Peyton Manning, Stevie Nicks And Other Stars Shine at USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 33rd Annual Awards Dinner

ARLINGTON, Va. — For Peyton Manning, Stevie Nicks, Sebastian Junger and Seema Reza, it was a night to remember.

The four stars, along with nearly 30 Medal of Honor recipients, were honored last night for their contributions to the military community at the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 33rd Annual Awards Dinner.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning accepts the USO-Metro Merit Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning accepts the USO-Metro Merit Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Manning, who traveled to Europe and the Persian Gulf on the USO Vice Chairman’s tour in 2013, has been an active supporter of the military throughout his entire NFL career.

“I really had a life-changing experience on my USO tour two years ago,” Manning said. “Just how they’re protecting our freedom, their service to our country, [it’s] very inspiring and I’m really glad that I took the trip.”

The Denver Broncos quarterback received the USO-Metro Merit Award for dedicating his time to help lift the spirits of troops all around the world

Stevie Nicks accepts the USO Achievement Award.

Stevie Nicks accepts the USO Achievement Award.

Five years ago, Nicks received a last-minute invitation to visit troops at Naval Support Activity Bethesda — home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — and has committed to spending time with wounded, ill and recovering service members ever since.

Nicks, who wrote the 2011 song, “Soldier’s Angel,” about her numerous visits with wounded troops as part of USO-Metro’s celebrity handshake tours, received the USO Achievement Award for donating her time, talent and treasure to helping bring smiles to recovering troops.

Sebastian Junger accepts the Legacy of Hope Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Sebastian Junger accepts the Legacy of Hope Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Junger, a war correspondent, best-selling author and Oscar-nominated filmmaker received the Legacy of Hope Award for his heart-wrenching storytelling. His most recent documentary works – “Restrepo,” “Korengal” and “The Last Patrol” – focus on the challenges military members endure during combat and upon returning home.

“I was thrilled to sort of discover that those works were very helpful to soldiers [and] emotionally useful to soldiers,” Junger said.

RSF_4391

Seema Reza (far left) poses for photos before the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 33rd Annual Awards Dinner.

Reza, a poet and essayist, has spent years working with wounded, ill and injured service members at military hospitals and USO Warrior and Family Centers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland.

She conducts art workshops for service members recovering from visible and invisible wounds and said “the work that I’ve been able to do is its own reward.”

Reza received the Col. John Gioia Patriot Award for her outstanding commitment to helping recovering troops navigate the healing process.

The Stories Behind Military Challenge Coins

CoinRack_blog

They’re one good deed and an open palm away. And they can be kinda heavy.

Challenge coins permeate the military. Almost everyone with a significant rank doles them out. Even the commander-in-chief has one.

If you’ve been in the military for a while, you probably have a case or a rack (or a vintage sea chest) to display your coins. Last week, the coins reared their heads (or tails) in mainstream culture when the popular design podcast 99% Invisible did an episode on their existence, purpose and history. The podcast even highlighted an oft-repeated awkward civilian moment: the first time a service member shakes their hand and simultaneously plants a coin in their palm.

At the USO, we know a handful of people who have a few (hundred) coins from their years both serving in the military and serving troops. And behind every coin is a pretty cool story. Here are five of them:

Rachel Tischler

Three of the scores of coins Rachel Tischler has received during her tenure as USO Vice President of Entertainment.

Three of the coins Rachel Tischler has received during her tenure with the USO. USO photos by Eric Brandner

Rachel Tischler has taken more flights into the Middle East than a lot of service members. The USO’s Vice President of Entertainment has traveled the world supporting USO tours, including 15 trips to Iraq. She’s collected a lot of coins along the way, too. Here are the stories behind the three pictured above:

Dempsey and Tischler. DOD photo

Tischler with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey. DOD photo

  • Top of the World: “That’s from Greenland, from the Vice Chairman [of the Joint Chief’s of Staff] tour,” Tishler said. “You can only land there a couple times of year because the runway is frozen ice. And it’s 200 people in the middle of nowhere. I can’t even imagine [a full] deployment.”
  • Gen. Ray Odierno’s coin: “Gen. Odierno was a permanent institution. I saw him every time we went over there,” Tischler said. “I think about it as [a symbol of] all the good work the USO did in Iraq and specifically his support of the USO and entertainment.”
  • The South Park coin: “I don’t know if it’s even appropriate to have this one [on display for this story] but I do love it,” Tischler said laughing. She received the coin with a take on the signature “South Park” line on it from a unit during a USO entertainment tour to Iraq. “I just loved it because I love ‘South Park.’ … You have to admit that is a good sense of humor for [being deployed].”

Glenn Welling

USO Vice President of Operations Glenn Welling holds his personal coin, which he's carried since he deployed to Iraq in 2008. USO photo

The personal coin of USO Vice President of Operations Glenn Welling who is also a command master chief petty officer in the Navy Reserve. Welling has kept the coin in his pocket every day since he deployed to Iraq in 2008.

Glenn Welling always has a challenge coin on hand. It’s his own.

Glenn Welling

Glenn Welling

“For the first 20 years of my Navy career, I had no concept what [challenge coins were about],” said Welling, the USO’s Vice President of Operations and a command master chief petty officer in the Navy Reserve. “When I was selected to be a command master chief in the Navy, I decided it would be a good idea to have my own coin minted so I could recognize sailors that were part of my organization for exceptional service.”

Welling had 100 personal coins minted before deploying to Iraq in 2008.

“This particular coin has been in my pocket every single day since June of 2008, which is when I left for Iraq,” he said.

Welling's sea chest, where he keeps his coin collection.

Welling’s vintage sea chest, which he bought to display his coin collection.

Welling said the coin, along with a prayer stone his neighbor gave him that he also still carries each day, “provided me comfort and security while I was deployed.”

He’s scheduled to retire in October after 37 years in the Navy. But he won’t be taking his coin out of his pocket.

“I may not be in uniform anymore, but I’ll always be a sailor,” he said, smiling. “Til the day I die, I’ll carry my coin with me.”

House1

Dr. JD Crouch II

USO CEO and President Dr. J.D. Crouch II holds his recently minted personal coin.

USO CEO and President Dr. J.D. Crouch II holds his recently minted personal coin.

USO CEO and President J.D. Crouch II had a clear direction in mind for his first personal coin.

USO President and CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II shakes volunteers' hands. USO photo by Gretchen Ertl

Crouch greets USO volunteers last fall. USO photo by Gretchen Ertl

“[The USO is] a strong support center for that military family – for spouses, for children as well as the people who sort of orbit around that military family,” Crouch said. “So I thought having that at the center of my coin reflects everything we do: The service members themselves and the family members that also serve in their own way.

“I wanted this to be something that was both reflective of the values [of the USO] and also reflective of the emphasis that I want to place on things while I’m here.”

Valerie Donegan and Jonathan Matthews

USO Director of Information Technology Val Donegan, left, and USO Director of Logistics and Facilities Jonathan Matthews hold up a coin they both received in 2012 for their work building the USO Warrior and Family Center on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

USO Director of Information Technology Valerie Donegan, left, and USO Director of Logistics and Facilities Jonathan Matthews display a coin they both received in 2012 for their on the USO Warrior and Family Center on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Valerie Donegan and Jonathan Matthews are critical to planning the USO’s computer and facilities infrastructures around the globe, which puts them in some interesting places.

In the photo above, Donegan is holding the coin then-Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region commander Maj. Gen. Michael T. Linnington gave them to commemorate their roles in building the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Donegan holds a coin she received in Iraq in 2009.

Donegan holds a coin she received in Iraq in 2009.

Donegan and Matthews were installing the USO’s downrange satellite communication system in 2009 when they received the coin in the inset photo at then-Balad Air Base in Iraq. It was a trip they’ll never forget for sobering reasons, including their leg in Afghanistan.

“[That trip was] also where I saw my first dignified transfer,” Donegan said. “We hadn’t been at the [USO Pat Tillman Center] for two hours …”

“And everybody stopped,” Matthews interjected.

“Everybody stopped and you lined up,” Donegan said. “That was my first time ever to see a [dignified transfer] out to a flight line.

“There’s nothing as powerful as standing on that flight line watching those coffins go by. … I think that’s really the first time I understood the role [the USO] plays.”


Joseph Andrew Lee

Joseph Andrew Lee holds up the coin President Barack Obama gave him in 2011.

Joseph Andrew Lee holds up the coin President Barack Obama gave him in 2011.

Joseph Andrew Lee has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. It’s a great skill to have if you’re a multimedia journalist like Lee, a gregarious former public affairs Marine who chronicles USO stories.

Joseph Andrew Lee

On Aug. 9, 2011, Lee was working at Dover Air Force Base in the wake of the greatest single-event loss of life U.S. Special Operations has experienced. Three days earlier, a Chinook helicopter carrying 38 coalition troops — including 31 Americans — was shot down in Afghanistan, killing everyone on board. That included 25 special operators. Lee traveled with several fellow employees from the USO’s Arlington, Virginia, offices to do whatever he could to support the mass dignified transfer through USO Delaware. He took a role refilling a cooler of drinks for families, service members and senior officials.

“Our task was to get these grieving families anything they needed,” Lee said.

Three hours in and soaked with sweat after unloading another palate, someone tapped Lee on the shoulder and asked “Hey, you mind if I grab one of those?”

“I looked up and it was the President of the United States,” Lee said.

President Barack Obama took the drink Lee handed him, recognized the USO logo on Lee’s shirt, and struck up a conversation.

“The first words out of his mouth were ‘Thank you for what you do. The USO’s a great organization,'” Lee said.

Lee told Obama that his USO experiences during his 10 years in the Marine Corps were the reason he decided to work for the nonprofit.

Obama then looked over at an aide who handed him something, turned back, and shook Lee’s hand, placing his presidential challenge coin in Lee’s palm in the process.

“He said ‘Thank you for your service and thank you even more for what you do for the USO today,'” Lee said. “And I thought that was pretty special.

“Obviously that day was nothing to celebrate. … Like a lot of medals that Marines receive, it was kind of a reminder of one of the saddest days I’ve served.”

Want to share your own challenge coin story? Send it to us at usomoments.org/stories.

Coining a Legend: Richard Roundtree Talks About ‘Being Mary Jane,’ ‘Shaft’ and his USO Tour

"Being Mary Jane" cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

“Being Mary Jane” cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree, center, and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

When Richard Roundtree says you’re cool, is there anything left to accomplish?

Roundtree – the actor who played the title character in the “Shaft” franchise of the 1970s – had the all-too-civilian experience of being unexpectedly coined for the first time when he visited Naval Base San Diego on a USO tour Feb. 17.

He appreciated the base commanding officer’s style.

“He shook my hand and in the palm of his hand – I have it right here in front of me – he had this [coin],” the jovial actor said of his interaction with Capt. Curt Jones. “The way he gave it to me was just too cool.”

Roundtree knows cool. He’s spent five decades exuding it on screen, including his recent run on BET’s hit drama “Being Mary Jane.” Roundtree and co-stars B.J. Britt and Aaron Spears toured the base together last month.

“I was blown away seeing up close and personal what the Navy was about,” Roundtree said. “From a civilian’s point of view, I got to see a lot and it was wonderful.

“The icing on the cake was how appreciative the enlisted [troops] were toward us. It was just great. I loved it.”

The trio of actors mingled with troops and military family members, stopping to pose for photos and talk about their show and, of course, a little nostalgia.

“[Troops] were relating primarily to ‘Shaft’ understandably,’” said Roundtree, who had two paternal uncles who served in World War II. “I tried to push [“Being Mary Jane,” and they would say] ‘Oh yeah, yeah, we know all about that, but “Shaft” …’

“Even watching the Academy Awards the other night, there was the ‘Shaft’ theme in there at one point,” he said, chuckling.

Roundtree has transformed from an action hero to the man who polices the action in “Being Mary Jane.” He plays Paul Patterson Sr., the father of series star Gabriel Union’s Mary Jane Paul. The series has received positive reviews and was recently picked up for a third season.

“The beauty of it is the universality of the story lines are just great to be a part of,” he said. “Gabriele Union – the trials and tribulations she goes through with the extended family and I have to run kind of roughshod over this whole family – very exciting work. And challenging. I’m having a great time.”

‘It’s a Great Opportunity’: Indianapolis Colts’ Chuck Pagano and Dwayne Allen Talk 2015 USO Vice Chairman’s Tour

BETHESDA, Maryland — Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and tight end Dwayne Allen stopped by Naval Support Activity Bethesda — home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — on Monday to meet recovering troops and hospital staff before heading overseas as part of the 2015 USO Vice Chairman’s Tour.

While at the hospital, Pagano and Allen met and took pictures with recovering troops along with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, actor Dennis Haysbert, Pittsburgh Steelers lineman David DeCastro, reigning Miss America Kira Kazantsev and Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During the visit, Pagano also shared why he was looking forward to his first USO tour and the importance of giving back to the military community.

Additionally, Allen, who is also making his USO tour debut, took a moment to talk about growing up near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and why he was looking forward to his first USO tour.

Four USO Entertainment Staffers Honored by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for Work on Tours

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

They’re normally behind the scenes. This month, they were in the spotlight.

Four USO Entertainment employees were honored Feb. 13 for their roles in entertaining America’s troops at a surprise Pentagon ceremony with the military’s top officer.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Public Service Award to USO Vice President of Entertainment Rachel Tischler and the Outstanding Public Service Award to USO Vice President of Celebrity Recruitment Juliet Gilliam, USO Entertainment Specialist Brook Northrip and USO Tour Producer Jeremy Wilcox.

The quartet was specifically honored for their work on Dempsey’s four USO Chairman’s Holiday Tours, the last of which he wrapped in December. The tours – which are whirlwind USO visits traveling from the U.S. to Europe to the Mideast and back in the course of a week – touch thousands of troops annually in the weeks before Christmas.

“The Chairman’s Holiday Tour is an incredibly important annual tour that directly connects our nation’s top military leader with our troops serving around the globe,” said retired Brig. Gen. John I. Pray Jr., USO Executive Vice President for Operations, Programs and Entertainment. “The tour always includes an amazing group of celebrities who eagerly volunteer to accompany the chairman and I was thrilled that Gen. Dempsey recently recognized four USO entertainment team members with the Distinguished and Outstanding Public Service Awards for the key roles each played in making these tours such a big success.”

The most recent tour covered five countries in six days, including stops Afghanistan. The tour roster included eight-time USO tour veteran and country star Kellie Pickler, 2007 USO tour veteran and comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister.

“In my dealings with the USO over the past few years, spearheading tours around the globe, I can confidently say that the USO is as helpful and comforting today as it was back [when I joined the Army],” Dempsey said in a press release during the 2014 tour. “This year’s tour has been just as memorable.”

USO Entertainers Shine at Academy Awards

USO entertainers have been raking in the nominations, awards and accolades this winter, and last night’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles was no exception.

If you missed last night’s festivities, here’s a look at this year’s Academy Award nominees and winners who also happen to be USO tour veterans and supporters.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Academy Awards
Best animated feature film; Nominated

In 2010, actress America Ferrera traveled on an eight-day USO handshake tour to the Persian Gulf, where she visited with over 1,300 service members with actors Ryan O’Nan and Jason Ritter and writer/director Ryan Peters.

Check out what she had to say about the tour here:

 

More recently, in June 2014, actors Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera and writer/director Dean DeBlois joined more than 450 troops and military families at an advance screening of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The event also included a question-and-answer session with the trio.

Watch the highlights from the event here:

“Unbroken”

Academy Awards
Best cinematography; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated
Best sound mixing; Nominated

In 2010, Angelina Jolie, the director of “Unbroken” traveled to Germany to surprise wounded troops and the service members taking care of them.

This past December, as part of its partnership with Universal Pictures, the USO brought five service members and their guests to the premiere of “Unbroken” at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. Although Jolie was unable to attend the premiere due to illness, her husband, Brad Pitt, stood in for her, and personally greeted the USO guests.

Watch highlights from the “Unbroken” premiere here:

“American Sniper”

Academy Awards
Best actor in a leading role (Bradley Cooper); Nominated
Best picture; Nominated
Best film editing; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated and won
Best sound mixing; Nominated
Best adapted screenplay; Nominated

Bradley Cooper, a veteran of several USO tours, has traveled to Cuba, Kuwait and Afghanistan in addition to a seven-day, three-country tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2009.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a week-long USO tour in 2008.  Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops and bring them a touch of home.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a weeklong USO tour in 2008. Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops.