Bruno Mars Plays USO Show for Military Families at the White House

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Grammy-winning recording artist Bruno Mars performed a USO show for hundreds of cheering troops, military family members and guests of the First Family on Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House.

The multi-platinum recording artist played a collection of hits as part of the USO’s seventh annual Salute to the Military USO concert. While storms cancelled the pre-show cookout festivities on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama came out and addressed the crowd from the stage before Mars’ hour-long USO performance that led into a fireworks show on the National Mall.

“It was an honor to perform at the Fourth of July concert at the White House,” Mars said in a release. “It was incredible to stand with the First Family and the USO to recognize the service and sacrifice of our troops and military families.”

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.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

How Bob Hope Impacted Two Troops in Vietnam (Without Actually Seeing Them)

Bob Hope interviews a service member on stage in Vietnam in 1966. USO photo

Bob Hope interviews a service member on stage in Vietnam in 1966. USO photo

Bob Hope did more for American troops than he probably realized.

If you know the USO, you know about Hope’s decades entertaining troops. You’ve probably seen footage from his televised USO specials, too, where he entertained service members in dangerous spots around the world. But what you likely don’t know about is the personal impact he had on some of those troops — even those whose duties prevented them from attending the shows.

Here are two stories* sent to us by former service members who fought in Vietnam and were touched by Hope in unique ways without actually seeing him.

Donald Scott

I had been in country less than a month when Bob Hope and his crew visited Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Vietnam, in December 1966. They did a show at South Beach for the Army and Navy and one at the air base.

Being new in country, I was on duty as an aerial port duty officer and did not get to attend a show. That evening, as they took off and were flying to their next destination, we called the plane (call sign Sky King) from our [airlift control element] and spoke to Bob. He summoned Anita Bryant to the [microphone] and she sang “Silent Night” to us as they flew through the dark, black skies of Vietnam.

I will never forget this little act of kindness for a small group of about five guys who could not attend the big show.

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Jerry Tobias

The U.S. Air Force Fairchild C-123K Provider was a tactical airlift workhorse during the Vietnam War. I flew the C-123 out of Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam, and crisscrossed the length and breadth of the war zone on a regular basis. This gave me the opportunity to observe the realities of war and the impact of combat on the people involved.

One very noticeable constant was the resignation and despair that I saw on the faces of the battle- and boredom-weary soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen that shuffled on and off of my C-123 each day. The war and its painful byproducts seemed to erase all other expressions from the faces of most of them. It’s not hard to understand why. Most of these men … were not there because they wanted to be, but because they had to be. Many had also already known a buddy — or at least had been aware of someone — who had been killed in an ambush, maimed by a booby trap, or caught in the web of cheap and easily accessible drugs. Tragically, all of them were also aware of the loud and negative segment of the population back home that neither cared about them nor cared about what they were going through day after day.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Tobias

Photo courtesy of Jerry Tobias

Those facts all helped to make my flights on Dec. 24 and 25, 1971, even more significant.

My C-123 unit had asked for volunteers to fly troops to and from the Bob Hope USO shows in Bien Hoa those two days. I decided that, rather than sit in my room and be even lonelier on Christmas, flying in support of those shows would be a great alternative. So, I signed up to fly as many sorties as necessary. I eventually flew 13 sorties back and forth to Bien Hoa. Every flight was packed with as many troops as we could legally carry aboard the C-123. …

The flights to the shows were pretty much normal troop transport flights. The troops were still mostly expressionless; they were just glad to get a break from the war. But, each return flight from the shows was absolutely not normal. … The emotional weight of the airplane seemed to be thousands of pounds lighter. Also totally different was the restored expression of life on the troops’ faces. It was amazing. It was as though Bob Hope had turned the light back on in their souls. That, I believe, was not the result the men having been entertained, but of their having been appreciated. …

The very genuine care and appreciation that Bob Hope and the rest of his cast expressed to the troops in a couple of hours during each USO show was, therefore, probably quite literally more encouragement and support than many of these young men had experienced before, during or — sadly, in some cases — even after their tours of duty.

[Bob Hope] entertained, yes, but he also imparted sincere value and respect to men and women who had not received much of either for a long, long time. We, as a nation, owe him and those who have followed after him in USO endeavors more than we could ever repay.

My flying schedule did not allow me to attend a Bob Hope USO show myself … but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I personally witnessed and will never forget the incredible impact that he and those with him had on the morale of the U.S. military. What also mattered was that I had the tremendous privilege of providing several hundred others with airlift to the appreciation that they desperately needed and so very richly deserved.

Editors Note: Stories have been edited slightly for length and style.

Coining a Legend: Richard Roundtree Talks About ‘Being Mary Jane,’ ‘Shaft’ and his USO Tour

"Being Mary Jane" cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

“Being Mary Jane” cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree, center, and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

When Richard Roundtree says you’re cool, is there anything left to accomplish?

Roundtree – the actor who played the title character in the “Shaft” franchise of the 1970s – had the all-too-civilian experience of being unexpectedly coined for the first time when he visited Naval Base San Diego on a USO tour Feb. 17.

He appreciated the base commanding officer’s style.

“He shook my hand and in the palm of his hand – I have it right here in front of me – he had this [coin],” the jovial actor said of his interaction with Capt. Curt Jones. “The way he gave it to me was just too cool.”

Roundtree knows cool. He’s spent five decades exuding it on screen, including his recent run on BET’s hit drama “Being Mary Jane.” Roundtree and co-stars B.J. Britt and Aaron Spears toured the base together last month.

“I was blown away seeing up close and personal what the Navy was about,” Roundtree said. “From a civilian’s point of view, I got to see a lot and it was wonderful.

“The icing on the cake was how appreciative the enlisted [troops] were toward us. It was just great. I loved it.”

The trio of actors mingled with troops and military family members, stopping to pose for photos and talk about their show and, of course, a little nostalgia.

“[Troops] were relating primarily to ‘Shaft’ understandably,’” said Roundtree, who had two paternal uncles who served in World War II. “I tried to push [“Being Mary Jane,” and they would say] ‘Oh yeah, yeah, we know all about that, but “Shaft” …’

“Even watching the Academy Awards the other night, there was the ‘Shaft’ theme in there at one point,” he said, chuckling.

Roundtree has transformed from an action hero to the man who polices the action in “Being Mary Jane.” He plays Paul Patterson Sr., the father of series star Gabriel Union’s Mary Jane Paul. The series has received positive reviews and was recently picked up for a third season.

“The beauty of it is the universality of the story lines are just great to be a part of,” he said. “Gabriele Union – the trials and tribulations she goes through with the extended family and I have to run kind of roughshod over this whole family – very exciting work. And challenging. I’m having a great time.”

Vince Vaughn Treats Troops to an Advance USO Screening of ‘Unfinished Business’

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Giving back to the military is in Vince Vaughn’s blood.

So when he was presented with the chance to treat troops at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to an advance screening of his upcoming film “Unfinished Business,” the three-time USO tour veteran had to say yes.

“I have military in my family,” Vaughn said. “My sister was [in the military], and [I have had] relatives [serve] way back, all the way back to the beginning, I believe, to the revolution.

“I’m always appreciative of the troops and all the sacrifices that are made and it’s always been important to me to express that.”

In addition to meeting with base leadership and personally kicking off the screening event, Vaughn got to chat and take photos with troops who had recently returned home and others who’d been recognized for excellence in their jobs.

“I hope that the movie brings them some laughter, that they have a good day laughing,” Vaughn said. “[I’m glad I] just get the chance to send the message that I know that a lot of people share, which is that they’re always in our minds and in our hearts.”

Vaughn traveled overseas with the USO to screen “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” for service members in Southwest Asia in 2004.

“I [had] shot ‘Dodgeball’ and was shooting ‘Wedding Crashers,'” he said. “I had met Pat Tillman and then I got the news … on the TV that he had passed. It really bothered me and I had other friends who were overseas. So, I called the USO out of nowhere and said, ‘Can I come over?’”

The following year, Vaughn continued his USO relationship by screening “Wedding Crashers” for troops. In the past decade, he’s entertained more than 8,735 servicemen and women through the USO.