Pa. School, National Constitution Center Deliver Lessons via Veterans Day Video Chats with Troops at USO Centers

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Stacy Henry was determined to give her first graders a Veterans Day lesson to remember.

Thanks to a little persistence – and a hand from USO Bagram in Afghanistan – she was able to pull off a lesson the kids at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center in New Castle, Pa., won’t soon forget.

“This year, with my husband being in the [Army Reserve] and two of his fellow soldiers being deployed in Afghanistan, I decided that it would be awesome to connect with them,” Henry said.

Henry’s initial plan was to virtually connect her students with Army Reserve Sgts. Michael Maurer and Joshua Reilly – both deployed to Afghanistan with the 333rd Engineer Company – for a Skype chat. Maurer and Reilly are in the same reserve unit as Henry’s husband, Sgt. Todd Henry.

While the two deployed soldiers weren’t able to get in on the event, Henry was still able to uplink her school’s gymnasium – packed with 300 first-through-third graders – to USO Bagram to speak with troops at the center on Veterans Day. Todd Henry and fellow Army Reserve Spc. Jason McCray also came to the school to be with the kids during the Skype connection. The kids read a poem, sang patriotic songs and even tried to ask a few questions of the troops on the other end of the call.

“[It was] an awesome, unforgettable, honorable, memorable event on Veterans Day, which I feel proud to be a part of,” said Stacy Henry, whose youngest son, Morgan, is a third grader at the school.

And while Maurer and Reilly missed out on the chat, they won’t be forgotten. Henry said the school was preparing care packages for the duo, and was also looking to send a large envelope full of student-written letters their way.

Constitution Center Links to Troops Downrange

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

USO Kandahar also got in on the Veterans Day Skype action, linking up to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a Q&A with visitors.

USO Kandahar’s DJ Stanhope linked up with Liberty USO – which covers the Philadelphia region – to set up the Skype call, where visitors to the National Constitution Center got an inside view of USO Kandahar and the life of a deployed service member.

Stanhope said the highlight of the call came when two children – a boy around the age of 2 and a girl no more than 4 – sang “God Bless America” for three young soldiers who were participating in the call from Kandahar.

USO of Pioneer Valley Shows Solidarity with Troops in Afghanistan

From left, Brian Willette, Dick Burgess, Jim Bouchard, Steve Jimmo and Kevin Willette walk during the USO of Pioneer Valley's USO Pat Tillman Center 5K Shadow Run on April 21 on Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. Photo courtesy of Brian Willette

From left, Brian Willette, Dick Burgess, Jim Bouchard, Steve Jimmo and Kevin Willette walk during the USO of Pioneer Valley’s USO Pat Tillman Center 5K Shadow Run on April 21 at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass. Photos courtesy of Brian Willette

Brian Willette was curious what was going on at Bagram Air Base.

It’s not something you’ll hear from many Americans these days, with the perception that the wars in the Middle East have all but wrapped up. But Willette isn’t exactly from a normal American family. A veteran of the Afghan War, the USO of Pioneer Valley board member was wounded by an improvised explosive device Sept. 13, 2010, in Afghanistan. He spent a week at Bagram recovering from TBI and “a lot more time,” as he describes it, at the USO Pat Tillman Center.

Nearly seven months after the retired Army staff sergeant was hurt, his son, then-Army Spec. Kevin Willette, was wounded in the same country. His daughter, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christine Luppachino, volunteered for the USO during her 2009 deployment to Iraq.

So when the patriarch of a family with strong ties to a region eight time zones away heard there was a 5K race at Bagram on April 21, he snapped into action.

“My concept was to ‘stand with Bagram by running with Bagram’” Brian Willette wrote in a recent email about the shadow 5K that USO of Pioneer Valley put on April 21 at Westover Air Reserve Base, Mass.

USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinvile runs during the 5K.

USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinville runs during the shadow 5K on April 21.

He credited USO of Pioneer Valley President David Jubinville and fellow board member and Air Force veteran Dan Ernst for their support in jumpstarting the event, which demonstrated “our support for deployed troops, USO overseas centers, Pat Tillman as well as all of our fallen comrades.”

The 5K attracted local veterans groups including Fairview American Legion Post 438, VFW Hampden District 7 and the Military Order of the Purple Heart Western Massachusetts Chapter 875. Active-duty and reserve personnel assigned to Westover also ran in the event.

–Story by USO Story Development

Cupcake Wars!

Soldiers at the Pat Tillman Memorial Center in Bagram, Afghanistan, enjoy field-expedient Soda Cupcakes during the USO birthday celebration in February, 2012.

Cupcakes have become the Hollywood starlet of sugary snacks.

From “D.C. Cupcake,” to “Cupcake Wars,” to the scores of mom-and-pop shops springing up on every hipster city block, there’s no question cupcakes have put the “in” in “binge.”

If it’s hip and it’s Hollywood, you know the USO has to get our fingers in it.

On Sunday, July 1, Food Network’s reality program “Cupcake Wars” will be “Saluting the USO” at 8 p.m. EST as competitors battle for sweet supremacy with a shot at having their confections featured during last October’s USO Gala in Washington, D.C.

And in the spirit of competition, we at USO Arlington found a way to have a little cupcake war of our own.

While supporting the men and women of the U.S. Military, there’s often little time and few supplies with which to make a batch of cupcakes at our USO Centers. So what do we do? We adapt, overcome and improvise, of course! We find ways to bake field expedient cupcakes!

Cathe Ganley—Duty Manager at USO Bagram—developed a method for making cupcakes in the microwave with only cake mix and a soda. Now that’s creative!

Other USO Centers stateside have developed a microwavable method of their own using classic ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, and sugar.

Yesterday we pit the two recipes against each other in a Field-Expedient Cupcake Battle Royale.

Who was the winner? I’m not telling.

Instead, I’m going to give you the directions and ingredients to make both cakes in your own microwave and let you be the judge. Invite some friends over to watch “Cupcake Wars” Sunday night and whip these quick snacks together to feed your guests. Then tell us what you think!

After they beg you for the recipe, you can let them know they are eating battle-tested 5-minute recipes enjoyed every day by the men and women protecting their freedom.

Soda Cupcake

Ingredients:

1 Box of “Yellow” Cake Mix
1 Can of Sprite**
10 ten-ounce paper cups (or Dixie Cups)

**Substitute root beer for Sprite when making chocolate cupcakes.

Directions: In a large bowl, mix entire box of cake mix with the full can of Sprite. Fill 10 oz cups 1/3 of the way full with batter, then microwave three at a time for three minutes. Adjust cooking time and batter consistency as necessary to compensate for altitude.

Cake in a Mug

Ingredients:

1 Coffee Mug
4 Tbs Flour
4 Tbs Sugar
2 Tbs Cocoa
1 Egg
3 Tbs Milk
3 Tbs Oil
3 Tbs Chocolate Chips
Splash of Vanilla Extract

Directions: Mix dry ingredients well in coffee mug then stir in the remaining ingredients. Mix well then microwave on high for three minutes. Don’t be alarmed. The cake will rise at least two inches over the top of the mug while cooking. As soon as it is done, however, it will retract back inside the mug. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Photos from the Field

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

USO Bagram held a Texas Hold 'Em tournament and this Troop kept his cards close to the vest.

The Early Show's Dave Price sports his new USO gear in style during a segment where Wounded Warriors visited the set of the show courtesy of USO Fort Drum.

Volunteers at USO Kandahar distributed Tim Horton doughnuts and muffins to hungry Troops!

USO of Indiana volunteers snapped this picture during the Blue Star Salute at Stout Field in Indianapolis. The event was conducted by American Legion Post 145.

USO of Wisconsin recently welcomed home 32nd Red Arrow IBCT - thank you for your service!

On June 18, 2010, USO Korea held a Goodwill Golf Tournament, which was a huge success for all that attended and sponsored the event. Join them in October for their Invitational!