Congress, USO Pack Healthy Snacks for Troops on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON—Wednesday’s USO Congressional Service Project at the Rayburn House Office Building offered a unique opportunity for members from different sides of the aisle to support the troops together.

Elected officials spent part of their morning assembling healthy snack packs the USO will then distribute to service members and their families.

The snack packs are a direct result of requests from the TellUSO survey and contain items like oatmeal, dried fruit, pretzels and nuts. The snacks were donated by Harris Teeter, a USO partner that has raised more than $1 million for the USO since partnering with the organization in 2012. The 1,500-plus snack packs created Wednesday will be distributed at the USO centers around the Washington metropolitan region.

“On behalf of nearly 20,000 associates who work for our stores, we’re so proud to be a part of this,” said Rodney Vines, Regional Human Resource Manager at Harris Teeter. “We want to be partners with the community that we serve, and we thank the USO for giving Harris Teeter the opportunity to thank our troops and serve them as members of our community.”

Helicopter Rides, Crazy Food Pairings and Troops: Steve Byrne and Roy Wood Jr. Talk About Their USO Travels

Comedians and USO tour veterans Steve Byrne and Roy Wood Jr. have dozens of great stories about traveling the world to entertain troops on USO tours.

At the beginning of May, the duo was part of the USO’s first entertainment tour to Iraq since 2011.

In this video, Byrne and Wood discuss the allure of riding in military helicopters, the wild world of DFACs (dining facilities) and why they keep going overseas to perform shows.

Juice And A Snooze: How The USO Helped Ease One Military Mom’s Travel Woes

McClanahan

The McClanahan family. Photo courtesy of Michelle McClanahan

When Michelle McClanahan headed to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on her way to Pennsylvania, she didn’t anticipate spending the rest of the day in the Atlanta airport.

But since she and her daughter, Sophia, were flying on a non-reservation status to her grandfather’s funeral — thanks to a perk Michelle’s husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob McClanahan, had in an earlier job —  they had to wait until seats became available on a plane from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

It was a long wait.

After several hours of boredom mixed with the sadness and stress of losing her grandfather, Michelle spoke to her husband, who suggested she head to the airport’s USO center.

Not expecting much, Michelle decided to take his advice and went to the USO Jean Amos Center at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

When she arrived, a volunteer helped her sign in and gave she and her daughter some food. A USO volunteer even went out to purchase some juice for Sophia, since the center only had water and soda at the time.

“I was blown away at how welcoming they were to my family,” McClanahan wrote in an email. “They even comforted me when I started crying over my grandfathers passing!”

House1

After enjoying the refreshments and a much-needed nap, Michelle says a few volunteers even offered to play with Sophia and walk around the center with her.

“I will definitely be using the USO again,” she said. “It represents to me a safe place to go when you feel like you don’t have any options. It represents a family environment.”

Former Airman Found His Way Home Thanks to Chance Meetings at USO Centers

Former Air Force Capt. Jeff Smith poses for a photo. Photo courtesy of Jeff Smith.

Former Air Force Capt. Jeff Smith poses for a photo. Photo courtesy of Jeff Smith.

Former Air Force Capt. Jeff Smith has started some of his most memorable travel adventures at airport USO centers.

But they weren’t planned that way.

On one trip, Smith was traveling home to Ohio to attend a friend’s funeral. A delay forced him to miss his connecting flight at Washington Dulles International Airport. After trying to reschedule for the following day, he realized he might not make it home in time for the service. He went to the airport’s USO center to clear his head. While relaxing at the center, Smith started chatting with a Marine who he recognized from his first flight.

“I talked to him and found out that he was going to his grandmother’s funeral on the same day, but one town over,” Smith said. “We figured out that if we took turns sleeping and driving, we could make it to Ohio by morning.

“We went from being complete strangers, to renting a car together and driving seven hours and 400 miles across the country.”

And it wasn’t the last time this happened. On another trip home, this time to see his family for the holidays, Smith found himself sitting in the Destin-Fort Walton Beach airport USO facing a similar situation.

Due to a series of flight delays, Smith and two soldiers he met at the USO were stuck at the Florida airport and were told they should anticipate missing their connecting flights home from Atlanta the next morning. Instead of spending their holiday time at the airport, the trio decided to rent a car and drive to Atlanta so they could catch their connecting flights.

“We all made our flights and got to see our families for Christmas instead of just New Year’s,” Smith said.

Another USO visit also led Smith to talk with a major who helped spark his involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Smith has been mentoring his Little Brother for over a year now.

“I’m very grateful that the events turned out the way they did, because I probably wouldn’t have met him any other way,” Smith said.

“Some of my best memories from nine years in the Air Force were in airport USO facilities,” Smith wrote in a Facebook post.

USO Entertainers Rake in Nominations and Statues at the ACM Awards and MTV Movie Awards

USO entertainers raked in nominations and wins at the 50th Annual ACM Awards last night and the MTV Movie Awards last weekend. Here’s a look at the USO performers and supporters who were recognized for their performance.

MTV Movie Awards

Actor Bradley Cooper greets a soldier at a remote forward operating base as part of a seven-day summer USO tour to the Persian Gulf to boost troop morale in 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Actor Bradley Cooper greets a soldier at a remote forward operating base during a 2009 USO tour. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Bradley Cooper
Best Male Performance; Nominated and won

Bradley Cooper traveled to Cuba, Kuwait, Afghanistan for the USO and also took part in a seven-day USO tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2010.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Channing Tatum
Best Comedic Performance; Nominated and won

Earlier this year, actors Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez and Nick Zano took a six-day USO handshake tour to visit troops in Afghanistan. During his inaugural visit,  Tatum visited seven bases and spent time with more than 1,500 troops, including these folks from Oregon.

“My trip with the USO was a once-in-a-lifetime window into the sacrifice and duty that these brave soldiers and their families devote every day to,” said Tatum, whose “Magic Mike XXL” will hit theaters this summer. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the experience. Safe travels home and until then, keep holding it down there and in every other place that flies the stars and stripes.”

Scarlett Johansson
Best Female Performance; Nominated
Best Kiss; Nominated

In 2008, Johansson visited troops during a USO tour to the Persian Gulf.

“This USO tour to the Gulf region truly means a lot,” Johansson said in a press release. “I’ve wanted to go over and visit for some time, and now my moment has arrived. It’s one thing to reply to a letter or extend your thanks to  service members in a speech, but it’s another thing to visit them and spend time with those that do so much for us back home.”

Robert Downey Jr.
Recipient of MTV Generation Award

After starring in Tropic Thunder, Downey visited Camp Pendleton, California, in 2008 for a special USO screening of the film with co-stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black.

50th Annual ACM Awards

Country music artist Dierks Bentley performs during the USO/ACM Lifting Lives concert at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV, April 17, 2010. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Country music artist Dierks Bentley performs during the USO/ACM Lifting Lives concert at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV, April 17, 2010. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Dierks Bentley
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated
Album of the Year (Riser); Nominated
Song of the Year (“I Hold On”); Nominated
Single Record of the Year (“Drunk on a Plane”); Nominated
Video of the Year (“Drunk on a Plane”); Nominated and won
Vocal Event of the Year (“The South” with Florida Georgia Line and Mike Eli); Nominated

Bentley performed for military families at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas in 2010 as part of the first USO/ACM Lifting Lives concert.

Luke Bryan
Entertainer of the Year; Nominated and won
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated
Song of the Year (“Drink a Beer”); Nominated
Vocal Event of the Year (“This Is How We Roll” with Florida Georgia Line); Nominated and won

In 2011, Bryan performed as part of a free concert for troops and their families hosted by The Academy of Country Music and the USO at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Members of Little Big Town perform for fans at the second annual Academy of Country Music/USO concert event at Nellis Air Force Base April 2, 2011. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Members of Little Big Town perform for fans at the second annual Academy of Country Music/USO concert event at Nellis Air Force Base April 2, 2011. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Little Big Town
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated
Album of the Year (Painkiller); Nominated
Best Country Duo/Group Performance (“Day Drinking”) ; Nominated

In 2014, Little Big Town performed for troops and the Virginia Beach, Virginia, community as part of the city’s Patriotic Festival, which coincided with the USO’s inaugural Warrior Week.

The group also performed for troops and their families at a free concert in 2011 hosted by The Academy of Country Music and the USO for military members and their families at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Brad Paisley
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated

Brad Paisley entertained over 1,200 troops and their families at the July 4, 2012, “Salute to the Military” event at the White House. Paisley has also spent time visiting wounded service members at hospitals and a burn unit at the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in 2007.

“I’m a big believer in the power of motivation and I see the USO as something that has existed to boost the morale of our fighting men and women since before I was born,” Paisley said in a 2012 interview.

“We are talking about the people responsible for our freedom. And their job is VERY hard. So I think back to Bob Hope, telling jokes and adding sunshine in the middle of wartime devastation and it occurs to me that you can’t underestimate what that did for those brave souls.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rascal Flatts
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated

In August 2005, Rascal Flatts headed on a USO tour to entertain troops stationed in the Persian Gulf.  During their visit, the trio also signed autographs and took photographs with service members.

“We’re here because we want our service members to know we’re proud of what they are doing, and that we’re deeply grateful for their dedication and sacrifice,” said lead singer Gary LeVox in a 2005 interview with the Air Force. “We are offering our music as a way to show our gratitude for what they do.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blake Shelton
Vocal Event of the Year (“Lonely Tonight” with Ashley Monroe); Nominated
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated

In 2014, Shelton helped kick off a new partnership between jcpenney‘s philanthropic arm, jcp cares, and the USO with a sold-out concert at the Watertown Fairgrounds Arena in Watertown, New York. Three hundred complimentary concert tickets were donated for troops and their families by jcpenney.

“Supporting the USO is second nature to me,” Shelton said in a 2012 interview. “My dad was a Korean War veteran. My brother was a veteran of the Army. It’s a charity that’s near and dear to my heart.”

The Band Perry
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated

In 2014, The Band Perry performed at their first USO show at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, entertaining over 1,000 military family members.

“They were such a responsive audience, and that’s what we love most about playing shows, is whenever the crowds are crazy and are singing along,” Neil Perry said in a 2014 USO story. “It was just fun having all the families there.”

The Swon Brothers
Vocal Duo of the Year; Nominated

In 2014, the Swon Brothers, along with Jana Kramer, entertained troops at a special USO concert at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Carrie Underwood
Vocal Event of the Year (“Somethin’ Bad” with Miranda Lambert); Nominated
Female Vocalist of the Year; Nominated
Video of the Year (“Something’ Bad” with Miranda Lambert); Nominated

Carrie Underwood travelled overseas with the USO to entertain troops during the 2006 holiday season.

Country music singer Zac Brown gets up close and personal with troops during a USO show in Mosul, Iraq, on April 16, 2010. (USO Photo by Erick Anderson)

Zac Brown gets up close and personal with troops during a USO show in Mosul, Iraq, on April 16, 2010. USO Photo by Erick Anderson

Zac Brown Band
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated

The Zac Brown Band is a long-time supporter of the USO.

In 2008, Brown traveled on his inaugural USO tour as part of the the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Holiday tour. A year later, he performed with his band at the USO Fort Hood Community Strong event in 2009.

In 2010, the band traveled overseas to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf, where they also recorded their music video for their hit single, “Free.”

Why Volunteer? Denee Hammond Explains Why She Gives Her Time at USO New England

Whether it’s about patriotism, family or being part of something bigger than themselves, USO volunteers each have personal reasons for giving their valuable time.

USO New England volunteer Denee Hammond took a moment recently to talk about why she does it.

“When they see the USO in an airport thousands of miles from home, they come back to that one moment when they may have met a USO volunteer,” she said. “Maybe they saw us at a Patriots game, maybe they came with us on a Polar Express event for their kids Š but they remember those letters and it immediately brings them back home, and they feel connected.”