Monday, November 24, 2014

A MilFam Thanksgiving Story: Military Family Reconnects Overseas

Every military family story I write is different. Some are about young families. Some are about veterans. And some are about families that still manage to be families thousands of miles away from eachother.

This, my readers, is one of the last type of stories.

Enter Reginald and Emmanuel Wright. Both men hail from the same household, and right now, are stationed hundreds of miles away from each other in the U.S.

But, as chance (and the Army) would have it, fate has reunited the two together again... in Bagram, Afghanistan.

I had the chance to Skype with the two men about their serendipitous deployments, thier realationship, and thier connection with the USO and was able to write up this awesome story.

Here's snippet:
Remember when you were a kid, and your parents wanted to show you off? Your report cards, your new clothes, your questionable singing abilities, all on display on command for the neighbors and their friends. 
Now imagine you’re a soldier in the most advanced Army on Earth and walking into a USO center in Afghanistan. And then you hear this: “There he is. Emmanuel, come over here and meet ...”
Aw man, Dad.
Like any proud father, Staff Sgt. Reginald Wright enjoys introducing his son to his acquaintances. But unlike most parents, the elder Wright gets to do it in a war zone. 
“You know, people here that come to visit, I get to like them, I get to talk to them, get to know them, and I say, ‘Hey, I want you to meet someone.’ I introduce my son to them. And they all stare,” Reginald Wright said. “They give that little look. And then they look at him, and they look at me, and I say, ‘This is my son.’ And they say, ‘Really?’” 
- See more at: http://www.uso.org/overseas-family-reunion/#sthash.MO8wANy6.dpuf
Remember when you were a kid, and your parents wanted to show you off? Your report cards, your new clothes, your questionable singing abilities, all on display on command for the neighbors and their friends. 

Now imagine you’re a soldier in the most advanced Army on Earth and walking into a USO center in Afghanistan. And then you hear this: “There he is. Emmanuel, come over here and meet ...”

Aw man, Dad.

Like any proud father, Staff Sgt. Reginald Wright enjoys introducing his son to his acquaintances. But unlike most parents, the elder Wright gets to do it in a war zone. 

“You know, people here that come to visit, I get to like them, I get to talk to them, get to know them, and I say, ‘Hey, I want you to meet someone.’ I introduce my son to them. And they all stare,” Reginald Wright said. “They give that little look. And then they look at him, and they look at me, and I say, ‘This is my son.’ And they say, ‘Really?’” 
Remember when you were a kid, and your parents wanted to show you off? Your report cards, your new clothes, your questionable singing abilities, all on display on command for the neighbors and their friends. 
Now imagine you’re a soldier in the most advanced Army on Earth and walking into a USO center in Afghanistan. And then you hear this: “There he is. Emmanuel, come over here and meet ...”
Aw man, Dad.
Like any proud father, Staff Sgt. Reginald Wright enjoys introducing his son to his acquaintances. But unlike most parents, the elder Wright gets to do it in a war zone. 
“You know, people here that come to visit, I get to like them, I get to talk to them, get to know them, and I say, ‘Hey, I want you to meet someone.’ I introduce my son to them. And they all stare,” Reginald Wright said. “They give that little look. And then they look at him, and they look at me, and I say, ‘This is my son.’ And they say, ‘Really?’” 
- See more at: http://www.uso.org/overseas-family-reunion/#sthash.MO8wANy6.dpuf
Click here for the whole story!





Friday, November 21, 2014

Dare to Go Bare: My latest for Fiterazzi

Take. It. OFF! Take it all off! Your makeup, I mean...

While I enjoy the occasional dab of blush, most days, I'll admit, I'm 100% makeup free, and happy to be so!

To me, makeup is more of a costly, acne-causing early wake-up call than a fun part of my daily routine, so I choose to skip it on the regular.

In my latest story for Fiterazzi, I dish all about my non-makeup ways and give ten awesome reasons to skip the mascara and head out the door.

Here's a preview of my post:





Read the full article here!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to make a fairy tale 101: Video for the USO


In a post I wrote earlier this week, I talked about meeting and following around a wonderful military family while I was working USO Operation: That's My Dress! (OTMD) in Jacksonville, FL on Sunday.

Well, now that my video is done, I thought I'd share the final project with you and tell you a bit more about their story.

Introducing the Ruud family! Meet mom, Vicky, daughter, Brooke, father, Jeremy, and a slew of four other siblings whose names, honestly, I forget!

The Ruuds were gracious enough to let me follow them around all day long on Sunday and film thier OTMD experience, as well as share their story with me.

See, the Ruud family is no stranger to military life. Jeremy has been an active duty service member for over 18 years in the Navy, and currently, is deployed overseas. Him and Vicky have five kids, and have seen it all over the years -- paycheck to paycheck living, holiday deployments, you name it. Luckily, the USO has been there for them in all lives ups and downs.

In fact, the USO, along with a few other sponsors, gave Vicky and Brooke an extra-special suprise last week that made thier OTMD experience that much better!

Watch the video to find out and enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Behind the Shoot: On the Road for USO Operation: That's My Dress! In Jacksonville, Florida

Lately, I feel like I've been living the old Willie Nelson song "On the Road Again," and with good reason; In the past three weeks I've been to Texas, Arizona and Florida -- and next week I head to New York and Texas (again).

Talk about jet-setting!

As you probably already know, the main reason for my travel and adventures is because of my job as a multimedia journalist for the USO. It's a great gig and I totally love it. I mean, who wouldn't want to be a professional, traveling storyteller for a living?

Am I right or am I right?

Anyway, my latest adventure took me to Jacksonville, Florida to cover the USO Operation: That's My Dress! event, which gives military teens the chance to choose a free prom dress, designed by Sherri Hill.


The girls also get free makeup, hair products, jewelery and the chance to enjoy a fashion show.


They could also meet Miss Teen USA representatives, watch the USO Show Troupe perform and get dolled up for the day. Teenage me would have totally loved it!


While I was at the event, I met a wonderful mother-daugher duo, Vicky and Brooke Ruud, respectively, who graciously let me invade their space for the day to capture their experience.


While I won't divulge too much on their story (check back for a video about them later this week!) I will share some of the photos I took of Brooke and Vicky yesterday afternoon.



They were so sweet -- really, I had the best time following the two of them on thier fairytale afternoon. Plus, Brooke picked out a dress most teenagers would die for. How lucky is she?


Stay tuned for more on this fabulous military family and their story later this week!



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Warp Stablizing and Editing Away: A NASCAR/USO Video

In my blog post earlier this week I dished about my fantastic trip to Phoenix, Arizona last week for the USO and chatted about my first experience at a NASCAR event.

Now, a few days later (hey, better late than never, right?) I give you my video wrap of the event.


Normally when I produce videos, I don't have too many techincal issues or logistical problems and am able to turn them around a lot quicker, but when it came to this peice, well, things didn't go so smoothly.

See, I wasn't allowed to bring a tripod into the NASCAR stadium (arena? track? area?) on the day of the race. While my interview with Trevor Bayne is beautiful and a steady shot, it was taken the day before the race when I had extra time to set up the shot and use a tripod.

The other interviews, well, aren't as pretty. Shaky footage = a headache in the editing room.

Novice video editors, if you're reading this, take some advince. Always, always use a tripod for your interviews unless you can't because of venue rules. Shaky b-roll is acceptable. Shaky interviews are not.

My solution to the shaky mess I created? The magical warp stabilizing tool that is part of Premier Pro CC. Although it bumps up the file size a bunch, and requires some fine tuning, this magic tool turned my unacceptable footage and made it average and acceptable.

Still, my advice. Always go for the tripod. It'll save you the headache.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Speeding to Arizona: Shooting NASCAR Race for USO, Interviewing Driver Trevor Bayne & Meeting Medal of Honor Recipient Fred Ferguson

I used to think NASCAR was as simple as driving fast cars around in circles for a few hours and calling it a day.

Boy, was I wrong.


This past weekend I headed down to Phoenix, Arizona to cover the USO’s presence at the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at Phoenix International Raceway and got a true education about all the complexities and strategy that goes behind the sport. And yes, I said sport, you read that right.


After spending a full watching all they do out there on the track and talking to the drivers and pit teams, my opinion on whether or not to call NASCAR a sport has changed. It is totally a sport that requires quite a bit of strategy, team work and physical preparation.

Chess, however, is still not a sport. Sorry.


Anyway, the entire reason why I had the wonderful opportunity to jet to Phoenix was because Trevor Bayne, who drives his No. 6 Ford Mustang for Rousch Fenway Racing, featured the USO logo on his vehicle this weekend in honor of Veterans Day this week. In addition to having the USO logo on his far, Bayne also had Medal of Honor recipient Fred Ferguson’s name on his passenger door — something that I understood is very, very special in NASCAR and doesn’t happen very often at all.


While the weekend was a total blur (I was shooting photos and videos — fellow media people know doing both at the same time is craaaazy), I honestly enjoyed my time on the track.


I was surprised at how friendly and down to earth almost everyone I met was, including Trevor, who’s my age. Plus, I think I got some awesome shots and captured some special moments for Fred and the other USO VIPs that were with the group on Saturday. I even got to sit down and talk with Trevor on Friday before the race and snapped this Instavid!

Honestly, I felt very honored to be the one capturing this special occasion for the USO and Fred, who was a total hoot and a wonderful man. When I wasn’t busy shooting photos or videos, I found myself chatting with Fred and listening to all of his stories from when he was in the service. He’s lived quite an interesting life and has seen a fair amount of the world and country thanks to his service. I just hope that when I’m that old I’ll have such amazing stories to share.

You know, I think that there’s always something special to be learned from veterans and older people in general. All too often, I think people discount the elderly and their tales, or only remember those who served twice a year.


Meeting Fred and seeing how much he enjoyed Saturdays events — meeting people, being honored by a standing ovation, seeing his name on the car — was a nice reminder to continually say thank you not only to veterans, but people in general, a bit more than we already do.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Behind the Shoot: Filming Trace Adkins & Casey James in at Ft. Hood for the USO

Note: I posted a previous version of this blog post featuring photos that I had to take down for legal reasons. Thank you for understanding and please watch the video I produced from the event & read the new-and-improved post! :)


There's something about shooting a concert that makes me tingle with excitement, without a doubt, each and every time. Maybe it's the huge crowd of excited people. Maybe it's the music blaring in the air. Or maybe, it's the colorful stage lights that twinkle in the audience's eyes.

Whatever reason, I always look forward to covering concerts for the USO -- almost as much as I look forward to doing feature stories with military families, those are still my favorite things to shoot.

While I was busy running (literally running) around shooting video from the day's events and didn't get a chance to chat with any of the military families at the concert, I did get to chat with the USO photographer who was also covering the event, Fred Greaves. He was super nice and I had quite a fun time geeking out with him over photography. It's always nice to meet new people at these events -- even if those new people are working for the same company as me!

Bearing all this in mind, it should come at no surprise to hear that I had a blast while covering my latest assignment for the USO -- a free concert in Ft. Hood featuring Trace Adkins and Casey James. Not only did I get the chance to head back to the 'Great Place' and my home state, but I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with both Trace and Casey and ask them about their respective histories of performing for troops around the world.

Both men have traveled overseas (Trace many, many times with the USO) to entertain deployed service men and women over the years and spoke very sincerely about their admiration for the work and sacrifices troops make by serving the country. I think that's one common theme that runs through all of the celebrity performer interviews I do for the USO -- they all seem so appreciative to be able to sing, dance, do whatever, for men and women in uniform. Often times, they feel like the troops are doing more of a service for them then they are for the troops. It's really moving to see such popular performers speak so humbly about their time spent with troops. I wish everyone could hear them speak so candily and from the heart.

That, at least, is a constant reminder to me that my job to capture these unique sentiments is just that much more important.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Stories, so many stories to tell: Military proposals & Trace Adkins preview for the USO

I like to think of myself as a professional storyteller, thank you very much.

I remember growing up and creating these elaborate tales in my head and trying to act them out with my friend Morgan using our extensive Pound Puppies collections which we further dressed up as wizards or princesses. A wizard stuffed puppy.

I don't apologize for my seven-year-old self's weird innovation.

Looking back, I should have known that I would keep telling stories years down the road. Now, I consider myself lucky to do it for a living and as a personal hobby. I really just can't get enough.


Part of my work at the USO is to write about the touching events that take place at our centers around the world. 

All last week I was working on a special story about a young newlywed couple who, thanks to the help of USO San Antonio, was able to sneak in that perfect proposal moment before the big day.
Here's a snippet from my story:
When most girls dream about their perfect proposal, they imagine flowers, a ring and their future husband down on one knee — not a long-distance call from a boyfriend hundreds of miles away. 

But for Pvt. Zoe Tunchez and Pvt. Emmanuel Aleman, who are stationed at different Army bases, a happy phone conversation seemed like the closest to a fairy-tale proposal they would get. 

That is, until Aleman, his mother, Marita Maldonado, and USO San Antonio teamed up to give Tunchez the surprise of a lifetime.
(You can read the full story here.)
I also had the awesome task of interviewing the multi-platinum country music artist, Trace Adkins, before a concert that his performing for military families in Fort Hood this Saturday, which I will also be attending and covering for the USO.

Adkins told me all about his history of working with the USO and traveling around the world to entertain troops and their families and talked about the strange sense of guilt he feels after performing for a military crowd. Here's an excerpt of my blog post:
When Trace Adkins steps off stage after performing in Fort Hood, Texas, this Saturday, he knows he will feel the guilt. It’s a guilt the eight-time USO tour veteran says he feels after every USO show.

“You’ll never find a more appreciative audience than the members of the military,” Adkins said. “Every USO tour I’ve been on, I leave there feeling a little guilty every time. I always feel like they gave me more than I gave them. And it’s always felt like that.”

The multi-platinum country artist, who previously performed at Fort Hood during the 2010 WWE and NBC ‘Tribute to the Troops,’ says there’s something special about entertaining troops and their families that he’s looking forward to experiencing again at Saturday’s show, sponsored by PenFed Credit Union.

(You can read the full story here.)
These are just a snapshot of some of the amazing work the USO does at its centers each and every day. It's just my job to share the stories of that work. And I love each and every moment I get to do just that.