The Importance of Partnerships

By Nick Wakeman, originally published in Washington Technology

Sandee Cartwright, wife of Gen. James Cartwright Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, joins Elaine Rogers, Executive Director of USO of Metropolitan Washington, during a Pentagon care package event on July 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Elaine Rogers has been president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington for 34 years, and during that time, she’s dealt with legendary stars and chief executives of huge corporations. She’s also helped countless soldiers and their families.

All the while, she’s led an organization that continually adapts to new demands while staying focused on an unchanging mission: supporting the members of the military and their families. She spoke recently with Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman about how the USO has changed and the role corporate sponsors play.

WT: What has kept you in this job for so long?
Rogers: I love working with the military, and I love working with the volunteers. You get to see the good in people who want to give back and support our military.

The USO is never the same thing every day. The challenge of bringing so many people together to make something happen is the most exciting part of the job.

WT: Describe the role corporate sponsors play. How has the nature of giving changed?
Rogers: Without them, the USO wouldn’t exist. We work off the generosity of the corporations who want to give back to us because, in many cases, they are supporting their customers.

It used to be they would write a check. But today, when we are in discussions about giving to the USO, we are also in discussions about how they can help us beyond that.

These folks really want to give back — and not just dollars. Most of the corporations who donate to our USO also are getting their employees involved. They want their employees at the airports, handing out care packages, or at the hospitals.

Click here to read the rest of the interview!

Ride 2 Recovery’s Great Lakes Challenge

From August 23 to August 28, 120 cyclists are taking part in Ride 2 Recovery‘s Great Lakes Challenge, which kicked-off from the headquarters of presenting sponsor United Healthcare in Edina, MN.  The ride will culminate at the National American Legion Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

This group of wounded veterans, and the supporters who ride along with them, includes many new riders.  Among them is Nathan DeWalt, a member of the Navy who was paralyzed recently when a car struck him during Navy Seal training. He had his first handcycle ride since his accident and was thrilled with the participation and was mentored by R2R’s Spokesman Nathan Hunt during the ride. He can’t wait to get his new custom handcycle for future R2R events.

Nathan DeWalt quickly masters his handcycle and shares a smile on the way to the Minnesota State Capital. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery's Facebook page)

Day two found the cyclists traveling from Hudson to Chippewa Falls, with the following maxim to spur them on: ‎​If you want to ride with the big dogs you can’t bark like a puppy.  If you want to swim with the big fish, you can’t splash like a guppy!

From one of the riders: “Today was one of those days that let you know why cycling is one of the greatest ways to spend time with friends. And if you happen to be doing a Ride 2 Recovery rehab event, it is a great way to share that experience with your fellow Injured Veterans.  With temps in the low 70’s and the wind blowing at the backs of the group at 30 mph, we knew from the start that the 75 mile, mostly flat ride was going to be really fun.

The route took us from Hudson to Chippewa Falls via the towns of Menomonie, Elk Mound, Eau Claire and into Chippewa Falls. The group stayed mostly together for the entire ride with the help of the Legion Riders. The new riders are having a great time and everyone was laughing and joking with each other the entire day…”

Riders are never alone, as numerous folks ride along, cheer with encouraging words or - as in the case of this motorcyclist - lead the way with flags proudly flying. (USO photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

Day three arrived with  3300 feet of climbing ahead of the cyclists; luckily, it was an unusually cool day with a tailwind to boot.  The ride continues today with Gen. Gary Cheek, commander of the Warrior Transition Command passing the torch to Darryl Williams. Gen. Cheek has been a great friend to Ride 2 Recovery, participating in several rides for the past 2 years.  Together, Ride 2 Recovery has grown within the WTU system benefiting a lot of injured veterans and the launch of the Warrior Games. We wish him great success with his new assignment and while his shoes are going to be tough to fill, we look forward to seeing Darryl out on a ride very soon….

It's all about teamwork as experienced riders help out the newbies, and anybody who needs an extra push knows there a set of hands there to help. (Photo courtesy of Ride 2 Recovery Facebook page)

USO in a Box Lands at FOB Westbrook

This USO is a BOX is fully operational! (Photo courtesy of USO El Paso)

Great news!  Last week we shipped a USO in a Box from Baltimore, MD to FOB Westbrook on McGregor Range in New Mexico, which – for those who’ve never visited – is essentially in the middle of a desert.  As of Saturday, the USO in a Box wasfully operational and the troops from FOB Westbrook began enjoying the full range of the great entertainment that it has to offer.

At first, the troops were curious as to what a USO in a Box actually was, but once the box was set up and running, they were blown away with excitement!   Some troops were already enjoying the amenities while we were still completing the finishing touches for delivery.  The standard USO in a Box features Internet access, two rugged laptops, four flat screen televisions, a DVD player, VoIP, three Xbox® 360 gaming systems and surround sound.

USO in a Box features - among other amenities - a gaming station with surround shown, as shown in this model, on display at Fort Belvoir in May 2010. (USO photo by Em Hall)

Because of this FOB’s location, it acts as a simulation of FOB’s in Afghanistan.   As troops are preparing for their deployments, they now not only receive their essential training, but get a little taste of what the USO has to offer while they are deployed in remote locations.

We’d like to give a special thanks to a few people that were instrumental in the success of the USO in a Box being delivered to FOB McGregor. This could not have happened if it weren’t for El Paso Center Director Yolanda Castillo; USO El Paso Program Manager Robert Medrano; and Director of Logistics & Facilities Jonathan Matthews. They all worked hard to get the USO in a Box from Baltimore to McGregor with zero errors or speed bumps.  Great job!

USO El Paso will be overseeing this USO in a Box while at McGregor. They will work closely with FOB Westbrook to ensure the future success of this great program.

The Washington Redskins Welcome Servicemen to Training Camp

SPC Bradshaw is flanked by backs Clinton Portis (L) and Mike Sellers (R). (Photo credit: Pam Chvotkin)

By Brian Anthony Price/Special to the USO

On a miserable, gray Sunday last week, thousands of loyal Skins fans came out for open practice. They were back early Monday morning to watch in the blazing sun. Rain or shine, a sizable number of these fans were men and women from the armed services, who just can never get enough of Redskins football.

One of them, Specialist (SPC) Robert Bradshaw recently returned from a one-year tour in Afghanistan after having completed over 400 missions. Bradshaw came back to his native D.C. on Saturday August 14th. The next day, he was front and center at Redskins training camp: “This is the first thing I wanted to do, see my Redskins up close. Being here is just awesome.”

Turns out, Bradshaw was hoping to meet running back, Clinton Portis. So Zach Bolno, the Redskin’s former Executive Director of Communications, set a plan in motion. As he left the field, Portis was directed to Bradshaw and headed right over: “I hear you just got back from combat. Here, I gotta’ give these to you.” Portis handed the young soldier his workout gloves and sweatbands and signed all 20 of his football cards.

Fullback Mike Sellers was waiting on deck to join them and after the two players posed with Bradshaw for pictures, they thanked him for his service.

Sellers reminisced about growing up the son of an Army man: “My Dad was extremely strict. I always had a curfew, but it helped get me to where I’m at right now. Hard work, perseverance and never quitting: that’s what my Dad taught me.” He added that having a devoted and local fan base of military families and veterans “is a motivation that a lot of other teams don’t have.”

Other teammates agree. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh, whose father is an active service member, visited Elgin Air Force Base [near Valparaiso, Florida] and challenged some of the troops to a fitness contest. “They kicked my butt. From push-ups to sit-ups to pull-ups, they tore me up. I was still in the offseason, but they’re up bright and early training every day. I didn’t stand a chance!”

LB London Fletcher signs autographs for members of the U.S.M.C. (PC: Pam Chvotkin)

Guard Derrick Dockery is another player with family ties: “My father-in- law is a retired colonel and was deployed to Iraq several times. The troops are people near and dear to my heart.”

The Army wasn’t the only branch of the military represented at Redskins camp. The front office invited several active members of the United States Marine Corps out to camp that day. Sgt. Allen Waggoner was one of them. He’s been to Iraq twice and is planning on going back for a third tour. When asked why, his response was simple: “We reenlist. It’s what we do.”

The mutual respect between the Redskins players and the troops is a continual source of inspiration to both.

“They’ll leave [camp today] happy to have met a football player. I’ll leave just as happy having met people who have served,” said veteran linebacker, London Fletcher.

Since joining the Redskins, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has spent time visiting with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. “We enjoy going out to Walter Reed every year, giving back, and showing the troops our support. We have a lot of Redskins fans in the military. I love hanging out with them.” He added some thoughts about the team and the upcoming season. “There’s a lot of optimism and there’s a whole new vibe. We know the troops are watching and we want to get some wins for them.”

Shout Outs

Trent Williams, OT: “It takes a real man or woman to stand up and fight for our freedom. Be careful, God bless and come home safe.”

Andre Carter, DE: “Everything the troops do has not been forgotten. Now hurry up and home come safe. We love you and God bless.”

From Maury Povich, who was a special guest at training camp on Monday: “We have it good in this country and the reason for that is what everybody is doing for us overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where there are threats. Anybody who is an American understands exactly what their protection means and we’re all so grateful to our troops. I want to thank them dearly.”

Special thank you to Matt Taylor, Zach Bolno, Angela Alsano, the entire Redskins organization and front office and photographer Pam Chvotkin.