Wawa Hoagie Day Kicks Off $700,000 Fundraising Campaign for the USO

PHILADELPHIA—Wawa chose America’s birthplace on Independence Day weekend to launch its most ambitious campaign yet to support the USO.

Celebrity chef and USO tour veteran Robert Irvine joined Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens and hundreds of service members, police officers, fire fighters and first responders as well as dozens of USO volunteers and Wawa associates to construct a 5-ton hoagie on Thursday. The meal – which equated to 23,000 individual sandwiches – was served for free at Independence Mall during the 23rd Annual Wawa Hoagie Day.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling to me in my life than cooking for our warriors and their families and making sure that they know that we love them,” said Irvine, who recently returned from a USO tour to Japan. “The USO is a huge part of that.”

The event, which featured a USO Letters from Home station and hoagie-building competitions between service branches and police and fire departments, marked the start of Wawa’s annual USO fundraising campaign. The campaign runs through August 30 and aims to raise $700,000. Wawa customers can to donate $1, $3 or $5 when making purchases, which will go directly to support USO programs for troops and their families.

“For July fourth there’s no other place you should be than Philadelphia,” said Joe Brooks, President and CEO of Liberty USO. “It’s a wonderful community. A community that knows and understands the service and sacrifice of our military and it’s a community that steps up in many ways, both in donations of their time and money to the USO.”

Snow Problem? No Problem: Some USO Centers Stay Open Late for Troops Despite Weather

You may have heard it snowed yesterday on the East Coast. While news of cancelled flights and videos of dogs-playing-in-snow likely snuck into your Facebook feed, we noticed a different, heartwarming trend. Our Facebook feed turned up several photos and notes about tireless USO volunteers and staffers at centers that were able to stay open taking care of stranded troops. Here’s a sampling:

From Liberty USO, which serves Philadelphia International Airport:

The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore was able to help stranded troops at Dulles International Airport thanks to three dedicated volunteers. (The center at Reagan National Airport stayed open overnight, too, hosting seven stranded troops):

And in Fort Drum, N.Y. – where the temperature was 8 below zero at noon today – the USO continued business as usual by welcoming home returning troops earlier this week:

Like what you see? You can help America’s troops, too, by donating to support USO centers and programs.

National Constitution Center Opens “Art of the American Soldier”

"Marines Call It That 2,000 Yard Stare" by Tom Lea, oil on canvas, 1944, Peleliu Island

It’s one of the greatest assemblages of art in America, yet most of us have never seen it.  It’s the U.S. Army’s art collection, and it resides mostly in storage, comprised of thousands of pieces of art.  The Army’s art program officially began in World War I, when eight artists were commissioned as captains in the Corps of Engineers, then sent to Europe to record the activities of the American Expeditionary Forces there.

Opportunities to view the art, however, occur at museums around the country; The National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir won’t be completed until 2015.  Luckily, Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center is running “Art of the American Soldier” now through Jan. 11.  The exhibit contains 250 works from the collection and is curated thematically.

“It’s an amazing collection, and not a lot of people know it’s here,” Sarah Forgey, its curator, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. The current exhibition is “a good opportunity to see a wide variety of what we have. This many pieces haven’t been seen in one place in quite some time.”  The museum was inspired to mount this exhibit in part by a story that aired last year on CBS Sunday Morning.
Even if you can’t make it to the City of Brotherly Love, you can enjoy many of the pieces via an online, interactive gallery.  Military artists can even submit their own work for inclusion online!  We hope that some of you get to experience this amazing Army art opportunity and that you’ll let us know what you think.  Be sure to check out the preview video below, too…

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USO is There for Troops Stranded by Volcanic Ash

The recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland has no doubt thrown a wrench in the plans of thousands of travelers.  None more so than Troops stationed around the world who are deploying or returning home.  It’s times like these that the USO faces the challenge of serving huge numbers of stranded Troops and we’re proud to say we’re rising to the occasion.

UPDATE: From WUSA 9, “Volcanic ash has delayed many troops heading overseas out of BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport…Some troops are getting hotel rooms, some are staying with friends, and others are taking advantage of the USO lounge.” Watch the video below!

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First Lieutenant, Richard Cobb, U.S Army, from Florida has been stuck at the Philadelphia airport because of affect of volcano explosion affecting air travel. He was photograph at the USO, at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, April 20, 2010. (Photo by ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS)

At the USO Liberty Center – located in Terminal A at Philadelphia International Airport – Army Lt. Richard Cobb found himself with plenty of time on his hands as he waiting to continue on to another flight during leave.  As reported by Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News, Cobb and others saw one connecting flight to Europe after another canceled, with no immediate information on when they’d be re-booked.  The stranded Troops who found their way to the USO, however, were weathering the delays just fine:

“I could talk about these [USO volunteers] for days,” said Cobb, 26, who’s assigned to the 95th Military Police Battalion, stationed in Mannheim, Germany. “Their hospitality has been unbelievable. The beds and showers are great. They’re constantly asking me if I want something to eat, if I need a wake-up call, if there’s anything they can do…these guys really deserve the publicity. They do a phenomenal job.”

This support comes at a cost, though, as USO Centers are straining their resources to serve thousands whose flights are delayed.  As numerous sources – including WAVY in Norfolk, VA – are reporting, USO Centers like the one at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta are serving up to 1000 soldiers in a 24-hour period, well over the daily average.

Donations of items like bottled water and packaged snacks are especially appreciated in times like this.  Click here to find your local USO and learn how you can help!

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Block Leave Enters Baltimore

Donna Miles of Air Forces Press Service has been reporting on holiday homecomings for the past two days: “’This is a nice, quite place, where they let you take a load off your feet,’ said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Nao Lewis.”

The USO Lounge at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport offers military travelers a respite from crowded airport terminals, particularly during the holiday season. DoD photo by Donna Miles

He’s speaking, of course, about a USO Center, in this case the one at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.  And other Centers around the country continue to see huge upticks in the number they serve.

As Troops stream through airports on Block Leave, USO Centers continue to adapt to their needs.  The USO at Philadelphia International Airport slept 100 on Saturday night, as snow blanketed the East Coast.  Things had calmed down by Wednesday afternoon, though the staff continued to meed unique requests.

“Do you have a refrigerator?” one Troops questioned as he entered the Center.  After the staff confirmed that they did, and that he could use it, he unloaded a knapsack with nearly 60 pounds of deer meat it in, bound for Christmas dinner at points south.  Just another day at the USO!

The BWI USO was running with a staff of three…augmented by 230 volunteers!

Miles reports, “Airman Ronald Carr, who just finished Air Force basic training, grew up in a military family that taught him to appreciate the USO. ‘It’s good to know that this is basically an all-volunteer operation, with a volunteer staff and donations that keep it running,’ he said. ‘It makes me feel good about my service, knowing that people care about what I do.’

Army Pfc. Taylor Walther, a California National Guardsman returning home for a holiday break from training at Fort Eustis, Va., said he’s already had the chance to check out several USO facilities, and never walks away disappointed. ‘They’re all good. When you go there, they’re all friendly, they all tell you to help yourself and make yourself at home,’ he said.”

Read the complete story here!