Pa. School, National Constitution Center Deliver Lessons via Veterans Day Video Chats with Troops at USO Centers

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Stacy Henry was determined to give her first graders a Veterans Day lesson to remember.

Thanks to a little persistence – and a hand from USO Bagram in Afghanistan – she was able to pull off a lesson the kids at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center in New Castle, Pa., won’t soon forget.

“This year, with my husband being in the [Army Reserve] and two of his fellow soldiers being deployed in Afghanistan, I decided that it would be awesome to connect with them,” Henry said.

Henry’s initial plan was to virtually connect her students with Army Reserve Sgts. Michael Maurer and Joshua Reilly – both deployed to Afghanistan with the 333rd Engineer Company – for a Skype chat. Maurer and Reilly are in the same reserve unit as Henry’s husband, Sgt. Todd Henry.

While the two deployed soldiers weren’t able to get in on the event, Henry was still able to uplink her school’s gymnasium – packed with 300 first-through-third graders – to USO Bagram to speak with troops at the center on Veterans Day. Todd Henry and fellow Army Reserve Spc. Jason McCray also came to the school to be with the kids during the Skype connection. The kids read a poem, sang patriotic songs and even tried to ask a few questions of the troops on the other end of the call.

“[It was] an awesome, unforgettable, honorable, memorable event on Veterans Day, which I feel proud to be a part of,” said Stacy Henry, whose youngest son, Morgan, is a third grader at the school.

And while Maurer and Reilly missed out on the chat, they won’t be forgotten. Henry said the school was preparing care packages for the duo, and was also looking to send a large envelope full of student-written letters their way.

Constitution Center Links to Troops Downrange

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

USO Kandahar also got in on the Veterans Day Skype action, linking up to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a Q&A with visitors.

USO Kandahar’s DJ Stanhope linked up with Liberty USO – which covers the Philadelphia region – to set up the Skype call, where visitors to the National Constitution Center got an inside view of USO Kandahar and the life of a deployed service member.

Stanhope said the highlight of the call came when two children – a boy around the age of 2 and a girl no more than 4 – sang “God Bless America” for three young soldiers who were participating in the call from Kandahar.

USO Salutes Heroes with Tailgate for the Troops in Tampa

Airmen from MacDill Air Force Base

Airmen from MacDill Air Force Base enjoy food and drinks at the USO’s Tailgate for the Troops on Veterans Day in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Chad Stewart / USO)

Each year Veterans Day offers an opportunity to honor all members of the military – past and present – for their selfless dedication and loyalty to their country.

It’s also an occasion to celebrate their service and have some fun.

This year, to thank service members, the USO threw a huge tailgate party in Tampa, Fla., for troops and their families before the hometown Buccaneers’ Monday Night Football matchup against the Miami Dolphins. USO Tampa Bay, with help from the Bucs and Jeep, provided food, drinks, entertainment, T-shirts and free game tickets to hundreds of troops.

The tailgate, part the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, gave service members a chance to relax and have some fun before heading into the stadium to cheer on their team.

Inside Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers were the big winners on Monday night. But it was a different story outside the stadium, where members of the military were the stars of the show.

The USO Show Troupe flew in from New York to entertain the crowd and a Mobile USO trekked all the way from Virginia to add to the festivities. It was an occasion to celebrate the military and give thanks, and more than a dozen volunteers from Jeep joined in to help serve troops.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Rovinelli, executive director of USO Tampa Bay, was on hand to witness the festivities firsthand.

“Veterans Day is awesome. For me, it’s double fun,” he said. “I get to remember when I was in and I know what these troops and their families go through on a daily basis. It makes it so easy to do my job because I have that instant connection.”

With 23 years of service under his belt, Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Mazzone has had a long relationship with the USO.  He knows the work the USO does for troops around the world and he’s trying to get the message out to younger service members.

“[Troops] get to see something like this [tailgate] on a grand scale. But, if anything, what they’ll remember is the USO did this,” he said. “And then when they walk past a USO in an airport and they step in, maybe it takes them a step further and maybe they’ll want to volunteer. … If we can keep that circle of life going, that’s exactly what will make the USO continue to be successful.”

Google, USO Honor Military With Circus Performance

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 1.00.37 PMAs a part of Veterans Week NYC, the USO and Google teamed up with Big Apple Circus to provide laughs for more than 1,500 veterans, active duty service members and their families! This special performance opened with a full military color guard, with the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ performed by the USO Liberty Bells, and an had a guest ringmaster, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Paul Bucha of the U.S. Army. The show was held in NYC’s Lincoln Center and also streamed live on both YouTube and Google+.

Jenny Milewski, wife of SSGT Bryan Milewski  said “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to see the Big Apple Circus! Each family member had a favorite part—we had never been to the Big Apple Circus, but we are now going to make it a family tradition! This was one of the highlights of Veterans Week, and the USO has been so wonderful to our family.”

Watch some of the highlights with your family now!

Service After Service: Paul Andrews

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

Paul Andrews and his wife volunteer during the USO Fort Campbell grand opening last year. USO photo by Christian Pelusi

Way back in 1968, 20 days after my high school graduation, I was on my way to Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., for boot camp and more than a year of electronics school. This was my first time away from home and I was in a strange place where I didn’t know anyone or where anything was. On weekends during school, several of us would go to Chicago or Milwaukee for liberty. The USOs in both cities were our first destination, as this was the place to find out what was going on in the city for the weekend. Also, the meals they served were mostly the only food we got. They were our home away from home.

Eventually we settled on spending our free time in Milwaukee and were frequent visitors at the USO and the activities they sponsored. As E-2s and E-3s in the late 1960s, we would not have been able to see and enjoy the things we did without the USO.

I now am retired and have the opportunity to give back some of what I received. Fort Campbell, Ky. and the military are different now from when I was at Great Lakes, as the members are older and many are married with children. Some things are still the same, as many troops lack of money to do anything special. Helping these folks and their families is a great way to support our military, especially on a base that has carried a heavy burden in the present warfare.

Oh, and by the way, I met my wife when she was a volunteer with the USO in Milwaukee. We have been married for almost 43 years and now both volunteer at the USO in Fort Campbell.

–Paul Andrews
USO Fort Campbell volunteer

Service After Service: Ron Collins

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

USO Delaware volunteer Ron Collins

As an 18 year old who was new to the Air Force, I remember my first trip back home to see my parents. This was an East Coast to West Coast trip. Like most of us traveling, I got delayed when changing aircraft and was stuck at a major airport for several hours. What was I supposed to do?

New at traveling and on a strict budget, I wandered around the airport. As I passed a room in the terminal with a sign over the doorway reading “USO,” I remembered hearing about how the organization supported troops and their families and I decided that I needed to check the place out.

When I entered the room I was met by two of the nicest people. Both the man and woman were senior in years, but what smiles they had. They asked me what branch of service I was in, where I was from and where was I going. They made me feel right at home.

Even better, they gave me free cookies and soda. I say again: free cookies and soda! I was escorted to a place where I could sit and watch a movie while waiting for my flight. I kept thinking to myself “Is this how VIPs travel?” The time flew by and, before I knew it, it was time to depart. The two USO volunteers said goodbye with a smile and thanked me for my service. How nice.

I couldn’t wait to tell my parents back in Oregon about my trip, especially the USO. My dad, a retired Marine, explained to me that the USO is everywhere and there to support us troops and our families. In my 28 years of active duty, I got the privilege to travel everywhere, some fun places and some not-so-fun places. The one constant to all my travels was the USO. My dad was right: they are everywhere.

While on active duty, I did my share of volunteer work from squadron booster clubs to fundraisers. After I retired, I became so wrapped up in establishing my new career that I had no time to spare. But after my first few years of military retirement, I found myself longing for an opportunity to get involved—to volunteer for something worthy and give back a little of the blessings I have received. My first thought was of those two people at the airport USO lounge those many years ago and how welcome they made me feel. What better thing to do than to volunteer with the USO, an organization dedicated to supporting our troops and their families?

I have been blessed to work with an awesome group of USO volunteers, all of whom are always looking for how can we better support our troops and their families. As I volunteer for events or at the USO lounge at the Dover Air Force Base passenger terminal, I am taken back by all the stories I hear from the troops, their families, the retirees and the other volunteers. I couldn’t imagine not giving some of my personal time to support such a great organization.

—Ron Collins
USO Delaware volunteer

Service After Service: Martin Van der Hoek

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

USO South Carolina volunteer Army Capt. Martin Van der Hoek

As a service member who has had to opportunity to see the USO in action both at home and overseas, I don’t think that I can ever speak (or write) enough to emphasize the importance and selflessness of the USO and all of its volunteers.

I recall the comfort and sense of home and community that the USO was able to provide to myself and fellow soldiers. Because of this, I find that it is vital for veterans to engage themselves in their local USOs to help out.

This serves two purposes: it gives back to the organization that gives so much in the way of service to our military family and it helps create bonds between the organization and its clients. To be able to walk into a USO and see that there are people there who can connect with you, joke around and share the same common bonds is a wonderful feeling. It also helps the families, who may be separated from their loved ones due to training, deployments or a number of other reasons. They can sit down and chat with volunteers about places that they may both have lived, restaurants and vacation spots they have shared, and it can really drive home that bond and that sense that no matter where they are, the USO stands ready to serve them.

Finally—and perhaps most important—is the sheer power that veterans bring to the USO in their words, their commitment and their actions. I think if you asked around, you would find that there are no better spokesmen for the USO than our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and members of the U.S. Coast Guard. These men and women know firsthand the comfort and the countless efforts made day in and day out by USO volunteers worldwide to bring some joy to their lives and the lives of their families. Because of this, they can perfectly and succinctly explain to an interested party just how beneficial they could be by volunteering with the USO. And just like that, you have yourself another fantastic and energized volunteer!

—Army Capt. Martin Van der Hoek
USO South Carolina Volunteer