On Patrol

Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

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.Photo courtesy of Pioneer Valley USO.

Hot Topics for April 20

April 20, 2016, 3:21PM

Medal of Honor Recipient Recalls Harrowing Firefight in Wanat, Afghanistan  (Modern War Institute at West Point's War Council Blog)

This Vietnam vet names his golf clubs after Marine Corps MOSs (Marine Corps Times) 

Retired general and wife on mission to prevent suicide (Associated Press)

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 ErnstSeven 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 Alaska.”

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 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 disciplined.

“We are all athletes and need to treat our bodies right,” McMillen said. “I think break dancing helps with my [Army] physical training.”

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 said.

Family, Education

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.

Heavy Duty

April 6, 2016, 11:53AM

Marine Corps Sgt. Donovan Robinson participates in the dead lifts event during the Commanding General's Fitness Cup Challenge at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., last month. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Richard Currier Marine Corps Sgt. Donovan Robinson participates in the dead lifts event during the Commanding General's Fitness Cup Challenge at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., last month. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Richard Currier

On St. Patrick’s Day weekend, some brave souls jumped in ice cold water to support the Pioneer Valley USO in Chicopee, Mass. Each year, participants dress up in green gear and take the Leprechaun Plunge to raise money for local charities. This year, the people who went for a swim were treated to an unseasonably warm, 60-degree day. In past years, the temperatures have dipped into the 20s and 30s. Pioneer Valley USO received over $10,000 from last month’s event. Photos courtesy of Daniel Ernst.On St. Patrick’s Day weekend, some brave souls jumped in ice cold water to support the Pioneer Valley USO in Chicopee, Mass. Each year, participants dress up in green gear and take the Leprechaun Plunge to raise money for local charities. This year, the people who went for a swim were treated to an unseasonably warm, 60-degree day. In past years, the temperatures have dipped into the 20s and 30s. Pioneer Valley USO received over $10,000 from last month’s event. Photos courtesy of Daniel Ernst.

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 photoHelen and Dick Kelly were Air Force parents before they because USO volunteers in 2011. Courtesy photo 

Improve the Fighting Position

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 HamiltonArmy 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 around.”

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 captain.

Opportunities to get on the ice were scarce during his two deployments to Afghanistan, but he hadn’t lost his edge when he returned.

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 chance.”

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.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 Corps.

“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 he can.

Helo-cast

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 AlaminaA 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

Nordic Frost

February 4, 2016, 1:05PM

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 AguirreMarines 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

Clearing the Deck

January 26, 2016, 2:05PM

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Clarke III shovels snow off the deck of a 25-foot Coast Guard boat on Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, N.J. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Ty Coulter Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Richard Clarke III shovels snow off the deck of a 25-foot Coast Guard boat on Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook, N.J. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Ty Coulter

Muddy Waters

January 12, 2016, 10:54AM

U.S. soldiers test the capabilities of the MRZR4 LT-All Terrain Vehicle in the Boeblingen Local Training Area, Germany, Jan. 5. Army photo by Jason Johnston U.S. soldiers test the capabilities of the MRZR4 LT-All Terrain Vehicle in the Boeblingen Local Training Area, Germany, Jan. 5. Army photo by Jason Johnston

Over Turkey

January 8, 2016, 1:03PM

U.S Air Force Major Steve Briones, left, and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker over Turkey, on Jan. 6. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook U.S Air Force Major Steve Briones, left, and 1st Lt. Andrew Kim fly a KC-135 Stratotanker over Turkey, on Jan. 6. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

No Pain, No Gain

December 28, 2015, 9:34AM

A soldier navigates an obstacle on Fort Benning, Georgia. The soldier is assigned to the 316th Cavalry Brigade, U.S. Army Armor School. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright A soldier navigates an obstacle on Fort Benning, Georgia. The soldier is assigned to the 316th Cavalry Brigade, U.S. Army Armor School. Army photo by Patrick A. Albright