First Lady Michelle Obama Visits Troops and Spouses at a USO Event in Italy

First Lady Michelle Obama made a surprise visit to U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza on Friday for a USO ice cream social among other activities with the troops.

Obama went on to co-host a surprise baby shower for expectant moms at the base. You can see a full slideshow of her visit over at

“We want you to know we’ve got your backs when you’re going through this part of your lives,” she told military spouses during her visit, according to ABC News. “You’re not alone.”

Volunteer of the Year – Third 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 2nd Quarter Volunteer Nominees!

Soraya Franklin – Europe Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Raised in a military family, Soraya Franklin knows what it means for a service member to be on the move. And she understands the needs of troops and their families. “We need to ensure this is a five-star facility,” is Sonaya’s constant mantra about USO Vicenza. Her standards are high, and she leads by example rather than just words. Along with working three jobs and volunteering with the Vicenza Community Club and Vicenza’s City Library, she still dedicates at least two hours a day to USO Vicenza.

During a six-week period that the USO Vicenza was closed for renovations, Sonaya volunteered more than 70 hours, working hard to get the USO reopened for business.  Although the renovation of USO Vicenza was unexpected, Sonaya never missed a beat. She seized the opportunity and embraced the challenge of improving the center so that it would be ready to serve its community.  Her honor and loyalty are sincerely appreciated and we are happy to name her Europe’s Volunteer of the Quarter.

Petty Officer First Class Jeffery Reed – United States Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

When Petty Officer First Class Jeffery Reed could no longer fulfill his daily obligations to the military, he became a USO volunteer. Since August 2009, PO1 Reed has been the lead volunteer for the USO Gulf Coast’s Navy Construction Battalion Center (NCNB) in Gulfport, MS.

Demonstrating the same drive and dedication he has always given to his more than 20 years of military service, PO1 Reed took charge in helping the center relocate.  His efforts saved USO Gulf Coast large amounts of money on consulting fees.

Reed’s positive leadership and mentoring are great examples to his fellow volunteers.  Under his volunteer leadership, the volunteer turnover rate for the USO lounge on NCBC is the lowest it has ever been.  He is a positive example of service for USO staff and volunteers alike. We applaud PO1 Reed on being Volunteer of the Quarter!

Vanessa Engelhardt – Southwest Asia Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Sailors and Marines visiting USO Dubai are always happy to meet Vanessa Engelhardt, a dedicated center volunteer. Born in Australia and raised in Germany, Vanessa uses her background to break the ice with center visitors, making them feel comfortable and at home.

USO Dubai is unique because it isn’t open daily. However, when a U.S. Naval ship pulls into port, up to 1,000 sailors and Marines can descend on the center in short order. During these times, Vanessa usually volunteers every day for regular seven-hour shifts.  Center visitors enjoy the baked goods that Vanessa has waiting for them when a ship comes into port. For a service member who has been out to sea for weeks, or even months, a fresh cookie or brownie made with lots of TLC can mean so much!  She loves to help out in any way possible and we congratulate her on being Southwest Asia’s Volunteer of the Quarter!

Master Sergeant Shane Price – Pacific Region USO Volunteer of the Quarter

Master Sergeant Shane Price knows a thing or two about big projects. As a flight chief at Osan Air Base, not only does he keep his entire squadron operating smoothly, but he has recruited fellow airmen to volunteer more than 1,500 hours during special events like Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band Concert, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader Holiday Show, and most recently the Sesame Street/USO Experience.

MSgt. Price was instrumental in the planning and initial implementation of the Virtues Outreach Program in Songtan, South Korea. This program promotes stronger ties between the U.S. military and local Korean community through English language instruction. He also ensures volunteer staffing for every day tasks, and his efforts greatly contribute to USO Osan consistently having the highest number of volunteer in Korea. Price’s volunteer contributions are extensive, and his dedication to the USO and commitment to the Korean—American partnership is an inspiration to all he meets. Congrats on being USO Pacific’s Volunteer of the Quarter!

We Offer Up Delicious Dishes and Bowling Parties!

We’ve been busy around the world – as usual! – and a few events seem to be particularly popular, no matter where in the world our Troops and their families are enjoying a USO Center.

Case in point: bowling.  Who knew it was just as popular in Iraq as it in in Italy?

Baghdad Duty Manager Courtney Haueter was talking to a group of soldiers who told her they’d been stuck here for 2 days using the USO computers, phones, Play Station 3 games and had each drunk a gallon of coffee. They had run out of things to do, so Courtney suggested they all go bowling. At first they thought she was joking because they had just come in from a small FOB and there was definitely no bowling center there. So Courtney loaded them up since the next chance at a flight was still 16 hours away. Off to Club Baghdad they went!

After waiting two days for a plane to take them on R & R, these Troops combat boredom with bowling. Looks like they did pretty well!

USO Vicenza thanked its volunteers by throwing a bowling party for them in honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week on Thursday, April 23.  Two of USO Vicenza’s Core volunteers and one of USO Vicenza’s Special Events volunteers were present to celebrate.  U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza’s Arena sponsored two bowling lanes and shoe rentals for the USO to use. Pizza, soda, and a great time were had by all!

A volunteer at USO Vicenza waits her turn to hit the lane during a bowling outing in celebration of National Volunteer Week.

On that same day the USO Warrior Center hosted a BBQ sponsored by the Stuttgart’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS).  Along with the good food, the BOSS volunteers brought warm smiles and great conversation. During the visit there was one wounded warrior who had not been able to get out of his hospital room. He was very thankful to have the opportunity to leave his hospital bed and eat a good meal around friendly faces. Wounded warriors attended – 115.

One hundred fifteen Wounded Warriors chowed down on hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, and sausages courtesy of Stuttgart's BOSS program.

On April 24, the USO Warrior Center hosted a Chicken Dinner sponsored by the Theta Rho International Chapter.  Along with the good food, the Theta Rho International Chapter served the warriors with smiling faces and kind words. One warrior commented that the chicken was so delicious he didn’t want to return home, he wanted to stay here if he could keep eating this type of wonderful food. Another warrior commented “I just had to try the sweet potatoes; they are out of this world.”

One hundred thirty Wounded Warriors enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner with all the fixin's - yum!

Happy Anniversary, USO! And Thank You to All Who Make it Possible…

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

“February 4 is the USO’s 69th birthday.  That’s not a meaningful milestone in itself (unless you’re 68), but it reminds me that in parts of 8 decades, this organization continues to deliver support for troops and families with compassion and relevance.

I’m also reminded that our corps of staff and volunteers around the world show up each day at large and small locations and they solve problems.  When a young soldier appears at the USO at Dallas-Ft Worth Airport after missing his flight, he’s told to relax, get a cup of coffee, it’ll be all right.  Sure enough, the USO volunteer at the desk arranges for the next flight and calls the troop’s next base to explain what happened.

From Chicago to Kuwait, the desk where staff and volunteers sit and greet Troops serves as the nerve center of any USO. (USO Photos by Dave Gatley)

I once saw a recent graduate of the Navy’s boot camp at Great Lakes walk into the USO at O’Hare Airport with her orders and ask what she was supposed to do when she arrived at her first real duty station.  It seems that step was omitted in her out-processing briefing, and it occurred to her on the way to the airport that she was taking the second airplane flight of her life to a place she’d never been and into an environment with which she was totally unfamiliar.  The former sailor behind the counter looked at her orders, looked up the location of the personnel office at the next stop and gave her specific instructions about how to report for duty.

I accompanied a USO entertainment tour through Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan a few years ago.  On the way home we stopped to put on a show in Italy.  I met one of our employees of our USO in Vicenza there.  She told me how important the shows were to the troops wherever we went, and she wanted to thank us for stopping in her country.  She went on to tell me that a deployment from Vicenza to Afghanistan just ended, and she mourned as she told me about her “boys” who didn’t return.  “It’s tough on everybody,” she said.  “The families, of course, but also the extended families – the troops who knew them.  It’s really hard on all of us.”

Volunteers at the DFW USO celebrate a USO Birthday with - what else? - a delicious cake in 2009.

She went on to tell me that one day she went into the kitchen at the USO to make a cake.  Soon, troops started coming into the kitchen to “help” her.  There they were, some of the finest soldiers in the Army licking spoons and beaters, helping out as they would back home.

She went on to make more cakes, but she only did it when the USO was busy.  She knew she’d get more help.  “After all,” she said, “it’s not about the cakes.  It’s about MAKING the cakes.”  It was about being with Mom in the kitchen.

In 69 years we’ve moved from providing letter-writing stations to providing free Internet connections.  Films projected onto sheets have become videos on large screen TVs.  There’s still coffee and magazines and comfortable furniture.  There’s still the respite from hard duty.  And, there’s still Mom in the kitchen making a cake.

It’s just like home.”