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.

Wounded Veteran Receives Home Makeover With Help From USO

The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team presented the Harris family with a new, state-of-the-art house that helps wounded veteran Shilo Harris lead a more comfortable and enjoyable life. Photo courtesy of the Harris family

On February 19, 2007, while on patrol in Iraq, a massive IED struck the truck that SSG Shilo Harris was traveling in. Despite suffering devastating injuries, with burns to over 40% of his body, Shilo’s only concern was for the wellbeing of the men under his command, refusing medical treatment until he’d been assured that his troops were out of harm’s way. During the months of painful surgeries that followed, Shilo and his loyal wife, Kathreyn, found a true calling — to help wounded warriors through the agonizing and traumatic processes of recovery, rehabilitation and learning to face a life that will never be the same. Shilo, once sufficiently healed, began a career as a motivational speaker, giving hope to others similarly wounded, while Kathreyn, taking up the cause as well, began working for the Army Wounded Warrior Project. Shilo and Kathreyn have dedicated their lives to giving back.

With each day that passes the Harris family put more distance between themselves and the event that changed their lives, but their home still stands as a reminder of their struggles, as it cannot protect Shilo from dangerous dust and heat. The family have tried everything to make the home comfortable and safe, but whatever they do, it’s not enough. This hero who was disfigured in service to his country cannot find respite in his own home.

Tonight on ABC at 8:00 PM EST, watch as the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team changes all of that, with help from the USO.

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

Catch Ace of Cakes and the USO on Food Network this Thursday!

In the episode “A Four Letter Word for Pastry,” Duff and his intrepid team at Charm City Cakes travel down to DC for a patriotic pastry party – namely, the USO Gala.  As usual, the team works their magic on an amazing cake that dazzled celebrity attendees and kids at Fort Myer – the cake’s final destination – with equal aplomb.

We’d like to extend a HUGE thank you to Duff and his team for their cake and for taking the time to meet so many military families who turned out for a slice.

See the USO cake make its journey from start to finish – a delicious finish at that! – on “Ace of Cakes,” airing at 10pm EST on the Food Network.  Please check local listings for the time in your area.  And check out our exclusive preview pics below!

Lined up for the cake

Troops and their families lined up for hours before the cake arrived at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Bringing the Cake in

Duff and his crew carefully walk the cake in...but what does it look like? Tune in to see... (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Crowd Shot

And the crowd goes wild! Excited kids - and parents - rush to see the amazing cake. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Ace of Cakes crew and USO

Duff and his crew take a moment to post with staff and volunteers of USO of Metropolitan Washington. Great work everybody! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Madison Pettis Heads Out on Her 2nd USO Educational Tour!

Madison Pettis addresses school children in Hawaii as part of her first USO Tour

Arlington, VA -Actress Madison Pettis is heading to Germany on her second USO tour, January 9-13.  As part of her 4-day trip, Pettis will visit elementary and middle schools, where she will connect with military school children, take part in school activities and sign autographs.

In April 2009, Pettis traveled to Hawaii and participated in her first USO tour.  The young star visited seven military schools and delivered inspirational messages to more than 800 military children.  A big supporter of the U.S. Military, Pettis spent this holiday season campaigning for the Trees for Troops program, which delivered more than 16,000 trees to needy military families. The young star was recently surprised on “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” when she was reunited with her brother, who had been deployed to Iraq for most of the year.

“I had such a good time on my first USO tour, I knew I had to do it again,” said Pettis. “My brother is in the Army so I know what it’s like to have family in the military. It’s hard not being able to see the people you love everyday and I’m just glad I can help.”

Check out the clip where Pettis discusses her new sweatshirt for charity (guess who she chose?!) and reunites with her brother: