Avon’s Sparky the Dog Helps Comfort Military Children as They Say Goodbye

Although she may be a little young to enjoy her Sparky the Dog now, this baby will have something from Daddy nearby while he's gone.

Saying goodbye to a loved one who’s deploying is never easy.  Robin Crouse, the Center Director at USO Fort Hood, thought she might have just the thing to provide the kids of those deploying a little something to remember Mom or Dad by.

Avon had recently donated dozens of their “Sparky the Dog” plush toys, and families were given one to ease the strain of separation.  Crouse had this to say about Avon, “They will be so pleased to see they brought smiles to the faces of so many kids at Fort Hood.”

We hope you enjoy this video of that day.  To learn more about Avon’s support of the USO, please click here.

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The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Spring Tour Gets Off to a Great Start!

Four of today’s most talented figures in film, television and football are participating in a USO tour led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.  Special guests James Gandolfini, Rose McGowan, Tony Sirico, and Jon Stinchcomb will visit with Troops, sign autographs, and more on this weeklong tour.

Admiral Mullen had this to say about his experiences with the USO: “I am delighted to once again be traveling with the USO and a great group of entertainers and celebrities who only want to give back to the troops.  It means a lot to me that they would take time out of their busy schedules to do this, but it means a great deal more to the men and women down range and in harm’s way. It’s going to be a great trip.”

Likewise, James Gandolfini – who is on his second trip – echoes that sentiment: “Our troops are some of the brightest and bravest men and women I’ve ever met.  Sadly, they don’t always get the appreciation and recognition they deserve.  The USO allows me the privilege to meet them in person, show them my gratitude and thank them for their service.”
Check out the first set of pictures from the tour!

Former "Sopranos" stars James Gandolfini (center, back row in green), and Tony Sirico (4th L back row) along with New Orleans Saints offensive tackle/Super Bowl XLIV champion Jon Stinchcomb (3rd L back row) pose with airmen and pilots during a USO meet and greet at an airfield in the Persian Gulf on March 29, 2010. The group is in the region as part of a seven-day USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

New Orleans Saints offensive tackle/Super Bowl XLIV champion Jon Stinchcomb has his picture taken with service members during a March 29, 2010, stop on aa seven-day USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. In 1966, the NFL teamed up with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia, demonstrating the league's support for America's troops. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Actors Tony Sirico (back row C) and James Gandolfini (back row 2nd R) along with New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb pose for a photo with the aircrew of a blackhawk helicopter during a seven-day overseas USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen March 28, 2010. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Former "Sopranos" stars James Gandolfini (R) and Tony Sirico (C) are given a tour of an MRAP armored vehicle during a USO tour stop at a forward operating base in the Persian Gulf on March 28, 2010. In the region as part of a seven-day USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, this is the duo's second USO tour. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Actor and former "Sopranos" star Tony Sirico sits in the pilot's seat of a blackhawk helicopter on March 28, 2010, as part of a seven-day USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Sirico is touring with fellow "Sopranos" star James Gandolfini, New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb and actress Rose McGowan. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Three-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini (c) poses for a photo with a soldier on March 29, 2010, during an overseas stop of a seven-day USO tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Avid supporter of the U.S. armed forces, Gandolfini produced an HBO documentary entitled "Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq" in 2007. Centered around ten Iraq veterans wounded in early to mid 2000, the piece debuted in September. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families heads stateside PLUS a New Initiative from Sesame Workshop

Young fans embraced their favorite furry red monster during a performance of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at RAF Mildenhall in England September 8, 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

If you’re a regular blog reader, you’ve probably heard about and seen pictures from The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour that travel around the world.  Across nine countries and 76 military bases, thousands of military kids and their parents have enjoyed the performances of Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster, Rosita and Zoe, beloved characters from the award-winning television series.

We’re thrilled to announce that The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is back in the U.S. after an around-the-world tour.  The show, which is exclusively for military families, kicks off its second swing through the U.S. on April 17, at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

“There is no denying the positive impact this tour is having on our nation’s military community,” said Sloan Gibson, USO president.  “We listen to our troops and understand the challenges they face at home, and are proud to call Sesame Workshop our partner in helping to ease the daily stresses on military families.”  Bookmark this page for updated tour schedules and more.

The tour serves as an extension of traditional USO entertainment tours and a continuation of Sesame Workshop’s award-winning Talk, Listen, Connect initiative – which provides vital resources and emotional support to military families with young children coping with challenging transitions in their lives.

This partnership has been wonderful for the USO, as well as Sesame Workshop.  In his latest blog post, Sesame Workshop’s President and CEO Gary E. Knell has this to say: “One of the most rewarding parts about being here at Sesame Workshop is the honest ability to make a difference in this world. Five years ago, I was outraged at the lack of resources available to military families. Today, I’m proud that Sesame Street is able to help.”

Now, we’re proud to announce a new installment in this initiative, When Families Grieve, which will kick-off nationally with a one-hour televised special hosted by Katie Couric and airing on PBS stations (check local listings).  Beginning April 15, the multimedia, bi-lingual (English and Spanish) outreach kit will be available at www.sesamestreet.org/grief.

Outreach kits on the previous three installments of Talk, Listen, Connect are available on their website currently, and continue to make a difference in the lives of military children everywhere.  So set your DVRs, bookmark the website, and take a moment to watch a short video on last’s years unveiling of the “Deployments” kit…

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Exclusive Video from the Chairman’s Tour!

Chairman's TourLast December Dave AttellNick Bollettieri, Billy Ray Cyrus and Anna Kournikova convened in the name of Troops as part of the annual USO holiday tour led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Centered around saluting America’s armed forces, the group visited three countries in seven days, to sign autographs and talk with Troops.

Kournikova recently discussed her work with the USO (this was her third tour) and has previously said of this tour, “It’s just an incredible honor for me to come out and visit you guys and try to spread the holiday spirit. I really hope you enjoy the show.”  Cyrus echoed those sentiments: “It is an honor to be here. Thank you for being over here and being our heroes.”

We’ve put together a highlights reel from the tour and hope you enjoy!

4Troops on QVC Today! At Noon!

Your new favorite band – 4Troops – will be performing LIVE on QVC fromm noon – 1pm (ET) on the show Q Check.  They’ll be singing their first single, “For Freedom,” as well as other selections.  Senior Vice President of Communications John Hansen first visited the group a few weeks ago.  Some thoughts below…

4TROOPS vocalists Daniel Jens, David Clemo, Meredith Melcher and Ron Henry perform aboard the USS Intrepid in New York City during the Monday night taping of a PBS television special to be aired in June. The former Soldiers honed their craft in Army Entertainment Division programs run by the Army Family, Morale and Recreation Command. 4TROOPS self-entitled debut album is scheduled to be released April 28. (Photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs)

The 4Troops adventure began for real tonight on the USS Intrepid in New York City.  The four singers who comprise 4Troops are veterans of the war in Iraq.

Before we go further, some full disclosure.  Some of the proceeds from the sale of the group’s new CD will benefit the USO, the Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  It was a very generous offer made by the group’s management.  But, there are other reasons to support 4Troops, and the USO (and I imagine the other beneficiaries as well) would have been on board with 4Troops without any incentive other than supporting the efforts of these four veterans.

DON’T REPEAT OUR PAST MISTAKES

As a Vietnam veteran, I don’t think anyone would blame me for wondering when the other shoe would drop when it comes to troop support.  It hasn’t happened, which is gratifying as a veteran and an employee of an organization that relies on the public’s ongoing generosity.  If it were not for the continued support the USO receives from individuals and our great corporate partners. (By the way, welcome to our great friends at Frito-Lay, our newest strategic corporate partner.  The Tostidos Bowl was great fun)

The public is smarter than it was a little more than a generation ago.  Our donors span political ideology – sometimes it seems like we’re the last of the red-hot non-partisans.  Maybe it’s because the military is completely voluntary.  Even though 18-year-old males have to register with the Selective Service, there’s no chance of a draft in the foreseeable future.  Everyone I talk to think this has made the military better.  The fact that it, too, is smarter than the military of the past is one thing.  What’s great to see is troops completely committed to their mission.  They’re working at a job they ASKED for, and that makes a difference.

IS PAST REALLY PROLOGUE?

There are somewhere between 1 million and 2 million active duty, National Guard and reserve troops in uniform.  At best, that means that less than 1 percent of our fellow Americans are toting the load for the rest of us.  (The IAVA effectively reminds of that fact all the time, and bless them for that)

Upside – we have a great military, dedicated to their mission and focused on their goals.  They’ll make great employees for someone someday.

Downside – Many Americans say they support the military, but they appear to be doing it without thinking about the service and sacrifice of members of the military and their families.  Out of sight out of mind?  Maybe, probably not.  Americans are good and generous people.  We all have a zillion things on our minds (groceries, yard work, who walked the dog last?), so if something isn’t in our face or on our growing list of  “must do’s,’ we can’t be bothered.

SOMETIMES ONE ANWER SOLVES TWO QUESTIONS

Or, we can blame the fact that there’s no draft.

Inside this issue are many things to worry about.  One is that the lack of a universal commitment to do something (join the Marines, work for the Peace Corps, volunteer for a cause) disconnects us.  Many of us really are bowling alone.

Sadly, what we hear beneath the near universal support for troops is something more fundamentally disturbing.  “Look, this isn’t MY war.”  “This is something the government started and will have to end.  It’s just a money pit, and I can’t do anything about it.”  “Sure, I support them, but they volunteered.  They aren’t my problem.”

Okay, there’s an implicit and explicit contract Americans enter with every man and woman who volunteers to defend us.  Most of the time, our military is no closer to conflict than live fire training sessions in a desert somewhere.  But, when the nation calls on them, it’s really calling on all of us.

No, the military doesn’t call on fat old men like me.  I’d need help stepping out of a Blackhawk, and you can forget about any “jumping out with weapons and pack” foolishness.  That’s how it has been, and will always be … Healthy young people step forward generation after generation to take care of the rest of us.

I’ve lived long enough to give up my fantasies of future heroic service.  But, I have not given up hope that my fellow citizens know who saves their bacon every day in places most of can’t spell.  That’s what’s important.

I DID HAVE A POINT WHEN I STARTED

And, that’s why the USO supports 4Troops. Wherever they go to perform, they will remind people that they have returned from a war.  Just as they were among our best ambassadors around the world, their new mission is to represent their brothers and sisters who face harm and uncertainty and separation from families every day.

With each passing day, the current conflicts become remote notions for new people in our country.

I just figured out that 20-year-olds were farther from my war than I was removed from World War I when I was born.

The difference is that our parents faced and survived a depression and a world war in their own ways.  And THEIR parents faced and survived the first real world war.  Each generation came back to build a prosperous country, expanding opportunities for their fellow citizens. – sometimes far too late, but the wheel turned and more of us shared in the dream of this country.

This generation of troops is colorblind.  We can only hope it is as gender neutral as we would all want, and as blind to every prejudice that creeps in from time to time.

The beauty of focus on a mission is that the mission is what’s important; not the self-important ramblings of talking nitwits on TV.  Or me.

So, hats off to 4Troops.  See them when they’re in your town.  By their CD and teach your children that service does matter.