USO Center Director Receives Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award for Work in Afghanistan


Regina Wages, left, receives the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal from Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. USO Photo

Regina Wages now has something in common with World War II hero Audie Murphy, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and “The Late Show” host and USO tour veteran Stephen Colbert.

On Sept. 24, Wages received the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award for her work as director of the USO center at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan. Army Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, presented her with the medal during a recent visit by military senior leadership.

“Units have deployed and returned home over these years and Regina has just continued to take care of the troops and the leadership to make their service there more bearable,” USO Regional Vice President Bruce Burda wrote in an email.

Described by Burda as “the dynamic and bridging force at FOB Fenty over the past five years,” Wages, a former South Carolina police officer, “has worked hard to keep the center open around the clock so this small base always has a place for the troops to relax and get away from their routine. With only one or two staff members at most, she has taken advantage of every opportunity to build key relationships and has lifted tens of thousands of troops’ spirits during her time in Afghanistan.”

With her sixth Christmas in Afghanistan approaching, Wages has pledged to stay in Eastern Afghanistan as long as the USO needs her there.

“Just because we’re not in combat mode doesn’t mean ISIS and the Taliban got that memo,” she said during a recent phone call as an alarm sounded in the background. “As you can hear, FOB life is very much the same.”

Wages said her most rewarding experience was an opportunity to bring holiday cheer to troops in the most austere fighting positions.

“We flew in helicopters up into the Kunar on the Pakistan border to more than 30 camps, some literally on the sides of snow-covered mountains with my sergeant major sitting next to me wearing a Santa Claus hat,” she said. “They were running off a generators, these kids. There were no latrines or showers up there. They take baths every few days off a solar bag and they do their business in a hole.

“Taking them an Xbox or a PlayStation, and games on Christmas — these kids would cry. And their reactions, by far, made this whole journey worthwhile.”


12 Facts You May Not Know About the Navy on its 240th Birthday

Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. Navy photo

Sailors man the rails on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. Navy photo

Steadfast to the bitter end, Navy tradition isn’t all rum punch and pollywogs. For its 240th Birthday, here are 12 things you may not know about the United States Navy:

1. Volunteering, then volunteering again

If you’re pulling duty on a submarine, it’s not by chance. Due to the claustrophobic and technical nature of the assignment, any Navy personnel serving on a submarine asked to do so.

2. The first admiral was …

David Farragut, who has a rich military history that spanned the War of 1812 and the Civil War, was the first admiral in the United States Navy. Some great Farragut trivia includes (1) joining the Navy at age 9, (2) being one of Abraham Lincoln’s pallbearers and (3) coining the famous quote “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”


3. Bravo Zulu means “well done”

Through World War II, sailors who did well were told “Tare Victor George,” which was code for “well done.” After the war, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed and it standardized communications. NATO created a system of B-flags for administrative communication. The last B-flag was BZ. The Allied Naval Signal Book created the phonetics for each letter and BZ became Bravo Zulu.

4. So explain gun salutes …

Sailors fire a 40 mm saluting cannon. Navy photo

Sailors fire a 40 mm saluting cannon. Navy photo

Often confused with the three-volley salute seen performed at military funerals, the 21-gun salute is a different ceremony entirely. Performed with cannons, the gun salute originates in the days of wooden ships and broadside cannons, when if a ship fired a volley in salute, it was powerless to defend itself for as long as 20 minutes while it reloaded the battery. When approaching ships fired a volley, shore batteries and forts would know the ship represented no threat. In time, this grew to become a gesture of respect, with both land and sea batteries firing odd-numbered volleys back and forth.

Today, the Secretary of the Navy has the final say on which ships and stations may fire gun salutes. A national salute of 21 guns is fired on Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day and to honor the President or heads of foreign states. Additionally, ships may — with approval from the office of the Secretary of the Navy — provide gun salutes for senior officers using the following protocol:

  • Admiral: 17 guns
  • Vice Admiral: 15 guns
  • Rear Admiral (upper half): 13 guns
  • Rear Admiral (lower half): 11 guns

All gun salutes are fired at five-second intervals and total an odd number.

5. Fouled anchors

CPO_collarIf an anchor is fouled, it means the line or chain is wrapped around the shank and fluke arms. This indicates the anchor is no longer suitable for use. These retired anchors are usually displayed for decorative purposes on base or in Navy communities. The symbol is also part of the Chief Petty Officer rank insignia. When used in body art, the fouled anchor represents a tour across the Atlantic Ocean.

6. The story behind the art

Though tattoos are discouraged in today’s Navy, sailors for hundreds of years tattooed themselves as souvenirs to show where they’d been and what they’d gone through. Here is a short (and far from comprehensive) list we collected from sources around the Web of imagery you may encounter among saltier sailors, along with what each item means.

  • Swallows: Home (each denotes 5,000 miles at sea)
  • Compass/Nautical Star: Never losing one’s way (each denotes 10,000 miles at sea)
  • Trident: Special warfare
  • Rose: A significant other left at home
  • Twin screws or props on one’s backside: Propels one forward through life
  • Rope: Deckhand
Octopus: Navy diver
  • Dolphin: Wards off sharks
  • Sharks: Rescue swimmer
  • Polar bear: Sailed the Arctic Circle
  • Dragon: Sailed the Pacific
  • Fouled anchor: Sailed the Atlantic
  • Turtle: Crossed the equator
  • Gold dragon: Crossed the International Dateline
  • Gold turtle: Crossed the International Dateline and the Equator where they intersect
  • Emerald fouled anchor: Crossed the Prime Meridian
  • Emerald turtle: Crossed the Prime Meridian and the Equator where they intersect
  • Full-rigged ship: Sailed around Cape Horn
  • Helm: Quartermaster
  • Pin-up girls: Company at sea/port call
  • Hula girls: Sailed to or ported in Hawaii
  • Dagger through a swallow: Signifies a lost comrade
  • Pig and chicken: Superstition to keep from drowning
  • The words “HOLD FAST”: Signifies a deckhand’s tight grip on the lines

7. Mind your Ps and Qs

Sure, you want to write your lowercase letters correctly, but this wasn’t originally a grammar warning. Instead, according to the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, it was a way of keeping bar bookkeepers — and their seafaring patrons — honest in waterfront taverns. In centuries past, sailors often had bar tabs on credit, with barkeepers making marks next to each patron’s name under P for pint and Q for quart. Minding one’s Ps and Qs meant both settling up and also staying somewhat sober as to keep an accurate count on what one had consumed.

8. The Civil War had a significant naval strategy component

It may have been the North against the South, but the Atlantic Ocean still came into play. The Union went into the war with a plan to blockade the Confederacy’s coastal ports while also advancing south via the Mississippi River.

9. A sign inside the camo

Navy tests a new lookMuch like the Marine Corps camouflage pattern upon which the Navy version was developed, Navy “digis,” as they are often called, have tiny Navy emblems printed inside the pattern. Next time you’re close to a sailor, see if you can spot one.

10. Tossing a Dixie Cover under the Bridge

For many a short-timer, crossing under the Coronado Bridge (or any other bridge near home port) marks a moment of reflection. Should the sailor stay in or get out? Because sailors are often superstitious, many leave the decision up to the sea, tossing their cover into the deep. If it floats, the sea is asking them to stay. If it sinks, it’s time to move on.

11. In the Navy there are no windows, walls or bathrooms

The Navy has rich diction, but don’t get it mixed up. Ships don’t have walls; they have bulkheads. They don’t have windows; they have portholes. Your left side is your port side and the right side is starboard. The mess deck is where you eat and the deck is where you walk. Above your head is an overhead, not a ceiling or roof. If you need a toilet, you will find that in the head, and the rack is where you sleep.

12. The Legend of Bill the Goat

United_State_Naval_Academy_Logo-sportsBill the Goat has been the Naval Academy mascot since the early 1900s. Legend has it that a Navy ship once had a goat for a pet, and on the way home to port the goat died. Two ensigns were entrusted to have the goat stuffed, but got distracted by a Naval Academy football game. One of the ensigns allegedly dressed up in the goatskin and pranced around at halftime. The crowd loved it and Navy won the game.


USO South Carolina Moves Quickly to Support First Responders, Military Community Amid Flooding

Joanie Thresher tried to explain the situation through the tears.

“The roads are gone. They’re not just covered in mud. They’re gone.

“It’s just so heartbreaking.”

At least 18 dams were breached and more than 100 bridges washed away in South Carolina after a five-day deluge of rain from Hurricane Joaquin. The weather caused more than a dozen deaths and potentially more than $1 billion in damage statewide.

The flooding has been especially hard on the state’s military community. USO South Carolina has kept its Columbia Metropolitan Airport center open to troops while providing aid to service members and families around Fort Jackson – where the Army trains more than half its new soldiers – and 1,300 National Guard first responders.

“This flood is hitting the heart of our military community,” said Thresher, the director of USO South Carolina, in a Tuesday night phone call. “There are so many military families who live in the areas worst hit, and it’s supposed to get worse before it gets better.”

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Hurricane Joaquin put an all-stop to base operations Saturday, leaving dozens of troops stranded overnight at nearby Columbia Metropolitan Airport, where hundreds typically pass through the USO lounge daily on their way to and from basic training.

USO South Carolina has called on its volunteers and donors for logistical support to help deliver basic supplies like water to military families in need.

“Everyone is bringing in supplies from water to food, diapers, formula and baby wipes, everything you can imagine they are just bringing in truckloads to us to give to service members,” Thresher said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Thresher said most of the USO support is focused on the Guardsmen working search-and-rescue missions along the coast, where water and energy drinks are crucial. Volunteers are also delivering water, food and supplies to the inland areas and communities near Fort Jackson.

Starbucks came through with almost 300 pounds of ground coffee, water and individually wrapped food. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce, GEICO, Lowes and other businesses made financial donations.

“[It’s like the USO is] the only bridge that’s still intact,” Thresher said, “because we’re blessed to be able to get onto the installations and on to the flight lines where we can help load Chinooks and sling-load pallets to be taken across the city to the people who need it because our roads are gone.”


USO Cincinnati Volunteer Builds Makeshift Crib to Ease Family’s Travel Woes

It started as an ordinary trip. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Moore and his wife Beth traveled from Fort Hood, Texas, to Ohio for a wedding, their two young children in tow.

After finding out a close family member in Ohio was diagnosed with cancer, Beth and the two kids stayed a few days longer while Jason went back to his duty station to report for work. But when the trio went to catch their flight at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, nothing went as planned.

“First the plane had some sort of maintenance issue which delayed us for hours,” she said. “Then it was announced it would be even a few more hours and then finally the flight was was outright cancelled.

“Fortunately we were right next to the USO, so I was able to bring the kids in there and wait for who knows how long.”

Thinking her husband would be there traveling with her for the duration of the trip, Beth left the family stroller at home and was ill-prepared to handle both the needs of a 7-month-old and a newly potty-trained 2-year-old toddler, who, of course, had to use the bathroom at the exact moment the 7-month-old needed to be put down to sleep.

Recognizing the needs of the overwhelmed mother, quick-thinking USO volunteer Peggy Littrell fashioned a makeshift crib from two chairs she found inside the USO lounge, facing them toward each other and lining the furniture with a blanket. Littrell watched the 7-month-old so Beth could take care of the 2-year-old.

“It was amazing,” Beth said. “I didn’t know people still do that anymore.”

Littrell kept the USO center open until midnight, when she contacted airport security to help the family their gate for departure.

“When I got home my husband couldn’t believe it when I told him what happened,” Beth said. “He saw the photo it was one of the rare times I’ve seen him cry. He typically doesn’t share something like this on social media, but It really touched him that someone would take so much time out to care for his family.”

“There’s no training orientation or anything like that in the world which teaches people to do stuff like this,” USO Cincinnati Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Williams about Littrell’s compassionate actions that night. “It’s instinct.”


‘This is for Me’: One Woman’s Journey to the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma


Carleeh Mullholland, right, smiles as she watches the opening remarks of the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma, Washington.

TACOMA, Wash. — Carleeh Mullholland didn’t choose to be a caregiver.

But when her husband, medically retired Army Sgt. Cy Mullholland, was diagnosed with severe PTSD and TBI after serving several tours in the Middle East as a tank commander, she stepped into the caregiving role — whether she was ready or not.

“It fell in my lap,” she said. “[I had to] take care of my husband and I didn’t really get a say-so.”

After receiving his official diagnosis, Cy served for several more years before eventually being medically discharged. During the family’s transition process out of the military, Carlee notes that her husband’s condition added another dimension to an already difficult and confusing time.

“You’re in this place where you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s no job for your spouse if he is unable to work [like my husband, who is disabled],” Carleeh said. “So you got to figure something out.”


Carleeh Mullholland, center, takes notes during the USO Caregivers Seminar.

Over the past few years, Carleeh, a mother of three, has started to figure it out

Around the same time her husband was diagnosed and medically discharged, fitness, health and wellness became her passion, career and coping mechanism to positively manage the added stress of being a caregiver. She also discovered a slew of other resources for caregivers, including the USO Caregivers Seminar, which she attended with a group of her friends in Tacoma earlier this week.

“I [came to the seminar because I] did really want more knowledge and more education so I can really be a better caregiver,” she said.

The USO Caregivers Seminar features a day of engaging speakers, workshops and presentations designed to address the immediate needs of caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members. At some Caregivers Seminars, like the recent session in Tacoma, attendees also have the option to stay in a hotel the night before the event, which allows them to fully relax and engage during the seminar

“The only time for me to be able to come to anything is when it’s all in one,” Carleeh said. “So when I heard that there was going to be [optional] overnight [accommodations, I knew I could plan, stay overnight and not] be stressed out so I could just come and kind of get that free time for myself too.”

Although she has been to other programs for caregivers of wounded, ill and injured soldiers, Carleeh said her experience at the USO Caregivers Seminar was enjoyable and different.

Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation (right) plays a game with an attendee.

Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation, right, plays a game with an attendee.

In particular, she enjoyed seeing her fellow caregivers relax and open up during the individual presentations, like the interactive game-dynamics session held by Steve Shenbaum, gameonNation’s founder and president.

“I got to see the fun side of them instead of the caregiver side which is usually, ‘My veteran has this injury and I have to do this’,” Carleeh said. “When we all got in there and had a bunch of laughs and … you could really see them as they are.”

Carleeh appreciated the opportunity to spend the day learning about tools and techniques that could help her take care of herself as well as improve her caregiving skills.

“From coming to these things, you learn the tools that you need,” she said.

“If it’s geared towards caregivers, I don’t have to tell [my husband] I’m going to another session to learn about [PTSD or TBI]. … This is for me. This is for caregiving.”

For more information on future USO Caregivers Seminars, go to uso.org/caregivers.

CORRECTIONS: The timing description of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Cy received official diagnosis several years before transitioning out of the military.

CORRECTION: The official language of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Although Cy suffers from severe PTSD and TBI, he is not 100 percent disabled.


Longtime USO Supporter Gen. Martin E. Dempsey Says Goodbye to the Military

Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speaks at his retirement ceremony last week. DOD photo

Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speaks at his retirement ceremony last week. DOD photo


The USO said goodbye to one of its biggest champions last week when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey retired after 41 years of service.

The Army general served a pair of two-year stints as the highest ranking officer in the military and went on several USO Chairman’s Tours during that assignment, bringing celebrities overseas during the winter holidays to lift the spirits of deployed troops. Dempsey’s final USO tour in December visited five countries in six days and included country star Kellie Pickler, comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister.

“In my dealings with the USO over the past few years, spearheading tours around the globe, I can confidently say that the USO is as helpful and comforting today as it was back [when I joined the Army],” Dempsey said at the time.

Dempsey also gave some of the most memorable speeches at recent USO galas, including a story relating how a USO volunteer helped him find his first duty station in Germany in 1970s and the memorable Irish Ditty he sang at last year’s event.