USO Delaware is celebrating its 21st anniversary with a rock-your-socks-off gala, featuring an inspirational keynote speaker, decadent fare, a live auction and a quartet of beautiful violin virtuosos, who prefer Led Zeppelin to Mozart.

The USO Delaware will celebrate its 21st anniversary gala this Saturday night with a rockin' evening of modern electric string music, old school big band tunes and a heart-tugging talk with author and military commander LtCol Mike Strobl.

Here's what to know before you go:


1 A chance encounter with Mike Strobl

Retired Marine Corp Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobel is the night's keynote speaker. But, bring some tissues and be prepared to have your heart moved by this guy.

Here's the backbround: After serving in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Strobl was assigned a desk job. Jump forward to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Strobl starts feeling guilty that his former comrades are having to serve without him so he volunteers, despite his rank, to escort the remains of a fallen Marine, PFC Chance Phelps, to his home in the United Stated. During the trip, Strobl kept a detailed account of the experience and his feelings and concluded the mission with an essay culled from his diary and notes. He shared the essay with Phelps' father. Soon after, the essay, "Taking Chance" appeared in several publications. Following that, HBO even picked it up and shot a movie of it, starring Kevin Bacon.

2 Electric strings and ear-thumping winds

The Eastern Shore Wind Ensemble will kick off the night and liven up cocktail hour with recognizable tunes, from mainstream to military.

After dinner and the live auction, the evening's main entertainment will take the stage. Bella Electric Strings, who rocketed to fame following an appearance during season one of "America's Got Talent," will be bringing their blistering violin solos and unique arrangements for this one-night performance in Dover.

The all-girl quartet has played with everyone from Beyonce to Shakira to Andrea Boccelli, routinely dazzling crowds with virtuoso talent, short sequin dresses and model-esque good looks.

3 Mouthwatering menu

The cocktail hour will feature all the usual suspects: a cash bar, sesame chicken skewers, meatballs, spring rolls, international cheeses and fruits and, of course, vegetables and dips.

But, don't fill up on appetizers because you are going to want as much room in your stomach as possible when you see the dinner menu. You'll start with a garden salad, followed by both a pecan-crusted chicken breast and a herb-crusted petite filet of beef with a maple applewood smoked bacon demi-glaze. The rest of your entrée includes a side spinach and tomato whipped potatoes and some seasonal baby vegetables. Finally, if you save room for dessert, you'll be treated to turtle cheesecake.

4 "Bid till it hurts"

A big part of the night is the live auction, which features so many items that the halls leading to the banquet room have to be lined with tables to contain everything.

There are 175 items, including a NASCAR Impact Racing Helmet signed by 31 current and former drivers, from Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson to Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart; A guitar signed by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston of The Beach Boys as well as a guitar signed by both Toby Keith and Allen Jackson; An original Thomas Kinkade painting: And, a Molson Canadian designed snowboard.

USO Delaware Director Joan Cote said the event is such a great opportunity to raise awareness and funds for the local USO. And, since this event doesn't happen every year, she hopes people will be able to be generous.

"We have some amazing items that we hope people will be excited about," Cote said. "I hope to see people hovering over items and I often say 'bid till it hurts' because it all goes to such a good cause."


WHAT USO Delaware's 21st Anniversary Gala
WHERE Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, 1131 N. Dupont Highway, Dover
WHEN 6 p.m., Saturday
COST $65 per person, $120 per couple, $35 for enlisted military personnel
TICKET PURCHASE (302) 677-2491,*

*Reserve tickets by phone or email. Payment can be paid by credit card or in person at Dover Downs. Reservations are still required if payment will be made in person.