Sesame Street / USO Experience for Military Families Cast Members Share Their Favorite Tour Memories

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and  Rosita sing and dance for service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families which kicked off April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and Rosita entertain service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families on April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Since 2008, the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has made unforgettable memories for military children and their families all around the world. The longest-running annual USO tour has delivered moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 144 military bases in 11 countries.

In the spirit of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign — and in preparation for entertaining the tour’s 500,000th audience member — members of the 2014 cast and crew shares some their favorite Sesame Street/USO Experience memories.

Here’s just a small sample of the amazing stories they had to tell:

“My favorite moment actually happened in Spain. … A little girl came up, she gave me a picture to give to Elmo. I brought it backstage, gave it to Elmo, and the picture said, ‘Thank you Elmo for coming all the way across the sea to Spain, just to see me.’ And I think it really brought home exactly how important it is for these kids to see this show.” — Stephanie Harmon, performance director

“I have many favorite moments, but one that happens every single day [is] when hundreds of kids and parents walk out with huge smiles on their faces, holding onto their Elmo spinning lights, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, and they constantly say thank you to me. Its a stream of ‘thank you’s. And since I think the show is our way of saying thank you to those same military families, it’s great to just get that cycle of thank you.” — Nicole McClendon, tour manager

Want to learn more about the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families or see if a show is coming near you? Find out more here.

Fighters in the Ring, Heroes on the Ground

In March 2011, a group of boxers set out to Kuwait and Iraq on their first USO tour.  Among them were Olympian and boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya and up-and-coming Golden Boy boxers Adrien Broner, Danny Jacobs and Seth Mitchell.  This band of boxers toured 8 bases and visited with thousands of troops as part of their first USO tour experience at installations like Camp Arifjan, Command Operating Base Basra, Camp Victory, Camp Liberty, Joint Security Station (JSS) Loyalty and JSS Justice.

Oscar De La Hoya speaks to U.S. troops serving in Kuwait while on his first USO tour to the Middle East March 10, 2011. De La Hoya was joined by up-and-coming boxers Adrien Broner, Seth Mitchell, and Danny Jacobs (background left to right). (USO Photo/Steve Manuel)

Along for the journey were HBO producer Scott Boggins and cinematographer Thom Stukas, who had worked together previously on the Emmy Award-winning “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classics,” and me.  Yes, that’s right me! And like everyone else, this was my first USO tour.  My role was to serve as liaison between the HBO film crew and the military officials on the ground, and while that may not sound too exciting, it actually turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.

As part of our week in theater, we met service men and women from all over the United States.  The fighters signed autographs and hosted boxing clinics, which gave our troops the chance to pound fists with some of boxing’s greatest athletes.  And as we traveled from base to base we heard over and over how grateful troops were for the touch of home the visit brought.

But at the end of the week-long adventure it was the tour participants who walked away feeling humbled and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with troops serving on the frontlines.  When boxing legend De La Hoya returned to the states, he talked about his experience on a USO tour,

“Hearing their stories and seeing what they go through on a daily basis has changed my life.  The opportunity to see how our troops live and understand their ability to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice showed me what it means to be truly brave.”

I watched as the boxers signed autographs for countless troops, shared meals with them and just listened as they told their stories of life in the military and the families that awaited their return.  It was clear that what our troops missed most was a connection to home and by sharing their stories with us, knowing that in a few more days we’d be headed stateside, it was like they were sending their stories back with us.  It was enough to humble even the biggest of giants.

Olympic gold medalist and former 10-time world champion, Oscar De La Hoya (right), spars with Army CWO-2 Lisa Buckley of the 36th Infantry Division serving in Basra, Iraq, Friday, March 11, 2011. The boxing legend is in the region as part of his first USO tour to the Middle East. De La Hoya is joined by up-and-coming boxers Adrien Broner, Danny Jacobs, and Seth Mitchell. (USO Photo by Steve Manuel)

But it wasn’t just De La Hoya who was left with a profound sense of awe for the service men and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis.  Heavyweight Seth Mitchell said:

“When I spoke to some of the soldiers, they told me that they work twelve to sixteen hours a day, six or seven days a week.  Hearing about their dedication and the sacrifices they make actually boosted my morale.  It’s a great honor to know that these men and women are serving to protect us.”

These boxers aren’t just showing their appreciation with words.  In fact, Broner – who is the World Boxing Organization’s current superfeather weight champion – has taken it one step further.   He recently trained, as part of the 2012 USA Boxing National Championships, alongside troops at Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, Colo., stepping in the ring with some of the fiercest competitors around.

Broner, who will be featured on this Saturday’s broadcast of HBO’s “Boxing After Dark,” will defend his title against fellow boxer Eloy Perez.  HBO will feature footage from last year’s USO tour to the Middle East as part of the broadcast. Tune in to HBO this Saturday, February 25th at 10 PM (EST) to learn more about Broner’s USO tour experience or watch the video on HBO.com. It’s a match I won’t want to miss! - Sharee Posey, USO Communications Specialist

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A New Home

Once I started working for the USO my friends in the service began sending me text messages whenever they stopped by   a USO Center.  Usually they are just passing through an airport and only have  time to grab a cup of coffee, but the texts usually read something like “volunteers were so friendly!” or “everyone was so helpful, tell them thank you!”.  Having visited many centers through my work with the USO, this never comes as a surprise.  Our volunteers and staff are known for providing outstanding service to our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families.  Yet, on a recent trip alongside a military family, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand how our centers go above and beyond to make America’s heroes feel at home wherever they are.

The Harris family gets a look around after being greeted by Ty Pennington as the Extreme Makeover Home Edition provides a house for the Shilo Harris family outside of Floresville, Texas on January 21, 2012. Photo: Express-News, TOM REEL / © 2012

The Texas family of four was traveling to Germany as part of a special Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that will air later this year.  The mother works as an Army advocate for wounded service members and the father is an Iraq war veteran with burns covering 60% of his body.  As a result of his injuries, the father tires easily and has problems regulating body temperature which makes traveling across multiple time zones and varying climates challenging, especially with a two year old son and nine year old daughter in tow.

As part of the television production we were treated to many amazing sights, smells and tastes that Germany has to offer.  Yet, where I saw the family the happiest and most comfortable, was the final day spent at the USO Warrior Center located adjacent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC).  With a fire “burning” in the fireplace (it’s a faux fireplace), a movie playing, spaghetti cooking on the stove, garlic bread in the oven and homemade carrot cake being cut on the counter, it felt like home.  The staff and volunteers immediately embraced the family, enlisting the daughter’s help to serve spaghetti and swapping Army wife stories with mom.

The family knew several people at the center as the father had been treated at LRMC following the IED explosion that wounded him in Iraq.  Yet, being in the room, you would have thought you had walked in on a family reunion.   That is what the USO does.  Whether you are in a USO Center in Europe, the Pacific, Afghanistan or the states, the USO creates an atmosphere of home, inclusion and support for our nation’s heroes and their families.  Thank you, USO team – especially USO Georgia and USO San Antonio, for making this family’s journey truly a special one. - Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager

Stephen Colbert Salutes the Troops

Gen. Ray Odierno, Commanding General, Multinational-Force-Iraq, pretends to give actor/comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" a haircut during Colbert's performance for U.S. military personnel at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Sunday, June 7, 2009. (USO Photo by Steve Manuel)

We can hardly believe it’s been over a year since the USO named Stephen Colbert “Mr. USO” and sent him to Iraq for a week-long taping and airing of The Colbert Report.  That tour was a smashing success, with hundreds of Troops able to enjoy the show in person and millions more viewers back home.

Beginning yesterday and continuing through tonight, The Colbert Report is dedicating two special episodes as a salute to the Troops.  “Been There: Won That: The Returnification of the American-Do Troopscape” (yes, that’s the official title!) features several of the same guests who appeared during the Iraq shows, including Gen. Ray Odierno, who – as you’ll recall – participated in one of the most talked about moments from the show: shaving Stephen Colbert’s head.

Last night Colbert returned the favor, by presenting a very special…Well, we won’t give it away.  Just watch the clip (pun intended) below!

Sons of Anarchy

Dayton Callie, Theo Rossi, Mark Boone Junior and Kim Coates on their first USO tour, Spring 2010. (USO photo by Erick Anderson)

What can we say about this amazing group of actors that hasn’t already been said by YOU, our amazing USO supporters?!   You love the Sons of Anarchy.  The Sons of Anarchy love the USO.  It’s perfect, right?  ‘Nuff said.

The Season Premiere airs September 7, and you can catch the show every Tuesday at 10pm EST.  The new season promo is below.  But first…

Check out a video they shot during their USO tour earlier this year!  Watch.  Share.  Repeat.  Enjoy.

Dinner, Magic, Concerts…and Minute to Win It!

We have a lot going on at our USO Centers across the country and we wanted to let you know about some opportunities!

Tonight, USO of Metropolitan Washington invites wounded warriors, active duty military, and family members to “Anything is Possible” with Giovanni Livera!  Attendees will enjoy a delicious pasta dinner and an evening of astonishment with this talented and inspiring magician.

The event will take place at the Old Red Cross Building, #41, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Dinner is served at 6pm and the performance begins at 7pm.  For additional information contact Meghan Hardgrove at 703-696-0717

USO of New England is proud to offer two great late summer concerts for service members: Get your tickets to Ozzfest and The Jonas Brothers today!

Ozzfest features Motley Crue, Halford, Devildriver, Nonpoint, Black Label Society, Drowing Pool and more and takes place on Tuesday, August 24th at 1:00PM at the Comcast Center in Mansfield, MA. Parking lots open 10:30AM, Doors 12:00PM.  Active duty and reserve can obtain 6 tickets maximum by using USO of New England’s online ticketeting system.  Tickets must be picked up at the Comcast Center Will-Call Ticket Window with military ID when you arrive.

Active and reserve military can also get up to 4 tickets  to see Jonas Brothers with Demi Lovato in concert on Thursday, August 26th at 7:00PM at the Comcast Center.  Parking lots open 4:30PM, Doors 6:00PM.  Tickets must be ordered at the USO online ticket system and picked up at the Comcast Will Call Ticket Window with military ID when you arrive.  Get your tickets today to two of summer’s hottest shows!

If you’re not in the DC or MA areas, don’t worry!  We still have some fun in store for you, because tonight on Minute to Win It,  Miss USA Kristen Dalton will be playing for…the USO!

This week the show is featuring “The Girls of Summer.” For three nights starting Monday, brains, beauty, and skills will clash head to head on Minute to Win It.  Check out the preview below and be sure to cheer on Miss USA tonight!