Little Things Often Mean the Most: How One Wounded Warrior’s Day was Brightened at the USO

Army Maj. David Keithan

Army Maj. David Keithan

After a brief surgical stay to repair the shoulder he injured during a 2006 tour in Iraq, Army Maj. David Keithan stopped into the USO Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany. He just wanted to “chill out and take a break for a minute” before walking the rest of the way to the Fisher House where he was staying.

After signing in, Keithan spotted a jar of spaghetti sauce and a packet of ramen on the counter and it transported him back to his childhood.

“I saw it and I just thought, ‘Man that looks good,’” Keithan said. “I know it sounds really, really weird but I used to eat that as a kid. I’d always throw the packet of flavoring in the Oodles of Noodles away because it was too salty and I’d put spaghetti sauce on it instead. It’s a quick meal and growing up I used to eat it that way all the time.”

Whether it’s the smell of fresh cooking, a familiar brand of coffee or just the “howdy” of an American volunteer, it’s often little things inside each USO center that connect troops to their communities back home.

Keithan, who has been in the Army more than 18 years, asked a USO volunteer if it was okay if his wife – who was traveling with him – cooked him some spaghetti the way he likes it.


“It wasn’t anything gourmet, but it was exactly what I wanted at that moment,” he said. “It’s like chocolate chip cookies made by Grammie. Grammie loves her American service members, and when you eat that cookie you feel connected … and you love her like she’s your own grandmother. I don’t care how young and how tough these soldiers think they are, they all have mothers and grandmothers and they know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Being from a small town in Maine, Keithan says it’s the little things that continue to bring him back to the USO. On one USO visit, he found his favorite local brand of coffee from Boston, which reminded him of home. Another time he was just comforted by hearing a friendly northeastern accent.

“It comes from everywhere,” Keithan said. “We all have different cultures in the States and all these little things come from the people who donate to the USO and as little as those things are — it could be a packet of sauce from your favorite local fast food chain — it brings you back home in that moment.”

‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

Bringing the Big Game to the Troops: USO Centers Around the World Prep for Super Bowl XLIX Festivities

1779696_831008323606850_488918148582461606_nAs America sits down to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots this Sunday, troops at home and overseas will head to their local USO centers to catch the big game.

Here’s a roundup of some of the Super Bowl festivities at USO centers around the world.

Southwest Asia

USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
Super Bowl festivities will start bright and early at USO Kandahar, where the party begins at 2:30 a.m. local time.

The base will provide roughly 300 pizzas to be split between the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) center and the USO, where the game will be playing all morning long. During halftime, troops can win a number of prizes, including a new bike and an iPad Mini, as well as participate in Super Bowl trivia.

Check out some of the photos from last year’s festivities:

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USO Camp Buerhring, Kuwait
Troops stationed at Camp Buehring can get into the Super Bowl spirit with a pregame tailgate party beginning at 6 p.m. local time.


In addition to a hot wing eating contest, service members can participate in video game competition, listen to music and win a number of prizes before tuning into the game. At kickoff, partygoers can fill up on a subway and milkshake bar and participate in a raffle to win prizes every quarter.

Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s event:

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USO Bagram, Afghanistan

Troops stationed at Bagram can head to the USO for an early morning pre-game party at 4 a.m. local time. There will be drinks, chips, football-shaped pancakes and waffles for everyone to enjoy. Partygoers can also participate in football-themed trivia during the game. Here’s a few snaps from last year’s fun:

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USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
Service members and their families stationed near Grafenwoehr and Vilseck, Germany, can enjoy finger foods and drinks at a special pregame tailgate party before enjoying dinner at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Although the game doesn’t start until 12:30 a.m., troops will be able to win raffle prizes and participate in poker tournaments and other fun activities before kickoff.

USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany

The USO Warrior Center will host a Super Bowl Party on game day for patients, families and medical staff. Service members can watch football-themed movies all day leading up to an Italian dinner kicking off the evening’s festivities at 8 p.m. local time. From 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. local time, troops can enjoy finger foods, watch the game and win football movie DVD giveaways.

USO Ramstein Air Base Passenger Terminal, Germany

The USO at the Ramstein PAX will host a special PAX personnel chili cookoff to celebrate Super Bowl XLIX. Troops on the move through Ramstein will be able to feast on all the competitors’ dishes while enjoying cornbread with honey butter and other refreshments before settling in to watch the game.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO, Germany

On Friday before the big game, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO center will be decked out in football decor to help staff members get in the mood for Sunday’s showdown. Service members can face off in team trivia to win USO tour vouchers as well as play table football and enjoy tailgate appetizers.


USO Guam
For troops stationed in Guam, where they say “America’s day begins,” the party starts at 7:30 a.m. local time. Breakfast, lunch and snacks courtesy of Triple J Five Star Foods and the Pacific Islands Club will be served at various time throughout the morning.


In addition to watching the game on 10 screens throughout the center, service members can also enjoy cake to celebrate the USO’s upcoming 74th Anniversary.

USO Camp Courtney, Japan
Service members can head to USO Camp Courtney for Super Bowl festivities starting at 7 a.m. local time.

In addition to food and beverages, troops will also be able to showcase their video game skills on PS4 or Xbox One.

USO Camp Schwab, Japan
USO Camp Schwab will be ready for football-loving troops at 7 a.m. local time with finger food, popcorn and drinks in addition to nine televisions tuned into the big game.

Want a glimpse of what the party will look like? Check out photos from the 2013 event:

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USO Sasebo, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops stationed near Sasebo can head to the Fleet Landing for a USO Super Bowl party. Service members can enjoy snacks while rooting for their favorite team.

USO Camp Hansen, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops can chow down on freshly prepared waffles and sausages as they cheer on their favorite team. Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s Super Bowl breakfast party:

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USO Camp Foster, Japan
Troops can head over to the USO on Camp Foster for a Super Bowl party kicking off bright and early at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Kadena, Japan
Service members can kick off their morning with USO Kadena’s Super Bowl festivities starting at 6 a.m. local time. There will tailgate snacks and refreshments for troops to enjoy while watching the game on the center’s HDTV!

Take a look a last year’s photos to see what’s in store for this Sunday:

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USO Futenma, Japan
Troops can head over to USO Futenma for a Super Bowl party kicking off at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Camp Walker, South Korea
USO Camp Walker will be partnering with the MWR to host a Super Bowl party at the Hilltop Club, starting at 6 a.m. local time. To get a vibe of this year’s festivities, take a look at some snaps from the 2013 event:

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USO Camp Casey, South Korea
USO Camp Casey for kickoff at 8:30 a.m. local time for a Super Bowl party sponsored by Mr. Nam, Judie’s Realty, Red Cross and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA).

Camp Casey

Troops can enjoy food, fun and prize giveaways while cheering on their favorite team.

USO Seoul, South Korea
Doors open at 6 a.m. local time at USO Seoul, where service members can enjoy a free breakfast and cheer on their favorite team.


The party, sponsored by the NCOA, will also feature a dance competition and prize giveaways.

USO Humphreys, South Korea
Troops can head over USO Humphreys at 8:30 a.m. local time to grab a free breakfast and catch the big game.



USO Coast Guard Base, Boston
Friday before game day, troops near Boston can gear up for a great weekend of football starting at 11 a.m local time. Stop by the USO center for games, popcorn, pizza and the chance to win Patriots-branded prizes.

USO Logan Center, Boston
Starting Friday, USO Logan will be decorated in a football theme as they rev up to cheer on the Patriots. Traveling troops can test their skills with a Super Bowl Trivia game or take the New England Fan Challenge to win prizes.

Guests can also catch all the local pregame television coverage and watch the game in Super Bowl style and comfort on Sunday.  The popcorn machine will be running and there will be plenty of snacks for everyone to enjoy!

USO SeaTac Airport Center, Seattle
Troops traveling through Seattle can catch the game at the airport center while enjoying snacks and other refreshments.

Why We Volunteer: Army Spc. Thibaut Lenkoue and Patrick Jenkins – USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

The USO is highlighting its volunteers from around the world to mark National Volunteer Week, which runs April 21-27. We asked a few of them to tell us why they give their time to the USO. Here are two of their replies.


From left, USO Warrior Center volunteer Patrick Jenkins, entertainer Nick Cannon and Army Spc. Thibaut Lenkoue — also a USO volunteer — pose earlier this month at the USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. USO photo

Volunteering for me means love, giving and sharing great moments.

When I first came here, I thought only civilians worked at the USO. I enjoy every single moment that I spend here. The USO [volunteers and staff] are awesome, always polite, hard working professionals. I was happy to spend time here because I had found a home far from home. So when I discovered that I could volunteer at the USO, I decided to do so to take care of other members of this new family [and] give back what I have enjoyed.

It is always a pleasure to take care of people and make them realize that we appreciate all [their] sacrifices.

–Army Spc. Thibaut Lenkoue, volunteer at the USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany


Volunteering is an important way to give back what the soldiers have sacrificed and given to me. If you haven’t already taken part of this opportunity of volunteering for the USO, I highly recommend it.

I am a 21-year-old student who recently relocated all the way from Florida to Ramstein, Germany. My mom, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was temporarily deployed here and I took the opportunity to come here and stay for school.

I started volunteering at the USO Warrior Center in February and I have over 350 hours and counting. I don’t think of it as “getting hours,” because I have to, or just being here for the events or the food (even though most people will tell you that all I do is eat). I volunteer for our soldiers [because] we try to make this a home away from home. In return, it makes me feel that I am at home and – in a way – leaves me feeling like I’m helping with the whole mission.

The staff have become my parents and the soldiers and volunteers have become my brothers and sisters. I always say “If I’m not working or at school you can find me at the USO Warrior Center volunteering,” as as I like to think of it as going home (I just have to leave every night).

–Patrick Jenkins, volunteer at the USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir Nearing Completion


A stone facade fireplace and a second-story footbridge stand as the interoir centerpieces of the Great Room at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. Construction should wrap up by year’s end. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Nail by nail, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., is getting closer to welcoming troops and families

USO staffers visited the construction site last week for a walkthrough and saw dozens of contractors buzzing throughout the building, which is still on track to be complete by the end of 2012 and open to guests in early 2013.

The Warrior and Family Center at Belvoir will serve wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers. Many of these troops are stationed at Belvoir while they recover from invisible wounds of war like traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress.

Here are a few photos from the walkthrough:

The USO’s Operation Enduring Care is raising funds for the construction of both the USO Warrior and Family Center at Belvoir and the USO Warrior and Family Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, along with USO Warrior and Family Programs worldwide.

—Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

A Special Shout Out from American Idol’s Kris Allen!

Kris Allen energized hundreds of fans Oct. 1 at Vogelweh’s Kazabra Club during his recent USO tour. (Photos by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison, Kaiserslautern)

American Idol winner Kris Allen recently completed a weeklong USO tour through Europe, entertaining and signing autographs for hundreds of fans along the way.  One special stop was at the USO Warrior Center, where USO staff and volunteers hosted a lunch for Allen and 25 wounded warriors.

The wounded warriors enjoyed great food and a post-meal acoustic set of some of Allen’s most popular songs.  One wounded warrior commented, “I watch American Idol every season, so it was pretty cool meeting the winner.” Check out and share this special shout out he taped there:

The tour took on special meaning for Allen, whose wife shares a special connection with the Kaiserslautern area.   “My wife lived in Ramstein. When she was a kid, her dad was in the Air Force,” Allen said to reporter Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern.

When the USO recently asked Allen and his band to take on an overseas tour to play for service members and their families in Europe, he said it was a “no-brainer.”

“We were like, absolutely, we’ll do it,” Allen said. “It’s just an honor for us to come over here and hopefully offer some entertainment. These guys give a lot for our country and this is the least we can do.”

“You’re away from family and I know that’s really hard. So, I’d like to thank you so much for what you do,” Allen said. “Just keeping working hard, it means a lot to people in America.”

AFN Europe also caught him on camera.  Enjoy this interview  by TSgt Colleen Jones, as she takes us to this Idol’s show to support the troops…