The Wall That Heals arrived in West Springfield, Massachusetts.
Pioneer Valley USO was there for the escort and also the 4 days
that it was on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition.
We helped to assemble the wall together, provide information,
conversation with over 11,000 visitors that healed, remembered and
learned about the wall and on the last day took the wall down for
the journey to the next location. We even provided some needed
water for visitors on the great, hot summer days, too.
Photo courtesy of Pioneer Valley USO.
Hundreds of active-duty military personnel and first responders
from across the country gathered before dawn on April 16 in
Concord, Massachusetts, to honor their fallen comrades with
26.2-mile march on historic Battle Road Trail.
As part of the Tough Ruck, a marathon-length walk to raise money
for service members and families of the fallen, seven members of
Team Pioneer Valley USO carried 30 to 60-pound rucksacks the full
length of the course. The USO team, with six members over 50 and
one 60-year-old, completed the grueling challenge in eight hours,
raising $2,578 for the cause. In total, more than 600 participated
and raised more than $185,000.
Tyler Huhn, a 21-year-old ROTC cadet wearing his Army uniform,
crossed the finish line first at 5:19:23 and Hannah Kuegler, the
first woman to finish, completed the march in 5:44:12. The Boston
Athletic Association and the Boston Marathon awarded each finisher
with an official Boston Marathon finisher’s medal.
“The Ruck is hard but it never comes close to the ultimate
sacrifice they gave,” Army Reserve Spc. Adonis Carrasco, who hauled
his 45-pound rucksack to the finish line, told the Boston Globe.
Seven members of Team Pioneer Valley USO completed the 26.2-mile Tough Ruck in Concord, Mass., and raised $2,578 for service members and families of the fallen. Photo courtesy of Daniel Ernst
When not wrenching on a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for 40 hours
a week, one Alaska Army National Guardsman trades in her flight
suit for a pair of sneakers and the dance floor.
Sgt. Brianna McMillen is a crew chief with 1st Battalion, 207th
Aviation Regiment, and has served five years in the Alaska Army National
Guard. The crew chief seat however, takes a backseat to her
true passion: break dancing.
Break dancing, or breaking, is a musical art form that
incorporates a style of street dance typically danced to certain
ranges of tempo and beat patterns like hip-hop and funk music.
McMillen, an Anchorage native and 2010 graduate of South
Anchorage High School, said she became interested in breaking about
eight years ago. “I saw a couple kids break dancing at my high
school and I thought that the moves they were doing were really
cool and crazy,” she said.
When she started, McMillen practiced alone in her garage. “I was
shy about it at first,” she said. “I’ve always been athletic and
liked music, but never really had any natural groove.”
There is depth, culture and thrill to the break dancing scene
which encompasses graffiti, DJ-iing, rapping and dancing, McMillen
explained. The terms b-boy, b-girl and breaker are used to describe
the performers, who usually use nicknames or performance names.
“I go by B-Girl Snap One,” she said. “Snap because I’m actually
double jointed and one was added because I am the only b-girl up in
The style of acrobatic dancing has been around since the
mid-1970s, growing in popularity as it made its appearances in
countries like the United Kingdom and Japan. However, McMillen
explained that there are few break dancers in Alaska.
“The hip-hop scene in Anchorage is very small. We are so very
far away from the rest of the hip-hop scene in the United States
and in the world,” she said, who hopes to one day represent the
U.S. at an international competition.
Alaska Army National Guardsman Sgt. Brianna McMillen, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief with 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, break dances at the Fairview Recreation Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Courtesy photo by Darel Carey, LiHai Art
Breaking, Soldiering Require Discipline
McMillen believes anyone can do incredible things if they put
enough time and passion into their craft.
“Some people do it on their own, but 90 percent of break dancers
have a group or crew that they’re with,” she said. “You train,
travel, practice and ultimately, grow up with them. When it gets
hard and you want to quit, you’re with all these people that you’ve
been through so much with and you don’t want to leave.”
McMillen explained that the close relationships in her
break-dancing crew are not the only parallel with Army life.
Self-discipline is the key to success both in break dancing and the
military, she said, crediting the Army with helping her become
“We are all athletes and need to treat our bodies right,”
McMillen said. “I think break dancing helps with my [Army] physical
McMillen often exceeds a perfect score on the Army physical
fitness test. “A lot of females have difficulties lifting their own
body weight and ... all that I do when break dancing is lift my own
body weight,” she said.
“The Army National Guard gives great opportunities for those who
are seeking to better themselves in their own way,” McMillen
McMillen joined the military with a deep admiration for family
members that had gone before her. An added bonus was the help in
paying for her education, which she puts into use as a part-time
college student at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“I am pursuing a degree in health and physical fitness to be a
personal trainer and later a physical therapist,” she said.
The self-discipline she acquired through breaking and her
military training has set McMillen on a path toward success. She
graduated with honors from basic combat and advanced individual
training and from the Warrior Leader Course -- the Army’s first
step on the professional leader development ladder.
And her physical and mental toughness were continually tested as
she attended the Basic Airborne School and took part in the Alaska
Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.
McMillen said she has made it her goal to show women that they
are both physically and mentally capable.
“Just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean that you have to limit
yourself,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t become the
best that you can be at something. If that means that I’m not going
to be a world champion, then that’s fine. I just want to know that
I’m the best that I can be at that one thing.”
“A person should always strive for something; if you’re not,
then what are you living for?” McMillen added.
Dick and Helen Kelly started as volunteers at the Pioneer Valley
USO in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in November 2011.
Before they became USO volunteers, they were Air Force parents.
Their son served as an airman for more than 20 years and they were
fortunate to see their son deploy out of Bangor, Maine. The
drive from Agawam, Massachusetts, to central Maine is a long trip
and it was a late night departure. They were put at ease when they
realized the USO was present and there to provide some much-needed
refreshments for the deploying service members. They even made some
new friends when some USO volunteers came to them and told them
about the first time their children deployed and the help they
received from the organization.
Since then, the Kellys have been involved in many activities and
they help with Pioneer Valley USO’s Monday Night Dinner program.
Each Monday, 50 to 100 service members and military families from
each branch stationed at Westover Air Reserve Base – Army, Marine
Corps, Air Force and Navy – are served a meal that’s planned and
prepared by USO volunteers. The opportunity to show gratitude
and support our men and women in uniform is what keeps the couple
from slowing down.
Helen and Dick Kelly were Air Force parents before they because USO volunteers in 2011. Courtesy photo
February 11, 2016, 3:00PM
Army Reserve Soldier, Private Melissa Stamey, C Company, 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment, works to rebuild her firing position after the wall of sandbags around her M249 light machine gun collapsed during the Victory Forge field training exercise at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, February 2016. Army photo by Sergeant 1st Class Brian Hamilton
The teams set up in formation. Their minds are on their
objective and the opposition that lies before them. The moments
before initial actions are tense, curtailed breaths emerging in
quick wisps from beneath their helmets. A resounding “thump” is
heard as both sides execute their battle plans.
Marine Corps Sergeant Thomas Adams punches through the
opposition’s defenses to carry the puck around the net, shooting it
past the goalie’s leg to score.
Adams is a member of the 15-man Marine Corps Ice Hockey Team,
which played together here for the first time January 15, during
the weekend-long International Fire, Police and Military Winter
Games hockey tournament. But, what’s truly important isn’t the
competition, but that Adams is a Marine stationed in Hawaii who
traveled more than 5,000 miles to compete in the hopes that he and
other Marines can share his love of ice hockey.
“So how did I end up in Maine in the dead of winter to play a
few games of ice hockey?” Adams asked. “It’s because I love the
sport and I love the Marine Corps. Being able to represent both
parts of my life at once means a lot to me.”
Life-long Love of the Game
Adams, born and raised in Lynn, Massachusetts, was introduced to
ice hockey at the age of three. He said opportunities to skate were
frequent, with winter freezes coming early and lasting well into
spring, so he was almost always in his skates.
“Every school I was at, I was on their ice hockey team,” he
said. “No matter if I was sick or had bad grades or whatever, I
could get on the ice and let it all go away; I felt free skating
Adams continued to play even after graduating high school and
becoming a Marine. He played on the varsity ice hockey team on
Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, eventually becoming team
Opportunities to get on the ice were scarce during his two
deployments to Afghanistan, but he hadn’t lost his edge when he
Adams became more active in ice hockey when he was sent to
Hawaii, playing in a local adult league as well as coaching three
youth hockey teams with players ranging in age from 5 to 17.
Being stationed in Hawaii means he hasn’t had an opportunity to
skate on his home ice in a while, Adams said.
“The last time I was in this neck of the woods was during leave
before heading out to Hawaii, which was almost two years ago,” he
said. “So when this opportunity came up, I jumped at the
The Marine Corps Ice Hockey Team poses for a photo following first game during The Maine Event, Battle on Ice hockey tournament, January 15. The team is made up of 40 players from across the Marine Corps, 15 of whom are playing in the tournament. This is the first time the team has played together and is aiming to create a Marine Corps-recognized All-Marine Ice Hockey Team.
Forming a Team
Marine Corps Major Scott Kleinman advertised about playing on
the Marine Corps Ice Hockey Team. Kleinman approached the Marine
Corps three years ago with the intention of establishing an
official All-Marine Ice Hockey Team. His plan was to model it after
the All-Marine Football Team, where players are on orders to the
team to practice and play. Kleinman learned that financial concerns
meant the team could not be supported by the Corps.
“I wasn’t going to stop there,” said Kleinman, the operations
officer for Marine Corps Western Recruiting Region. “There is a lot
of interest in a hockey team from players across the Marine Corps,
so I was still going to see my goal through.”
Kleinman published a memo last August accessible to everyone in
the Marine Corps seeking applications for an unofficial Marine ice
hockey team. Forty applications quickly came in, enough to form a
complete team that drew players from every corner of the Corps.
“Hawaii, Alaska, South Carolina, Virginia, California -- all
coming together out of this common interest to play and represent
the Marine Corps through sport,” said Marine Corps Sergeant Tyler
Bluder, an aviation ordnance technician at Naval Air Station Joint
Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. “We all took leave in conjunction
with each other to make up this team to play this weekend; we
haven’t even been together for more than 24 hours, and we’re about
to take on our first game.”
In addition to being a composite team, it is entirely
self-funded. Each team member paid his own way to Maine from their
respective duty stations. “That’s how much we want to see this team
work and become something bigger,” Adams said. “We get to do what
we’re passionate about and represent the Marine Corps in areas that
may not have a Corps presence.”
The first day of the tournament was the first time the team had
even met, much less played together. It is that spirit and passion
for the game that Adams said he hopes to spread across the
“There’s unique camaraderie both in the Marine Corps and the
hockey community; not having played with each other before is more
of a formality at that point,” he said. “We instantly meshed and
worked with each other’s skills. I have high hopes for the team,
and I’m excited to help take this as far as it can go.”
Planning is already underway for the team to play in future
tournaments, and Adams said he intends to participate in as many as
February 5, 2016, 10:05AM
A Marine with 1st Raider Battalion, Marine Special Operations Team (MSOT), climbs a ladder into an MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 as part of a helo-cast off the coast of Guam, January 6. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chelsy Alamina
Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, conduct their final exercise of Nordic Frost on Army Mountain Warfare Center in Ethan Allen, Vermont, January 13. Marine Corps photo by Lance Corporal Kimberly Aguirre