Celebrities Hit the Road to Visit Troops on the USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour

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We’ve got the first pictures from this year’s USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour!

The six-day, five-country USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey features country music artist and eight-time USO tour veteran entertainer Kellie Pickler, actor/comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle, Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister and USO President and CEO J.D. Crouch II.

Check back here and on USO.org’s entertainment news page all week to see more photos from the tour.

USO, New England Revolution Honor Troops at ‘Salute to Service’ Match

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass—On the bicentennial weekend of Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner,” the USO was invited to Gillette Stadium to display it’s own red, white and blue standard: a Guinness World Record-breaking flag.

The USO Every Moment Counts Flag, which shattered the Guinness World Record for most signatures on a flag at 115,405, was displayed during the New England Revolution’s match against the Montreal Impact.

Designed as the ultimate thank you note to troops and military families, the 80-foot-by-120-foot, 350-pound flag boasts signatures from Americans in all 50 states and seven other countries.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said USO New England volunteer T.R. Collins, who started with the USO when her son went off to college. “The USO puts me in the heart of Active service members and lifting their spirits actually comes back to me tenfold.”

The flag was unfurled at halftime by more than 100 USO New England volunteers amidst a summer downpour while Tennessee Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Angie Johnson and the USO Show Troupe performed for the crowd. Nearly 3,000 police, fire, EMS personnel, active duty service members, reservists and family members from all five branches of the military were in attendance.

After the match, New England Revolution players took the time to meet with troops and families, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

The next stop on the flag’s tour is in Dover, Delaware, at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sept. 28.

For more information on the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign – which rallies Americans to show their support for troops and their families – visit USOmoments.org or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter using #USOmoments.

Operation C.H.A.M.P.S Founders Rev up for USO Tour to South Korea

Debbie and Jen Fink. Photo via operationchamps.org

Debbie and Jen Fink

Mother-daughter duo Debbie and Jen Fink, founders of Operation C.H.A.M.P.S and co-authors of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S — Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel,” are in South Korea on USO tour to talk with young children from American military families.

“There is just no greater honor, really … than to be partnering and working with the USO and to be taking this [programming] to these deserving un-sung heroes all over the world,” Debbie Fink said. “The USO gets it and the USO has the personnel to really take a vision and turn it into reality.”

From today through Sept. 23, the Finks and the USO, will greet about 2,400 military children at five installations throughout South Korea.

“I’m so honored to have the privilege to go on this tour and I can’t wait,” Jen Fink said.

Empowering Little C.H.A.M.P.S

During each 45-minute program, the elementary-aged kids will have the chance to participate in specially designed programming that blends math, English-language arts, sign-language, song and dance to directly address many of the unique challenges they face as military children.

LittleCHAMPSbook“What we aim to do is to provide support, comfort and gratitude to all elementary school C.H.A.M.P.S in [South] Korea that we have the privilege of spending time with,” Debbie Fink said. “It’s a pretty upbeat program carefully crafted such that it’s joyful — it’s a feel-good. They come in feeling great, they walk out feeling great with their heads up high in song.”

In addition to reading the “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S” book and singing the C.H.A.M.P.S song — the latter written by Jen Fink— kids will engage in interactive activities to learn how to cope with emotions, deal with changes and tackle any obstacles they might face as a byproduct of having a parent in the military. From identifying the plot and setting of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S” to calculating the average number of family moves the group has made, each part of the program is specifically tailored to help military children understand what it means to be a C.H.A.M.P in a fun-yet-educational, way.

“Everything that we do is very intentional in terms of how it [relates] to the academics [and education requirements] of the school [system],” Debbie Fink said.

Each child will also receive a free copy of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S.”

“Together the book and program really celebrates and validates our nation’s C.H.A.M.P.S,” Jen Fink said. “It celebrates the C.H.A.M.P.S’ family service to our nation, as well as celebrates and validates [their] emotions and coping mechanisms.”

Operation C.H.A.M.P.S: A Family Affair

While this is not the first Operation C.H.A.M.P.S tour, it will be the first time that both Finks, will be going on tour overseas together. Debbie Fink has gone on multiple USO tours overseas, including a visit to Europe in 2011 and Japan last year.

“To have a multi-generation experience … with Jen and to work together as a mother and a daughter team is very striking,” Debbie Fink said. “I know that when we hear [the children] singing the song that Jen wrote there will be a lot of tears shed behind the scenes because it’s an overwhelming, overwhelming experience to give children not only a voice, but to give them their song.”

To learn more about Operation C.H.A.M.P.S and their 2013 USO tour to Japan, check out the USO.org story here.

Football is Back: A Look at How the NFL Supports the USO

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The return of the NFL season marks 48 years since the league started supporting America’s troops through the USO.

Starting with the first USO/NFL tour to Vietnam in 1966 — which featured Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Johnny Unitas, Willie Davis, Sam Huff and Frank Gifford — to March’s USO/NFL tour featuring Jimmy Graham, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Fields, the league has found ways to consistently show it’s appreciation to America’s troops.

“We are proud of our relationship with the USO that dates back more than 45 years and includes dozens of overseas visits to troops and trips to military hospitals nationwide,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an email interview with the USO earlier this year. “The USO is an important partner for the NFL because our collaboration enables the NFL to give something back to the men and women in uniform that have given so much to all of us.”

Goodell became the first NFL commissioner to go on a USO tour when he traveled overseas in 2008.

“That USO tour was a privilege and had a profound impact on me,” he wrote. “The NFL’s support for the military had always been a priority, but it was really striking to see firsthand how much NFL football means to our service members overseas. Some of our players were traveling with me and we all came back with a renewed and strengthened commitment to our troops.”

Here are five ways the NFL has supported troops over the past few years:

  • NFL_321NFL Sports Lounge: The NFL pledged $2 million to build the NFL Sports Lounge inside the USO Warrior and Family Center on Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The center serves as a home away from home for severely wounded, ill and injured troops recovering on the hospital campus.
  • Discounted tickets for troops: If you’re a service member who happens to be a fan of the Browns, Jaguars, Dolphins, Jets, Raiders, Chargers, Buccaneers or Redskins, you have the opportunity to buy discount tickets and/or stadium parking passes this season.
  • Salute to Service: The USO is one of three military nonprofits the NFL supports through it’s November Salute to Service games. A donation is made to each nonprofit for every point scored in these games, and special camouflage gear worn by the players in Salute to Service games is also auctioned off to benefit the organizations.

Robin Williams Created Lasting Moments on 2007 USO Tour

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Robin Williams’ personality is too big to fit into one story.

Here are two moments from the 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour we couldn’t fit into yesterday’s tribute to Williams’ service to the military.

‘You Gave Me Yours, I’ll Give You Mine’

The December 2007 tour – which also included Kid Rock, comedian Lewis Black, cyclist Lance Armstrong, Miss USA 2007 Rachel Smith, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and was led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen – was a bit of a rough ride. There were travel delays and crazy weather – everything you’d expect when hopping in and out of remote locations in war zones.

At one point on the tour, Williams lost his voice.

“We got on a plane and flew to Afghanistan,” said John Hanson, a USO senior vice president who was on the 2007 tour. “Long flight – got there after the show was supposed to start and the audience had been standing outside in this wet, heavy snow. [Williams] could hardly speak. But he did the show. …

“The next morning … we got on a C-130 with body armor and it was stacked in front of us. … His manager said, ‘Sit next to Robin and whenever he starts talking, tell him to shut up cause he needs his voice this afternoon.’ …

“For some reason, we had to give up our body armor. These troops were coming on and offloading it. It was either a soldier or an airman – I don’t remember – but he said ‘Mr. Williams, I didn’t get to see your show last night, but thank you for coming. It means a lot to us.’ And Robin nodded. And the guy came back on later and said ‘You know, I’ve had this for a while and it’s protected me,’ and he pulled off a St. Christopher medal. And Robin [said] ‘I can’t take that.’

“[And the service member said] ‘It’s done well for me, please take it,’ and he took a couple of the [body armor] vests and walked off. So Robin sat there and he looked at it, and he looked at his manager and me and was puzzled [and] moved.

“The guy came back on to get the last batch of [body armor], and Williams said ‘Wait, you gave me yours,’ and unbuttoned his shirt and pulled out this huge silver cross and said ‘I’ll give you mine.’

“And the [service member] said ‘I can’t take this.’ And [Williams] said ‘if you don’t take that, I won’t take this.’ And so the guy walked off with it.”

Mork at War

Part of the 2007 Chairman’s tour involved officially opening the USO center at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, with some peculiar furniture.

“When we walked in, in the computer room, there was a gaming chair,” Hanson said. “It was a big, white plastic oval. Looked like a gigantic egg.

“And [Williams] ran across, jumped in it and spun around. And it was a weird cultural reference for a lot of the young guys because they didn’t really quite get it.

“And [Williams] said ‘I better stop this [or somebody’s going to get the idea for a TV series.’”

(For everyone under the age of 40, Williams’ breakout role on “Mork and Mindy” – a sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1982 where he played an alien named Mork who came to Earth in an egg-shaped spaceship.)

Quiz: Can You Answer These Five Questions About the USO?

Think you know your USO and military history? Take this week’s USO quiz. (Answers at the bottom.)

1. The USO had an official mascot at one point during World War II. What was it?
A. a service dog
B. a mongoose
C. a fruit fly
D. a bugler

Library of Congress photo

Bob Hope. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

2. Bob Hope first performed for a military audience at what location?
A. Nome, Alaska
B. March Field, California
C. Love Field, California
D. Hickam Field, Hawaii

3. USO shows today are free to all service members. But that wasn’t always the case. How much did it cost in 1942 for Army and Navy troops to get into a USO Camp Show?
A. 1 to 5 cents
B. 10 cents
C. 15 to 20 cents
D. 25 cents

4. Which former Apollo Astronaut was once a member of the USO Board of Governors?
A. Neil Armstrong
B. John Glenn
C. Michael Collins
D. Frank Boreman

5. In 1982, then-USO President William G. Whyte personally accepted a $10,000 contribution to the USO from which of these celebrities?
A. Woody Allen
B. Reggie Jackson
C. E.T.
D. Shamu the Killer Whale

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. B; 2. B; 3. C; 4. C; 5. D