USO Rhein Main Gives Gaming Troops The Ultimate Ticket to Gamescom 2014

Troops smile outside of the gamescom convention. USO photo.

Troops smile outside of the Gamescom convention. USO photo.

It’s no secret troops love video games. In fact, if you step inside any USO center, one of the first things you’ll likely see is a service member sitting in front of a TV, controller in hand, battling enemies in the latest blockbuster releases.

So when USO Rhein Main staff members heard about Gamescom, a German convention devoted to the latest and greatest innovations in the video game industry, they knew that they had to find a way to get troops there.

“Gaming ranks highly on most troops’ list of hobbies, so why not take them to experience that largest gaming convention in Europe?” said USO Rhein Main Area Operations Manager Ashley Grassl.

As part of its Food and Fun for Free program, which focuses on providing free programming for single and unaccompanied service members,  USO Rhein Main sent 20 soldiers to Gamescom 2014 in Cologne, Germany, earlier this month. From its popular Taco Nights to quarterly cultural tours to explore Germany, the Food and Fun for Free program gives troops a chance to step outside their barracks and enjoy their local surroundings.

Although the trek required troops to wake up early on a Sunday morning, Grassl said they had no trouble filling up the 20 van and bus seats, and even had a waiting list for the trip. Once the service members arrived at Gamescom, USO volunteers gave each of them a wrist band — which allowed them to play any game available — explained the layout of the convention center and let them loose to explore.

“Gamescom boasts that visitors will experience ‘the next generation of gaming,’ and our service members got to experience all of that and more,” Grassl said. “They had the opportunity to experience hands-on game play of games that won’t come out until later this year like ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,’ ‘Borderlands,’ ‘Battlefield’ and ‘Destiny.’”

From participating in multiplay online tournaments to stocking up on promotional freebies, Grassl said Gamescom offered something to keep any gaming enthusiast entertained.

“Gamescom was amazing. The masses came out for a great event. There was seriously something there for everyone,” said Army Spc. D’Lexis Cooley, president of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. “BOSS soldiers said that they were going to get their nerd on by gaming. And they did. “

USO Tour Veterans and MLB Players Adam LaRoche and Nick Swisher Named Finalists for Bob Feller Act of Valor Award

The Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche chats with troops in Souda Bay, Greece, during the 2013 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour on Dec. 7. USO photo by Mike Clifton

The Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche chats with troops in Souda Bay, Greece, during the 2013 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour on Dec. 7. USO photo by Mike Clifton

When you give your time, people will notice.

Two Major League Baseball players who have gone on USO tours were named finalists for this year’s Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche and Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher are among the six players to make the list. The award will be presented on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) at the Navy Memorial in Washington.

LaRoche — a former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner — visited troops downrange in December as part of the 2013 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour.

Nick Swisher receives a birthday cake during a USO tour stop at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on Nov. 25, 2011. USO photo

Nick Swisher receives a birthday cake during a USO tour stop at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on Nov. 25, 2011. USO photo

Swisher and his wife — actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher — celebrated their honeymoon with a USO tour to Afghanistan over Thanksgiving in 2011.

“We aren’t their family,” Swisher told the New York Daily News after the trip. “But for a quick bit maybe we could have been, especially over Thanksgiving.”

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O’Day — who has hosted USO Barbecue for the Troops events each of the last two years with his wife, Fox News reporter Elizabeth Prann — was among 11 nominees for the award but was not selected as a finalist.

USO and UnitedHealthcare Help Troops Fuel Up with Breakfast Care Packages

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, for hardworking troops, fueling up in the morning sometimes just isn’t possible. Luckily the USO and its partner, UnitedHealthcare, are there to help.

On Aug. 10, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team members Mara Abbott and Cari Higgins teamed up with 50 UnitedHealthcare employees to assemble over 2,500 breakfast care packages in Fort Collins, Colorado, that will be given to troops at USO centers in Colorado and Texas. In addition to filling the packages with breakfast foods and snacks, participants wrote thank you notes that went in each package.

“We are thankful to the UnitedHealthcare employees who have taken the time to help us give back,” said USO Vice President of Corporate Alliances Christy Hartsell. “A partnership like this helps the USO have an even bigger impact on the lives of our troops and their families. We hope that the men and women who receive these care packages know we are grateful for the service and sacrifices they make for our country.”

The assembly event was part of the UnitedHealthcare USA Pro Challenge Experience, a community ride that took place in Fort Collins just eight days before the start of the USA Pro Challenge professional race.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the USO and the USA Pro Challenge at this event that supports the troops and their service to our country,” said UnitedHealthcare Military and Veteran Central Region CEO Matt Peterson.

Hello Dolly! Get To Know The USO With This Week’s Quiz

It’s time for installment No. 4 of the USO quiz. Try your luck with these five questions, and check your answers at the bottom.

1. Who performed a special USO show at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963?
A. Perry Como and his “Kraft Music Hall” show
B. Sammy Davis, Jr.
C. Raymond Burr
D. Bob Hope and Martha Raye

2. Who was the USO’s 40th anniversary spokesperson?
A. Ann Landers
B. Abigail Van Buren, (“Dear Abby”)
C. Dr. Joyce Brothers
D. Dolores Hope

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons user dcosand

3. In 1947, the USO did which of the following?
A. temporarily ceased operations
B. received its congressional charter
C. received its first memo of understanding with the Department of Defense
D. moved into new national headquarters in Philadelphia

4. What was the name of the USO’s newsletter in the 1950s?
A. USO Report
B. USO News
C. USO Bulletin
D. Wherever They Go

5. Who took a mini-version of the long-running Broadway hit “Hello Dolly” to the troops in Vietnam?
A. Carol Channing
B. Martha Raye
C. Pearl Bailey
D. Les Brown

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

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.)

USO and Team Red, White, and Blue Help Troops and Veterans Scale New Heights at Rock-Climbing Camp

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ESTES PARK, Colo.—For many people — especially those scared of heights — scaling a 50-foot mountain wall is the last thing they’d want to do on a warm August afternoon.

But for a group of adventurous transitioning troops and veterans who attended a special three-day rock climbing camp in Colorado, climbing along the steep peaks of the Rocky Mountains seemed like the perfect way to spend a long summer weekend.

The camp, hosted by the USO and Team Red, White, and Blue, taught leadership skills and built confidence among attendees while scaling new heights. The two organizations began partnering last year to deliver an environment for troops, civilians and veterans to come together, share their stories and to build a foundation for healthy, active living.

The camp was led by climber and Wheaties athlete Tommy Caldwell and his father, Mike Caldwell, a climbing guide with over 30 years of experience. For the second year in a row, the pair helped participants scale 50-foot-plus tall mountain walls in Jurassic Park and Lumpy Ridge.

“I didn’t have people to keep in touch with when I got out,” said camp participant and veteran Antonio Ruiz. “I wish this situation was available for me back then. It would have made a big difference in my life.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers receive instruction during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

During the three-day session, Tommy Caldwell shared his personal story of overcoming a traumatic experience with the camp participants in hopes of inspiring them to conquer life’s challenges.

In 2000, while on a climbing expedition in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, his group was held hostage at gunpoint for six days before Caldwell seized an opportunity to overpower the kidnappers, allowing for their escape. Once home, he struggled to cope with the memories of his captivity. One day, while doing home repairs, Caldwell accidentally sawed off his finger. Unable to reattach it, doctors prepped him for the possibility that he’d never climb professionally again.

“At one point a doctor told me I should really think about what I wanted to do,” Caldwell said during his speech to attendees. “I got mad because how could he not believe in me? And that inspired me even more. I left the hospital and immediately went to the gym to train.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers gather during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of outdoor climbing, campers participated in a leadership seminar lead by Team Red, White, and Blue Director of Operations J.J. Pinter.

“Think about all that leadership experience,” Pinter said, according to a Department of Defense story on the seminar. “There’s no reason that you can’t go back in your communities and be the leaders that our country is drastically needing.”

USO Communications Manager Sharee Posey contributed to this post from Estes Park, Colorado, and USO Multimedia Journalist Sandi Moynihan contributed to this post from Arlington, Virginia.