Photos from the Field – September 2010

Periodically, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this latest installment of our photo essays!

(P.S. – if you know any of the photographers of images that don’t credit one, please let us know!)

A panoramic shot of the recently built center at USO Fort Riley. What a view! (Photo by Virginia Hagin of HaginPhotography)

A group of Marines serving in Afghanistan enjoy some comforts of home courtesy of their USO2Go kits. (Photo by their Command Chaplain)

Flyover in formation as part of Korean Air Force training for Armed Forces Day. (Photo courtesy of USO Korea Facebook page)

Morning rising above Sather Air Base, home of the USO Baghdad. (USO photo by Richard McCarty, via USO Baghdad Facebook page)

USO Baghdad Supports the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault

USO Baghdad Duty Manager Robin Symes (l) hands out USO Care Packages and Girl Scout cookies to smiling Troops. Enjoy a Trefoil for us!

Operation USO Care Package is one of our most popular programs here at the USO.  In the past few months we’ve created exclusive care packages for female Troops, and introduced a new program of care packages just for families.  For those of us who pack these goodies into the bags and boxes, it’s great to know that what we’re sending off is received and greatly appreciated on the other end. (Not that there was any doubt!)

We were thrilled to receive word this weekend that the Female Care Packages, in particular, are being utilized as part of a larger program of support in Baghdad.  Here’s a great note from our center there…

Care packages designed just for female Troops were packed last November on Capital Hill and are still making their way overseas!

USO Baghdad Duty Managers Megan Lynch and Robin Symes took Operation Cookie Drop and the USO’s Operation Care Package to Camp Victory’s Hope Chapel to support the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault. SASA is a unique program to combat Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the military. It is focused on Senior Female Leadership providing mentorship to our future generations of military female leaders.

During monthly meetings, women and men come together to share experiences and build the skills necessary to combat alarming statistics of harassment and assault during deployment. This month, CSM Williams spoke to the group addressing the theme “Your Best You.”  Afterward, everyone had a chance to mingle and walk away with a USO care package!

A standard USO Care Package contains items like pre-paid international phone cards, toiletries, periodicals, and a deck of cards, among other oft-requested items.

For more information on the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault please visit their Facebook page.

A $25 donation sponsors one USO care package and allows you to include a personal message of support and appreciation.  Click here to request a care package for a member of our troops.

USO Baghdad Gets Ready for Some Football!

The staff of USO Baghdad shows their team spirit as they gear up for another great NFL season. (USO photo by Courtney Haueter)

Baghdad, Iraq – For the second season in a row, the NFL has chosen Baghdad USO on Sather Air Base as a location for its NFL Live Package. Guests of USO Baghdad will get the privilege of being able to watch any of the games being played around the league both live and replay. If we have a large contingent of fans from a particular area of the US, we’ll play their home team or we can chose the best match up for the week to watch. Missed the games due to sleep, work or flights? No problem, the NFL Package can replay any game played this year and we can also fast forward to the best parts.

The staff of the USO Baghdad will be wearing NFL jerseys from their hometown favorites and classic players. Duty Manager Frank Stinson is taking bragging rights with his home state Saints while Megan Lynch of Buffalo, NY stands by her Bills. Originally a Los Angeles Native, Richard McCarty wears a throwback LA Rams unit and Robin Symes salutes “Mean” Joe Greene, all-pro Steelers defensive lineman. The 9ers, Dolphins and Jets will be represented by Ernie, David and Ian and we look forward to a lot of trash talking every week.

News & Notes From Around the World

Baghdad, Iraq – The USO in Baghdad sponsored a “235th Birthday for the Army Jag” 5K run.  For those of you familiar with the terrain, the runners started at Signal Hill on Camp Victory.  Over 450 people show up for this early morning weekend run. The USO had T-shirts for all the runners and plaques for the top 3 fastest male and female participants.  Congrats to all!

Runners stretched in preparation of a 5K run sponsored by the USO. (Photo by USO Baghdad)

Landstuhl, Germany - On July 30, 2010 the USO Warrior Center hosted an event with Heidelberg Sports and Fitness.  A group came down to cook out for the wounded warriors and give away some T-shirts designed especially for the event.  Menu choices included ribs, pork steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, bratwurst, baked beans, potato salad, corn on the cob, vegetarian chili, watermelon, and garlic bread.  Yummy!

The event also fell on their Flashback Friday tradition, so a couple of older sports-themed movies were shown during the dinner, including “Bull Durham” and “Hoosiers.”  The turnout for the event was great, with 100 wounded warriors in attendance.  Nearly every wounded warrior echoed this warrior’s feelings, “this is the best food I have had in a long time.”

The wounded warriors were grateful to the Heidelberg crew for grilling for them and to the USO for hosting another successful event. (Photo by USO Warrior Center)

Basrah, Iraq - Texas Hold’em has quickly become a base favorite at USO Basrah. Every seat in the house was full once again as soldiers competed to make it to the final table. The addition of new trophies for the top card sharks had everyone playing their hands tight and bringing their best game face to the table.  Though not everyone walked away a champion, everyone had the chance to hone their skills and prepare…for next month’s tournament.  For more pictures, visit USO Basrah on Facebook by clicking here.

The poker tables were packed as Troops anted up for a tournament. (Photo by USO Basrah)

Volunteer of the Year – Fourth Quarter Nominees

To recognize the outstanding contributions of our volunteers, USO centers from our four operating regions—Stateside, Europe, Southwest Asia, and the Pacific—nominate a volunteer for “Volunteer of the Quarter” four times a year. This individual has gone above and beyond in supporting our troops and demonstrating their commitment to the USO mission. From this group of outstanding volunteers a “Volunteer of the Year” is then selected for each region, and, from these nominees comes the USO Volunteer of the Year is selected and honored at our annual gala.

Here are the 4th Quarter Volunteer Nominees!

May Grace Enjambre – Europe USO Volunteer of the Quarter

As a single service member living far from her family in the Philippines, May Grace Enjambre knows first hand how difficult it is to be in a new place, separated from loved ones. When she first arrived at her duty station in Naples, it was a bit tough. But like so many of the remarkable men and women serving our country, May decided to use her time to help other troops and their families by volunteering with USO Naples.

May is the center’s Publicity Coordinator, working with the Armed Forces Network and the local public affairs office to inform the local Naval Support Activities center about the USO and its programs.  Despite working two jobs, May gives up her weekends to volunteer with the USO. She’s volunteered more than 600 hours assisting over 4,000 in-transit passengers and 1,000 families during USO events. With young people like May serving in our armed forces, we can rest easier knowing that we are in trusted hands.

David Tennent – United States USO Volunteer of the Year

Dave Tennent is one of USO Puget Sound’s superstar volunteers. Fondly known as “Doughnut Dave,” he established procedures to implement a partnership with the Top Pot Doughnut shop and now spends five nights a week picking up and delivering nearly 300 doughnuts to troops and their families.

Dave serves as the lead volunteer for three weekly shifts, averaging nearly 100 volunteer hours per month. His efforts are critical in helping the USO build relationships with outside organizations like the Boeing Blue Bills, the Kirkland Kiwanians and the Kirkland Interfaith Transitions in Housing Group. He’s urged these groups to volunteer and attend USO sponsored events, giving them a chance to show their commitment to our nation’s service members.  Dave’s efforts and positive attitude ensure that the center is able to serve the troops and their families, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

SSgt. Shaina Newton – Southwest Asia USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Staff Sergeant Shaina Newton is a remarkable service member who truly enjoys supporting fellow troops. When she’s not working 12-hour shifts at her regular duty station, she’s at USO Baghdad, where she averages 64 hours per month, making sure the USO center feels like a “home away from home.”

Shaina is constantly coming up with new initiatives to help lift the spirits of her comrades.  She created a revised volunteer database that maps out daily volunteer and visitor trends. This system helps the center predict needs and determine volunteer recruitment goals.  Not only does she bring her wonderful creativity and good nature to our operations, but she has saved USO Baghdad countless hours in tracking and managing volunteers. Shaina Newton’s contributions to the USO are a testament to her exceptional character and we applaud her service to the center and to our nation.

Tracy Johnson – Pacific Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Tracy Johnson is a proud Navy submariner spouse, dedicated mother and USO Guam volunteer. Her smile, hearty laughter, and deep commitment to service make her indispensable to our military and their families. Tracy shows her commitment to our nation’s troops and USO Guam in many ways. When the Sesame Street tour came to Guam, Tracy ensured the event was a success, understanding how important it was for the military children on base.

She also helped sell more than $1,400 in raffle tickets for the USO Guam Gala and readily steps up to staff events like the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, Pier Side Flapjack Breakfasts and the furniture auction.  With a heart as big as Texas, and the skills to make things happen, Tracy’s efforts help USO Guam exceed the expectations of guests, and provide the highest level of excellence in service and visitor satisfaction.

Becoming an American in Iraq

Baghdad, Iraq- “Man, if I was born in the U.S. I never would have seen this!” exclaims PFC Andres Martinez after posing with the mural of Saddam Hussein on Camp Slayer in the Victory Base Complex. The story of PFC Martinez and his four fellow soldiers Edelberto Elias, Seguei Maspoch and Andrew Russell of the US ARMY 4th Division, 3rd Brigade 1/8 infantry begins on a dusty flight line on June 30 in Southern Iraq, while waiting on a Blackhawk helicopter where SSG Andrew Russell is sponsoring his three men.  The men are all traveling to Baghdad for a grandiose ceremony in Al Faw Palace on July 4th, the headquarters of the United States Forces-Iraq, where they will be naturalized as United States citizens.

All four soldiers serve on Forward Operating Base GarryOwen which defines the term “middle of nowhere” and this trip to the Victory Base Complex (VBC) was more then just becoming well deserved American citizens in a lavish ceremony with the top brass in the theater.  It was a chance to relax and enjoy the benefits of being on a very large and well appointed base like the VBC. The USO Baghdad met these men on that dusty flight line in Southern Iraq and decided that it was ‘mission critical’ to help these men make the most of their time up here in the capital city of Iraq.

SSG Andrew Russell points out the Ba’ath Party Convention Center to PFC Elias, SPC Maspoch, and PFC Martinez during their trip to Baghdad for a U.S. naturalization ceremony. (USO photo)

Upon arrival in Baghdad on Sather Air Base, the simple task of giving them a ride across the VBC to their temporary housing turned into a 3 hour venture that included a pizza lunch and stops at the major landmarks of the former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, like the Victory Over America Palace and the Ba’ath Party Convention Center. Tired from the flight and stuffed on pizza and Monsters, the men were dropped off at their housing and rested for another day of their Baghdad adventure.

Second night in Baghdad, the USO Staff treated the men to a local Turkish restaurant that also shows World Cup soccer projected on the wall. We figured the fellas would appreciate the break from the routine meals served at the dining facility on GerryOwen, as they only just recently got a dining facility on their base.  These guys have been eating ARMY issued MREs for months now, but on that night they were sitting under clear skies eating Chicken Tikka and wondering if they were still in the same country!  The best part of the evening was enjoying some comforts of home and enjoying the drubbing of Mexico by Argentina. Into every life a little rain must fall, though, and it was tough going on the third night when SPC Martinez’ home nation of Chile took a epic beating at the hands of neighboring Brazil in the World Cup.

(l-r) SSG Andrew Russell sponsored PFC Andres Martinez, SPC Seguei Maspoch and PFC Edelberto Elias for citizenship. All enjoyed the amenities of USO Baghdad days before the ceremony. (USO photo)

It was quickly back to business during the week leading up to the ceremony, which occured on Independence Day.  The men had their citizenship interviews to prepare for and make sure their paperwork is all in good order, but when their meetings ended, the USO has some more fun and games planned for them. As it happens, the Sather Air Base USAF Civil Engineering Squadron was planning a farewell cookout at the only pool on the VBC on Saturday afternoon and gladly extended invites to the USO and our visitors. The location of the pool and cookout used to be the getaway for the upper echelon of Saddam’s Ba’ath party and now the area is open to every service member of the coalition forces.

Altogether, Al Faw Palace hosted 156 servicemembers who earned their U.S. citizenship - on Independence Day, no less - through service to the nation. (USO photo)

Big day arrives and Seguei, Edelberto & Andres stand with 173 others and raise their right hand once again for this nation and when the hands come down they now belong to American Citizens. Years in wait and weeks to prepare for this event and it was over rather quick, all 3 of the fellas were happy but they admitted to feeling a lot more emotional then they thought they were going to. Edelberto likened it to getting married in that respect. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden were on hand to be apart of the ceremony that was run by USF-I commander Gen Ray Ordierno.

It was a life defining moment for the 3 soldiers but they also have work to do here and buddies to support on GarryOwen.  All too soon they gathered at Sather Air Base for their flight back to Tallil.  The USO Baghdad says “goodbye and good luck” to our good friends…and fellow U.S. Citizens

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, congratulate a service member on becoming a U.S. citizen on the 4th of July, 2010. (USO photo)