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USO, Jack Daniel’s Team Up to Toast to the Troops

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More than 5,000 Operation USO Care Packages were assembled Thursday by military spouses as part of the 20th “Toast to the Troops” care package assembly event. USO North Carolina volunteers and Jack Daniel’s employees took part in the event at the Fort Bragg fairgrounds. Following the assembly event, country music star and Army veteran Craig Morgan treated more than 3,000 troops, military families and members of the Fort Bragg community to a free concert.

“If it were not for these men and women who are serving, the people we are packing these bags for, we would not live in the country we live in today,” Morgan said.  “And it is imperative that we take care of them.”

The USO and Jack Daniel’s have worked together on these events for eight years. The USO has distributed more than 2.3 million care packages since the program began in 2003.  In addition to providing service men and women with needed items, the care packages serve as a touch of home and a reminder to our troops that America is always by their side.

–Story by USO Story Development

Military Families Can Benefit From Tax-Free Shopping Weekend

Attention military families, entrepreneurs and veteran students: Is it time to upgrade your home computer? Time to buy a new laptop, some back-to-school clothes, or books or school supplies for the family? Whatever your consumer needs, it’s likely you won’t be charged sales tax if you get out and buy the items you need this weekend.

In Louisiana, home of Barksdale Air Force Base, Fort Polk and New Orleans Naval Air Station, all purchases less than $2,500 are tax-free. If you live in North Carolina, home of Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, you can purchase computer equipment up to $3,500 tax-free.

For all you inspired entrepreneurs, once you get your new gear, you’ll want to check out USO partner Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Dates for the tax-free weekend vary by state. Check out the incentives offered in your state at: http://www.parade.com/56642/leahingram/16-states-have-sales-tax-holidays-in-august/

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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USO Provides Internet Connectivity to Superstorm Sandy Cleanup Personnel

Troops unwind on four MEGS (Mobile Entertainment Gaming Stations) inside the USO tent at Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Leigh Edmonds, Mobile Program Manager

Thousands of troops and emergency personnel are settling in at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., for what may be more than a month of cleanup efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The USO is right there with them to provide support at the heart of what has been dubbed “Tent City.”

Army engineers are spending their days clearing debris from nearby streets and security personnel are pulling 24-hour shifts to keep the most heavily damaged areas of the eastern shore safe. But they now know they’ll be able to relax when they return from duty, whether its inside one of two Mobile USOs or in a 30-foot by 30-foot USO tent featuring food, entertainment and Web access.

The first wave of connectivity support arrived with the newly refitted Mobile USOs. These units have both 4G wireless and satellite capabilities that can provide more than 25 concurrent online access points within a 200-foot radius. Inside the nearby USO tent, five Mobile Entertainment Gaming Systems (MEGS) have been deployed as gaming and movie-watching stations. Additional laptops are available for use by troops and first responders who do not have their own equipment.

Nothing like a little football with friends at a USO mobile canteen! Photo by Leigh Edmonds, Mobile Program Manager

All this high-speed technology translates into some simple comforts of home for troops who deployed to New York City—comforts like Sunday afternoon football on the Mobile USO televisions or a Skype conversation with loved ones back home.

“When you think about getting deployed—whether it’s disaster relief or combat—the last thing you expect is to catch the game on Sunday,” said Army Capt. Keven O’Reilly of the 204th Engineer Battalion. “But these soldiers are out here sleeping in the cold in order to bring security and peace to a community under duress. To get something like a football game or access to the Internet, it makes being deployed that much easier.”

The second wave of connectivity support soon to arrive in Tent City will be a portable satellite kit and bandwidth provided by 3Di.

According to USO Operations and Internet Technology personnel, this unit will be located adjacent to the USO tent and will provide wireless access for up to 50 additional users, as well as continuous Internet access to the USO tent should the Mobile USO need to relocate.

“That’s one thing I love about the USO—they show up right where we need them most with exactly what we want the most,” O’Reilly said. “All I can say is thank you—you guys did it again.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Mobile USOs Arrive in NYC to Support Troops During Superstorm Sandy Recovery

The USO of North Carolina’s Mobile USO arrived in Harlem, New York, on Tuesday afternoon. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Last Friday, USO of Metropolitan New York received a call from the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem, requesting a touch of home for more than 7,000 troops deployed to New York and New Jersey in response to the recent superstorm.

These troops came from around the country in support of Operation Sandy—a massive joint-services cleanup and humanitarian effort expected to last the next few weeks. Troops will live in a tent city at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, braving the elements in order to bring food, water, gasoline and security to Superstorm Sandy-impacted communities in New York City.

To make their lives a little easier, the USO sent two Mobile USO vehicles—one from the USO’s regional office in Norfolk, Va., and another from USO of North Carolina—along with three vans packed full of supplies to provide creature comforts to the thousands of brave citizen-soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“These troops are sleeping in a field environment with very few amenities,” said Army Capt. J.C. Bravo of the 369th Regiment Armory. “Right now we’re setting up something very similar to a Forward Operating Base—just like you might see in the field—so their noses are to the grindstone, hard at work.

“But once we get set up with a place to rest our heads, it will be a great benefit to have the presence of the USO out there.”

The Mobile USOs—scheduled to be in place and operational at Floyd Bennett Field by Thursday—will bring the USO’s special brand of services directly to these troops. Each Mobile USO lounge is equipped with books, magazines and a 46-inch LCD television with state-of-the-art home theater and digital satellite television systems and an Xbox 360 gaming system.

The Internet café inside the Mobile USO based in Norfolk features laptops for checking e-mail, accessing the Web and printing, copying or faxing documents. Each of its four laptops are also outfitted with an Xbox 360 gaming system, with the ability to play individually or against other Xbox 360 consoles networked within the vehicle. Meanwhile, the Mobile USO deployed by the USO of North Carolina features two cell phones for troops to use if necessary.

The Mobile USOs’ quick deployment capabilities allow the USO to get where it needs to be to accomplish its mission of lifting the spirits of troops and their families. And with another winter storm heading toward the New York area this week, it looks like the vehicles made it there just in time.

—Joseph Andrew Lee, USO staff writer

USO Convoy on Way to Support National Guard During New York City Clean-Up Efforts

No one signs up for the military thinking they’re going to deploy to New York City.

But that’s exactly what thousands of National Guard troops did last week when Superstorm Sandy pummeled the business capitol of the world causing mass power outages, billions of dollars in damage and leaving thousands of New Yorkers temporarily homeless.

And — as always — the USO is there to support them.

The two USO Mobile Canteens, along with two vans, are being packed as we speak

The USO of Metropolitan New York received a call on Friday from the National Guard’s 369th Sustainment Brigade — which may be better known as the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I fame — asking if it could have Mobile USO support for troops working in the aftermath of the storm. The USO then spent the weekend working on the logistics.

On Monday morning, a four-vehicle USO convoy left Dover, Delaware, carrying thousands of pounds of supplies destined for New York City. The USO of North Carolina’s Mobile USO – which is also towing a trailer – traveled to Dover early Monday morning to meet up with a second Mobile USO from the USO’s regional office. Two passenger vans already in Dover were to join the convoy on an afternoon trip up to New York.

Once the USO staffers arrived in Dover, they loaded up their vehicles with supplies from USO warehouses as far south as North Carolina along with items generously donated by pharmacy giant CVS and items already on hand at USO warehouses on the East Coast. The convoy is packed with easy-to-distribute food like Slim Jims, Girl Scout Cookies and “things you can nuke [in the microwave]” as one USO senior staffer described it. The convoy will also packed supplies like toiletries, playing cards and other items to keep troops entertained during down time.

It should all come in handy for the more than 7,000 National Guardsmen who are cleaning up and maintaining order in the city.

Last week, you read a story about how a volunteer from USO of Metropolitan New York walked 50 blocks to open a center after the storm for first responders.

Now, the reinforcements are coming.

You can continue to follow this story on Twitter @the_USO.

—Eric Brandner, Director of Story Development

It’s not too late to help the USO support National Guard troops who are in the thick of Superstorm Sandy relief. Click here to donate.

Photos from the Field – October 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 young man waits on the pier for the arrival of his father. USS MCCAMPBELL (DDG 85) was deployed for nearly 90 days. (USO photo by Jason Rouse)

At USO Fort Drum's recent Boogie With Your Boots On, the "bull" takes a rest in between riders. (Photo courtesy USO Fort Drum Facebook page)

Wounded warrior Joel Tavares (left) and his dad, Jose (right), joined USO San Antonio Center Director Shari Jenson (center) at the downtown USO. The staff had this to say: "What an honor!!" (Photo courtesy of USO San Antonio Facebook page)

"When they are called, We are there," by Cindy Testerink. This original was auctioned off at the 2010 USO of North Carolina gala, but was donated back to the RDU center and will hang proudly on its walls. (Photo courtesy USO-N.C. Facebook page)