Daddy’s Home! USO Helps with Surprise Father’s Day Weekend Homecoming for Seabee

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Spencer Bouchard came to the USO to record a video. He left with a rapidly forming plan.

Bouchard, a construction electrician petty officer third class in the Navy Seabees, stopped by USO Yokosuka earlier this spring to record a USO/United Through Reading Military Program video for his infant son, Noah. While there, he spoke with the USO staff about surprising his family back in the states. He had a special date in mind: June 20. Not only was it the Saturday before Father’s Day, but it was also Noah’s first birthday party. The USO staff at Yokosuka helped set him up to record the video, which he ended by asking his wife, Courtney, to turn around, knowing he’d be behind her to greet her.

Bouchard’s parents were in on the surprise and helped facilitate the plan while keeping it secret from his wife, Courtney, for three months.

“It was quite the process,” Bouchard said. “I had to be cautious [about what I said] when I Skyped Courtney.”

The Seabee flew from Japan to San Francisco and finally to Cleveland on June 20, where he was greeted by a trio of USO of Northern Ohio volunteers and his parents around 6 a.m. Bouchard’s mom and dad snuck him into their home — which is across the street from Courtney’s parents’ house, where she and Noah are living during the deployment.

By the time Bouchard woke up, Noah’s Mickey Mouse-themed party was already coming to life, with about 40 guests and a few photographers trickling in. Around 1:30 p.m., Bouchard’s mother, Tamara, asked everyone to face the garage where Courtney and Noah were going to watch a special greeting from her son. Bouchard’s father, Paul, was on the phone with him when the DVD started playing and gave him his cue to walk over.

Just as the video was wrapping up, he walked in.

Happiness ensued.

“[She was] shocked and incredibly happy,” Bouchard said. “She was just crying. All the stress she had from [coordinating] Noah’s birthday party and all the stress she had from me being away kind of just disappeared in that one second she saw me.”

Bruno Mars to Headline USO Fourth of July Concert at the White House

Bruno Mars will play a USO show at the White House on July 4. Courtesy photo

Bruno Mars will play a USO show at the White House on July 4. Courtesy photo

Bruno Mars will bring his “Uptown Funk” to downtown Washington on July 4. But you’ll need a special invitation to get into the exclusive party at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mars announced this afternoon that he’ll be playing an exclusive USO show for military families at The White House this July 4. The announcement took place during a Twitter exchange with First Lady Michelle Obama.

This is the seventh consecutive year the White House has partnered with the USO and hosted its “Salute to the Military” concert. Last year’s event featured Pitbull, while acts like fun., Cedric The Entertainer, The Killers, Brandi Carlile, Brad Paisley, Train, Amos Lee, Jimmy Fallon, the Foo Fighters and Michelle Branch have also played the South Lawn on Independence Day.

“The USO is thrilled to once again be partnering with the White House and hosting a USO concert featuring superstar Bruno Mars this Independence Day,” USO CEO and President J.D. Crouch said in a release. “There is no better time or place to celebrate the birth of our nation than on the Fourth in our nation’s capital, surrounded by hundreds of America’s troops and military families. And with Bruno’s help, it is sure to be the ultimate ‘thank you’ to those who serve our nation and sacrifice their lives daily.”

Mars has won multiple Grammys and played the NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2014. He was Billboard’s 2013 Artist of the Year.

USO, Corporate Partners Assemble Comfort Crew Deployment Kits for Marine Families

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ARLINGTON, Virginia–The USO hosted some of its corporate partners for a summit this week outside the nation’s capital. And after they exchanged ideas, they walked to another conference room and did what they do best together: give back to troops.

The USO and its corporate partners assembled With You All The Way Deployment Kits designed by the Comfort Crew for Military Kids. The kits will be distributed to families of Marines who are about to deploy out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. The group assembled 100 kits.

The Comfort Crew is part of the recently announced USO Transition 360 Alliance, which provides a holistic approach to transitioning from the military to civilian life.

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 stripes.com.

“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.”

USO Opens First Staffed Center in Africa

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Sometimes they are created to facilitate the changing travel needs of troops stateside. Sometimes they are erected downrange and built by the troops themselves. Whatever the case, each USO center is opened where troops need them the most. And that most recent need is on Camp Lemonnier in the Republic of Djibouti.

The United States established a strategic military presence in Djibouti in 2002, just 30 miles across the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait from Yemen. The Navy’s expeditionary base there is home to nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and serves as a hub in the fight against extremist groups as well as a staging point for counter-piracy operations in the region.

After last year’s announcement that the U.S. would spend $1 billion over the next 20 years to enlarge the base in Djibouti, the USO decided it was time to open up a permanent canteen to bring a slice of home to troops stationed there.

“Most of the troops here are unaccompanied and stay from anywhere from nine months to a year,” USO Camp Lemonnier Center Manager Michael Eyassu said. “They are very excited about [the USO] providing free phone calls to the states since they have to purchase phone cards otherwise.”

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Currently the only staffed USO center on the continent of Africa, USO Camp Lemonnier consists of two Quonset huts attached by a walkway, located in a region of the base nick named “tent city” because that’s where the more temporary housing and facilities are located.

The two tents contain a lounge area with leather chairs, a full canteen with snacks and treats from home, free toiletries and plenty of phones and computers to call home.

“We’ve got something going on every night for the military,” Eyassu said. “We have a lot of fun, and we’re getting more and more foot traffic each and every day we’re open.”

Follow the USO Camp Lemonnier Facebook page to learn about upcoming events and to see pictures from inside the center.

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.

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“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.”