Family Care Packages Will Keep Military Families Connected

Sloan Gibson - President and CEO of the USO - enjoys a light moment with employees of the Family Readiness Center at the DC Armory, Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Members of the DC National Guard prepare items for the Family Care Package stuffing party at the US Army National Guard Armory in Washington, DC, February 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Volunteers preparing for the stuffing party enjoy the antics of hoops&yoyo, Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Dr. Jill Biden spoke in support of the program, then joined volunteers in assembling the care packages, which will be sent to National Guard families in Florida whose loved ones are deploying this month. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

A completed Family Care Package includes items to facilitate communication and make the time go faster during deployment. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

All hands were on deck to accomplish the goal of stuffing 3,000 Family Care Packages on Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Every Family Care Package included a journal for the family, with a special note on the inside cover from their loved one who's deployed. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Hallmark stars hoops&yoyo were on hand to entertain this military family while Dad is deployed. They're shown with Jodi Schade, the VP of Hallmark Properties (back left) and USO's Sloan Gibson. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Letters Back Home, PLUS Our New Guest Blogger Series!

Today we’re announcing two new exciting changes to the blog.  First, our “Letters Back Home” series is moving to Wednesday mornings, from Friday.  We will no longer be listing job postings on the blog, but invite you to visit our USO Careers page any time to see what’s available.

Second, we are thrilled to announce a new guest blogger series for Fridays and we’re looking for YOUR contributions!  We kicked off the series last Friday with “Peace in the Heart,” the moving story behind Operation Proper Exit III.  Anyone with a military-related blog is encouraged to help us build this series with their original blog post.  Posts do not necessarily have to relate to the USO, but should relate to our mission of supporting the Troops.  Interested?  Email us today!

Saving Abel Raises Cain on Tour with the USO!

Saving Abel rocks out with troops stationed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Feb 22, 2010. Known for their radio-ready sound, memorable melodies and hard hitting tracks, the band will release their highly anticipated sophomore album in Summer of 2010. (USO photo by Mike Clifton)

Senior Airman Ashley Zamora (Left) of Hurlburt Field, FL and Tech Sergeant Dee Ordinario (Right) of Maxwell Air Force Base, AL share a light moment with Saving Abel front-man Jared Weeks at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar Feb. 22, 2010. Participating in their first USO tour, Saving Abel are strong supporters of those in uniform and, in 2008, the band paid homage to military families stationed abroad by filming their hit song “18 Days” on the USS Hornet. (USO Photo by Mike Clifton)

Rock band Saving Abel clowns around with troops stationed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Feb. 22, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Clifton)

Rock band Saving Abel listens carefully as they are given a tour of Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Feb. 22, 2010. (USO photo by Mike Clifton)

Rock band Saving Abel poses for a group photo alongside the 1-43/3-43 Air Defense Artillery Battalion stationed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Feb. 22, 2010. Participating in their first USO tour, Saving Abel are strong supporters of those in uniform and, in 2008, the band paid homage to military families stationed abroad by filming their hit song “18 Days” on the USS Hornet. (USO photo by Mike Clifton)

Saving Abel front-man Jared Weeks rocks out with troops and performs on of many hits for troops stationed at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on Feb. 22, 2010. (USO photo by Mike Clifton)

USO and Wounded Warrior Project Team Up and to Show Troops “Anything Is Possible”

From the desk of Kevin Wensing, VP of Executive Office at the USO:

“Anything is Possible,” was the message of the USO’s own, Giovanni Livera, who inspired and motivated a class of wounded warriors last month at the Wounded Warrior Project’s TRACK course in Jacksonville, FL.

The USO and the Wounded Warrior Project partnered to bring the renowned magician, teacher and motivator’s inspirational message that indeed anything is possible. Giovanni also introduced the class to his successful life navigation course, which he guided the troops and their spouses through during the day, helping them chart their own personal goals for the future.

The USO's Giovanni Livera (center, front) WOWs participants in the Wounded Warrior Projects TRACK program in Jacksonville, FL - Jan 2010.

The Wounded Warrior Project’s Dean of Students, Chris Rick, himself a retired Navy Master Chief, said “Giovanni was phenomenal.”   Rick added that Giovanni’s presentation was “powerful” and that “He was able to capture everyone’s attention from the beginning and held it though-out.”    Rick noted, “

Giovanni was able to include our TRACK program principles and core values into his presentation, thereby reinforcing them to our warriors.”

The USO has partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project and other effective organizations to help bring the best possible services to our troops and their families and aid in their healing and reintegration into their new lives.

August 2008, the Wounded Warrior Project launched TRACK to offer wounded warriors an integrated approach to address long-term needs for education and training, advocacy, and secondary rehabilitative care for the MIND, BODY and SPIRIT.  This unique program offers participants a range of college preparatory classes and services customized to their needs, helping them build career skills, train in veterans’ advocacy, and continue recovery toward a more independent life. The wounded warriors attend college classes as a group, with the ability to draw from their shared experiences. TRACK has three state-of-the art classrooms, as well as a gym, and individual workspaces for the warriors and instructors. The USO offered to have Giovanni Livera assist the TRACK program and his support was very well received. Jennifer Silva, Director of the TRACK program gave Giovanni high marks saying, “Tell the USO he was a hit for the warriors!”

Saving Abel to Rock Out with Troops in the Persian Gulf on Week-Long USO Tour

Rock band Saving Abel will soon ship out to the Persian Gulf to perform for service men and women as part of a USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  During their eight-day tour, the group will visit three countries, perform a series of high-energy concerts for troops and stream one of their shows back to the states with the help of Ustream. The band will also hand deliver an assortment of cards of appreciation and artwork to the troops from the students of St. Albert the Great School in Louisville, KY.

The members of Saving Abel are strong supporters of America’s men and women in uniform and this is their first USO tour.  In 2008, the band paid homage to military families stationed abroad by filming their hit song “18 Days” on the USS Hornet, the San Francisco-based naval carrier that won nine battle stars for her service in WWII.  That same year, the group raised awareness of U.S. veterans with a benefit concert broadcast on MTV.

Known for such memorable hits as “Addicted,” “18 Days” and “Drowning (Face Down)” the band released their self-titled debut album in ’08 and are scheduled to release their sophomore album in Summer of ’10.

Visit http://www.ustream.tv/savingabel and www.uso.org for concert updates.

New Families of the Fallen Center at Dover AFB

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

The military’s only mortuary is located at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.  Military casualties from around the world pass through Dover where remains are prepared before going on to their final resting place.  It’s always been a busy operation, but since 9/11 the mortuary has been extremely active.

It would be difficult to find a place that operates with more respect and that provides more dignified service than at this location.  Volunteers from the base augment the professional staff.  They ensure that correct military uniforms and decorations are provided – even when the remains will not be viewed.

Last year, more family members were permitted to come to Dover to witness the dignified transfer of remains as they returned to the United States.  For many families, this step in the process is critical as they begin to deal with the death of a loved one.  The military strives to return these casualties to the U.S. extremely quickly, sometimes just days after a death – sometimes faster than that.

When survivors are notified about the death of a family member, they have to make a decision about whether to come to Dover to meet the flights bringing remains back home.  Often, they have to be in Dover within hours of the notification.

Families of the Fallen Center at Dover AFB

Inside the Families of the Fallen Center at Dover AFB. Photo courtesy of the Navy Times.

Until last month, there was no special place for them to collect themselves as they waited for remains to arrive.  There was no quiet place; no safe place to gather and deal with a rush of emotions we can only imagine.

But, on January 6, the USO and Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations opened the Families of the Fallen Center at Dover.  The pictures here will give you an idea about how it looks and  maybe even how it feels. It took just 90 days to turn an empty building into a place of dignified reflection.  We’re extremely grateful to the donors, contractors and vendors who worked with the USO and the base to turn this idea into reality.

*****

The Honor Guard and USO volunteers who meet each and every fallen servicemember deserves our very best. In the following video, Center Director Joan Cote and former Dover Wing Commander John Pray, among others, reflect on the new Centers and why they’re more than just bricks and mortar…