From the desk of John Hanson:
“Why is the USO doing this?” We hear it all the time when we talk about Operation Enduring Care – the USO’s initiative to create programs for wounded warriors and their families.
Mike Augustyn, a Polish soldier injured in Iraq, reacts to a comical charicature created by Tom Richmond, a member of the National Cartoonist Society at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Oct. 16, 2009, during a USO deployment. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)
We get it. People know about the USO, but the one thing they know about most is our outstanding entertainment program. Why not? For generations of Americans, Bob Hope was the face of the USO. And, today celebrities from the stars of Sons of Anarchy to Zac Brown and Toby Keith continue that rich tradition of entertaining troops wherever they serve.
But, truth be told, most service members never see a USO show. The math doesn’t make that possible. Most troops and family members know the USO for its network of USO centers – almost 150 today – scattered at military bases and airports across America and around the world. There are 3 USO centers in Kuwait, 3 in Iraq and we’re about to open our 2nd one in Afghanistan (in Kandahar). In fact, entertainment is not quite 12 percent of what the USO provides.
The USO delivers its brand of care and support to remote forward operating bases and combat outposts through the USO2Go program. We ship almost everything from athletic equipment and snacks to laptop computers and video games – hundreds of boxes on dozens of pallets are prepared to order and sent to those troops who know isolation better than any of us can imagine.
The USO makes it possible for parents to record a children’s book onto a DVD. We then send the DVD and the book to the child, so he or she can read along with Mom or Dad. So far, 100,000 of those recordings have been made. In 2010 alone, we hope to provide 100,000 of these valuable connections to home.
The USO is the link between the American public and its military. Each month more than 200,000 free and very clear phone calls are made over our satellite-based private telephone network. Now, that’s a link to home! That network makes it possible for troops to “be in” delivery rooms when children are born; they can watch early steps by children they haven’t seen in months. Our donors make all of those things possible.
Who Needs us Most?
Now that I’ve stepped on my lead, it’s time to explain Operation Enduring Care. The program started a few years ago, when we offered duffels of clothing, toiletries and short term needs to wounded warriors arriving at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. We still do that.
But, today Operation Enduring Care includes our most ambitious effort in more than a generation – maybe in the USO’s history.
We will build 2 Wounded Warrior Family Centers in the Washington, D.C. area. One will be at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, near an Army hospital that will be built there. The other will be at the new Walter Reed medical center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Each will be designed to what we call the “audible gasp” standard.
Each will include areas for families and recovering troops to gather outside the hospital. There will be children’s play areas, kitchens and dining areas for home-cooked meals. We envision these as warm and welcoming places that symbolize the public’s support for and recognition of the service and sacrifice of troops and their families.
Members of the National Cartoonist Society take a photo with U.S. Army SPC Ben Brashier of Okolona, Miss., at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany Oct. 16, 2009, after sketching him a number of cartoons and characters during their USO deployment. In addition to visiting many wounded soldiers in Germany, the cartoonists are also scheduled to visit more than a dozen military bases in the combat zone. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)
Why the USO?
The USO is the most trusted brand when it comes to troop support activities. When the American public thinks about supporting the troops, the USO comes to mind quickly.
These new centers will not be about the USO. Their sole focus will be on the needs of troops and families as they prepare for a new and productive future. Other organizations offer programs the USO would not attempt, and their participation will be encouraged. The USO does not provide job training or career coaching, but these centers can provide space for that to be delivered – to troops and families.
It strikes me that most Americans have little appreciation for the amount of time many of our wounded warriors spend in the hospital. After all, we know very few people who are ever hospitalized for more than a few days. But, amputees might spend 18 months recovering from their injuries. Many wounded warriors face multiple surgeries over many months. Their families leave their homes to be with them. The sacrifice is shared and the reintegration to life after the hospital is critical to every one of them.
Their successful re-entry into our communities will be the responsibility of each of us. They have received the very best medical care, and teams of doctors, nurses and therapists focused on getting these folks well enough to return home. Home is where we come in. Not to pity or coddle them, but to give them the opportunities they earned by their service. The communities they return to should be communities of support.
There will be more on Operation Enduring Care as we break ground and start construction in the coming months.