Package stuffing parties.  Just within the last few months we’ve had the kid’s one, the one just for families, the Female Care Package, and the one that engaged celebrities.  And those don’t even include the almost-weekly “regular” care package stuffing parties that happen without any fanfare and with the support of hundreds of volunteers.

The story we don’t often tell – simply because we often don’t know – is what happens with the care packages after we bag and box them up, and send them off to airports and centers around the world.  How do Troops react when they receive their care packages?  We’ve worked hard to create a program that fulfills the requests of things we’ve been told that Troops want to see in the care package.  But are we right?  Are they getting what they want and need?

Imagine our excitement when we received this story from USO Pat Tillman Programs Manager Charlotte Del Vecchio:

“These Marines were stranded at the Airfield with all of their bags stuck on a pallet elsewhere. They were headed down range and the Squad Leader came into the center and wanted to know if we had any toiletries to hold them over. We did better than that, and distributed the care packages to them, within 30 minutes of the request.  The Marines were so grateful – and they loved the calling cards and gummy lifesavers too!”

Awesome!  Thanks, Marines, for your service.  We’re glad to make the trip a little better for you. Have YOU received a USO Care Package?  What did you like about?  What can we improve?  Let us know!

NFL All-Stars Wrap Up Their Tour of the Persian Gulf

It was a great USO Tour for San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams, and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.  Check out their last set of pics!

San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis signs autographs for troops, also on-hand were members of the ANA (Afghanistan National Army)(R), March 7, 2010. Davis recently took part in his first USO tour and was joined by fellow NFL players Joe Thomas-Cleveland Browns, Mario Williams-Houston Texans and Jason Witten-Dallas Cowboys. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

NFL All-Stars (L-R) Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten, Cleveland Browns Joe Thomas, Houston Texans Mario Williams and San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis pose with troops, March 6, 2010. The four players recently took part in their first USO tour. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

NFL All-Star player Mario Williams - Houston Texans signs autographs at this patriotically decorated Forward Operating Base (FOB), March 7, 2010. Williams recently participated in his first USO tour, on a mission to boost troop morale the All-Star player trekked throughout the Persian Gulf and signed autographs, posed for photos and spent time with our nation's finest. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

(L-R) Houston Texans Mario Williams, Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten, San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis and Cleveland Browns Joe Thomas pose in front of the USO Pat Tillman Center, March 5, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

San Francisco 49ers Vernon Davis shares an intimate moment with this group of Marines, March 6, 2010. Davis recently participated in his first USO tour and was joined by fellow NFL All-Stars Cleveland Browns Joe Thomas, Houston Texans Mario Williams and Dallas Cowboys Jason Witten. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Troops pour into the USO Pat Tillman Center for a chance to meet with NFL Pro Bowlers Vernon Davis-San Francisco 49ers, Joe Thomas-Cleveland Browns, Mario Williams-Houston Texans and Jason Witten-Dallas Cowboys, March 5, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)