‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

Cast Members from “Being Mary Jane” Visit Troops in San Diego on USO Tour

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Some of the stars of of BET’s “Being Mary Jane” took time to visit troops Tuesday at Naval Base San Diego as part of a USO tour.

The group — which included actors Richard Roundtree, B.J. Britt and Aaron Spears — spent the bulk of their day with sailors and their families, signing autographs, posing for photos and even taking a tour of the base’s facilities.

It wasn’t the first time “Being Mary Jane” cast members hung out with troops at a USO event. Some of the show’s actors stopped by the Mobile USO to send messages of thanks to service members at The BET Experience in Los Angeles last June. The San Diego stop was also part of BET’s celebration of Black History Month, which kicked off with a new episode of “Being Mary Jane” on Feb. 3.

The cast members and attendees shared their experiences on Twitter, too:

USO Volunteers Help Wounded Airborne Medic Traveling on Christmas Eve

Nathaniel Strangways poses with some of his children. Courtesy photo

Nathaniel Strangways poses with some of his children. Courtesy photo

It was going to be a long trip.

On Christmas Eve, Army Spc. Nathaniel Strangways set off to relocate his wife Hannah and their four children — ages 13, 9, 5 and 2 — from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii to Tennessee, where he planned to medically retire due to back injuries.

The plan was simple: they’d fly from Hawaii, to Los Angeles, pick up a rental car and drive across the country to their new home near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

There was only one problem.

“He wasn’t accounting for his injury when planning the logistics of the move and all of the luggage,” said Hannah Strangways, who realized when they landed at Los Angeles International Airport at midnight that they probably couldn’t handle managing the family’s luggage alone.

In 2008, while serving alongside an Iraqi Police Battalion, Nathaniel — who was an airborne medic — came to the aid of a wounded soldier. As they climbed some stairs, the wounded soldier was shocked by an explosion and fell backwards on top of Nathaniel. The fall herniated a disk in Nathaniel’s back. Nathaniel had surgery for the injury in 2011, but the pain persisted to the point where he could no longer serve his country.

After they deboarded, Hannah led her family to the Bob Hope USO, located outside the airport, to regroup.

“We got inside and there were these two people at the front desk who were genuinely worried for us,” she said, “They problem-solved for us and helped us get organized. It was such a relief.”

The USO volunteers transferred the family’s luggage into storage, showed the kids to a playroom and fed them some hot food so Nathaniel could get the rental car.

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“For a moment, I could finally breathe,” Hannah said. “They had this kids room with a little couch and two rocking chairs and books and toys, so my kids just sat and played. Seriously — without it, I mean — I know we could have done it, but it would have been so hard.”

Nathaniel returned with the only rental van the company had, which was barely large enough to fit the whole family and their luggage. USO volunteers and other troops came out to help the family with the heavy lifting, getting everything inside and tied down on top of the van.

“They loaded it well enough to [get] us to Arkansas, where we finally unloaded the baggage,” Nathaniel said. “Without them, I would have been stuck sitting there for hours. I’m not sure it would have even been possible.”

USO volunteers and troops helped load up the Strangways' rental van. Courtesy photo

USO volunteers and troops helped load up the Strangways’ rental van. Courtesy photo

Nathaniel said he always knew the USO was a place where he could sit down and decompress, or even call his wife and kids to let them know he was okay. But this time, he said, “the USO went above and beyond.”

“I can just imagine what it might have been like without the USO there to help us out,” Hannah said. “It can be hard when you are in a position to take care of your wife and kids and you are hampered due to injury.

“Thanks to the USO and the team effort, he left LAX feeling as proud as he would have if he had done it himself.”

How the USO, Joining Forces and FTD are Bringing Valentine’s Day Moments to the Military

A soldier holds up a sign at USO Colorado Springs. USO photo

A soldier holds up a sign at USO Colorado Springs. USO photo

Many Amercan troops will be thousands of miles away from their loved ones this Valentine’s Day. With this in mind, the USO, Joining Forces and FTD are teaming to show these military families how much we appreciate their sacrifices.

As part of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, USO centers across the United States are receiving a floral arrangement, courtesy of FTD, as a symbol of our nation’s love and enduring support. Every American can add their voice to this display of support, too, by going on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram this weekend and using the #USOmoments hashtag to send messages to America’s troops and their families.

The USO is also inviting Americans to send USO Love Notes to our troops by visiting the USO’s Love from America site. Visitors to the site can also learn about the challenges troops and their families face and what they as civilians can do to help.

Too often, troops miss out on family dinners, date nights, birthdays and the even the births their children. With this in mind, the USO created the Every Moment Counts campaign to rally Americans to show their gratitude by helping the USO create priceless moments for our troops and their families.

“The USO is proud of its collaboration with Joining Forces and FTD, and this synergy shows our troops how much we care wherever they may be serving,” said J.D. Crouch, CEO & President of the USO. “We want the 30,000 troops and military family members who pass through our doors each day to feel closer to home and know that we are always by their side, especially on this Valentine’s Day.”

Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez and Nick Zano Wrap USO Tour to Afghanistan

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Actors Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez and Nick Zano wrapped the USO’s first 2015 entertainment tour to Afghanistan over the weekend. The six-day handshake tour was the first USO experience for the trio, which spent time with more than 1,500 troops, including these folks from Oregon.

In all, Tatum, Rodriguez and Zano visited seven bases downrange and the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

“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.”

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Bringing the Big Game to the Troops: USO Centers Around the World Prep for Super Bowl XLIX Festivities

1779696_831008323606850_488918148582461606_nAs America sits down to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots this Sunday, troops at home and overseas will head to their local USO centers to catch the big game.

Here’s a roundup of some of the Super Bowl festivities at USO centers around the world.

Southwest Asia

USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
Super Bowl festivities will start bright and early at USO Kandahar, where the party begins at 2:30 a.m. local time.

The base will provide roughly 300 pizzas to be split between the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) center and the USO, where the game will be playing all morning long. During halftime, troops can win a number of prizes, including a new bike and an iPad Mini, as well as participate in Super Bowl trivia.

Check out some of the photos from last year’s festivities:

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USO Camp Buerhring, Kuwait
Troops stationed at Camp Buehring can get into the Super Bowl spirit with a pregame tailgate party beginning at 6 p.m. local time.

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In addition to a hot wing eating contest, service members can participate in video game competition, listen to music and win a number of prizes before tuning into the game. At kickoff, partygoers can fill up on a subway and milkshake bar and participate in a raffle to win prizes every quarter.

Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s event:

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USO Bagram, Afghanistan

Troops stationed at Bagram can head to the USO for an early morning pre-game party at 4 a.m. local time. There will be drinks, chips, football-shaped pancakes and waffles for everyone to enjoy. Partygoers can also participate in football-themed trivia during the game. Here’s a few snaps from last year’s fun:

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Europe

USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
Service members and their families stationed near Grafenwoehr and Vilseck, Germany, can enjoy finger foods and drinks at a special pregame tailgate party before enjoying dinner at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Although the game doesn’t start until 12:30 a.m., troops will be able to win raffle prizes and participate in poker tournaments and other fun activities before kickoff.

USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany

The USO Warrior Center will host a Super Bowl Party on game day for patients, families and medical staff. Service members can watch football-themed movies all day leading up to an Italian dinner kicking off the evening’s festivities at 8 p.m. local time. From 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. local time, troops can enjoy finger foods, watch the game and win football movie DVD giveaways.

USO Ramstein Air Base Passenger Terminal, Germany

The USO at the Ramstein PAX will host a special PAX personnel chili cookoff to celebrate Super Bowl XLIX. Troops on the move through Ramstein will be able to feast on all the competitors’ dishes while enjoying cornbread with honey butter and other refreshments before settling in to watch the game.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO, Germany

On Friday before the big game, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO center will be decked out in football decor to help staff members get in the mood for Sunday’s showdown. Service members can face off in team trivia to win USO tour vouchers as well as play table football and enjoy tailgate appetizers.

Pacific

USO Guam
For troops stationed in Guam, where they say “America’s day begins,” the party starts at 7:30 a.m. local time. Breakfast, lunch and snacks courtesy of Triple J Five Star Foods and the Pacific Islands Club will be served at various time throughout the morning.

Guam

In addition to watching the game on 10 screens throughout the center, service members can also enjoy cake to celebrate the USO’s upcoming 74th Anniversary.

USO Camp Courtney, Japan
Service members can head to USO Camp Courtney for Super Bowl festivities starting at 7 a.m. local time.

In addition to food and beverages, troops will also be able to showcase their video game skills on PS4 or Xbox One.

USO Camp Schwab, Japan
USO Camp Schwab will be ready for football-loving troops at 7 a.m. local time with finger food, popcorn and drinks in addition to nine televisions tuned into the big game.

Want a glimpse of what the party will look like? Check out photos from the 2013 event:

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USO Sasebo, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops stationed near Sasebo can head to the Fleet Landing for a USO Super Bowl party. Service members can enjoy snacks while rooting for their favorite team.

USO Camp Hansen, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops can chow down on freshly prepared waffles and sausages as they cheer on their favorite team. Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s Super Bowl breakfast party:

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USO Camp Foster, Japan
Troops can head over to the USO on Camp Foster for a Super Bowl party kicking off bright and early at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Kadena, Japan
Service members can kick off their morning with USO Kadena’s Super Bowl festivities starting at 6 a.m. local time. There will tailgate snacks and refreshments for troops to enjoy while watching the game on the center’s HDTV!

Take a look a last year’s photos to see what’s in store for this Sunday:

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USO Futenma, Japan
Troops can head over to USO Futenma for a Super Bowl party kicking off at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Camp Walker, South Korea
USO Camp Walker will be partnering with the MWR to host a Super Bowl party at the Hilltop Club, starting at 6 a.m. local time. To get a vibe of this year’s festivities, take a look at some snaps from the 2013 event:

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USO Camp Casey, South Korea
USO Camp Casey for kickoff at 8:30 a.m. local time for a Super Bowl party sponsored by Mr. Nam, Judie’s Realty, Red Cross and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA).

Camp Casey

Troops can enjoy food, fun and prize giveaways while cheering on their favorite team.

USO Seoul, South Korea
Doors open at 6 a.m. local time at USO Seoul, where service members can enjoy a free breakfast and cheer on their favorite team.

Seoul

The party, sponsored by the NCOA, will also feature a dance competition and prize giveaways.

USO Humphreys, South Korea
Troops can head over USO Humphreys at 8:30 a.m. local time to grab a free breakfast and catch the big game.

Humphreys

Stateside

USO Coast Guard Base, Boston
Friday before game day, troops near Boston can gear up for a great weekend of football starting at 11 a.m local time. Stop by the USO center for games, popcorn, pizza and the chance to win Patriots-branded prizes.

USO Logan Center, Boston
Starting Friday, USO Logan will be decorated in a football theme as they rev up to cheer on the Patriots. Traveling troops can test their skills with a Super Bowl Trivia game or take the New England Fan Challenge to win prizes.

Guests can also catch all the local pregame television coverage and watch the game in Super Bowl style and comfort on Sunday.  The popcorn machine will be running and there will be plenty of snacks for everyone to enjoy!

USO SeaTac Airport Center, Seattle
Troops traveling through Seattle can catch the game at the airport center while enjoying snacks and other refreshments.