Sleeping Giants

American warriors deployed to Afghanistan do some of the world’s toughest jobs, all while apart from their families.

While many of us take a good night’s sleep for granted, getting some shut-eye is low on the priority list of the many men and women in uniform responsible for fighting a war.  Some of their days are filled with early morning missions, long afternoons, and dangerous night raids.

That’s why the USO’s seven Afghanistan centers are so critical.  Not only do these places of refuge — run by selfless USO staff and volunteers — offer tools to help troops connect with and feel the comforts of home, they also offer something one can almost never find in a dangerous war zone: peace and quiet.

The Pat Tillman Memorial USO at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan posted the following images on Facebook of brave U.S. troops taking some well-deserved naps: 

The USO thanks all our men and women in uniform serving with so much bravery and selflessness around the world.  Because of the sacrifices they are making around the clock, Americans on the home front can get a good night’s sleep in peace. - Tom Sileo, USO Director of Story Development

Grammy Award Winner Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds First USO Event

Superstar recording artist/music producer Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds delivered musical delight to Soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Benning as part of the USO's first Fall concert of the year on September 23, 2011. During the show, the revolutionary hit maker tantalized the crowd with classic love songs and countless upbeat R&B hits. USO photo by Mike Clifton

Superstar recording artist/music producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds delivered musical delight to soldiers and military families stationed at Fort Benning as part of the USO’s first Fall concert of the year. During the show, the revolutionary hit maker tantalized the crowd with classic love songs and countless upbeat R&B hits.

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Read more about the concert at USO.org.

Some of the Faces Behind One Convenience Store Chain’s Successful Salute to our Troops

Last week, we told you about Kangaroo Express – the southeastern convenience store chain that went above and beyond the call of duty to more than double its campaign goal, just so it could hand over as much money possible to the USO, National Guard and Wounded Warrior Project.

Kangaroo Express store managers Donna Crosby, Joanne Joines and Joe Wilhite and others are recognized for raising the most money during the campaign. Photo by Robert Campell Photography

Salute our Troops” was an example of the very heart of giving – and that’s why we’re so humbled by their effort. But it’s because of the faces behind the check- the Kangaroo Express employees that were committed to getting their customers to donate their spare change, for the sake of our troops, that the 100 days of summer campaign was such a success.

At a check presentation held to recognize the sponsors, districts and stores that gave the most, it was made clear why Kangaroo Express employees were so passionate about the campaign – over 1/3 of them have a military connection. Sullivan’s Island, SC store manager Joe Wilhite joined the Marine Corp because of the 9/11 attacks. He served our country for two years until a bullet to his back left him paralyzed for months and eventually medically discharged. When Kangaroo Express asked its stores to take part in “Salute Our Troops”, Wilhite said he took his employees to the back of their store and told them how important the effort was to him. They asked every single customer that entered their store to contribute and in the end raised $11,000- the fifth highest amount of cash from any of Kangaroo Express’ 1,650 stores.

Charlotte, NC store manager Joanne Joines didn’t give her customers a choice. She took their change without even asking, dropped it in the donation box and told them it was for the troops- troops like her aunt who served in the Infantry during Desert Storm. That boldness helped Joines’ store raise more than $13,000, just slightly less than the store to raise the most money.

That first place title went to Orlando, FL store manager Donna Crosby. After accepting her award at the check presentation, Crosby, whose sister and cousin both serve, challenged all Kangaroo Express stores to out-raise her store next year. A friendly competition, maybe, but there is no doubt there was one uniform goal among Kangaroo Express employees this summer- to best serve those that willingly and sacrificially serve our country every day. As every recognized employee put it, this was their way of saying to their troops “thank you, for all that you do.” – Kenya Friend-Daniel, USO Sr. Communications Specialist

Joining Forces Community Challenge Helps Americans Come Together, Honor Military Families

When First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden launched Joining Forces in April, the national initiative’s purpose was made perfectly clear. Even though one percent of Americans are fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 100 percent of Americans must unite to support our troops and their families.

Six months later, with Joining Forces still going strong, it’s time to recognize a special group of valiant Americans who sacrifice so much for our freedom. That’s where you come in.

The Joining Forces Community Challenge is awarding several prestigious prizes to recognize citizens, communities, schools, non-profits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations, and local governments for their efforts in supporting military families. According to the Joining Forces Community Challenge website, these are non-monetary awards.

If you know someone who deserves recognition for their efforts to support our troops and military families, or perhaps feel that you are deserving of a prize, please click here and review the Required and Optional Submission Materials before sending a nomination.

Good luck!

Support the Troops Through the Combined Federal Campaign

Federal employees, including military, can donate to nonprofits through the annual Combined Federal Campaign, known as the CFC. CFC is the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign and helps to raise millions of dollars each year! Show your support of the troops by designating the USO#11381 – as a recipient of your CFC contribution. Your donations will help us provide urgently needed support to our troops and their families and let them know they are not forgotten!

Wounded Warriors Report Improvements in Care Continuity

At the second annual USO Wounded Warrior and Family Caretakes Conference in Fayetteville, N.C., I had the rare opportunity to listen to the concerns of some of America’s most severely wounded troops, their families, and their caregivers.

A common concern quickly bubbled to the surface: continuity of care.

“The military case managers are great and did a lot for us in the beginning,” said Luana Schneider, caretaker of her severely wounded son, Army Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson. “But they were handling multiple cases and didn’t have the nationwide reach and tape-cutting abilities we needed for continued, specialized care when we got back home.

“The real savior for us has been our federal recovery coordinator,” added Schneider. “It’s a fairly young program with limited resources, but it’s become critical to us to have someone who knows Scott and his medical history. Without someone to coordinate and do some of the administrative legwork for us, we would be lost out there in Kansas where there are no VA surgeons specializing in burn treatment.”

The Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP) is a VA program that provides support for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of those wounded warriors dealing with what the VA considers “catastrophic” injuries, such as severe burns, amputations, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.

Each coordinator develops an individual recovery plan with input from the multidisciplinary heath care team, the veteran, and their family or caregiver. They track the care, management and transition of recovering veterans all the way through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the civilian world.

Stephenson didn’t have a “designated red-tape cutter” when he get out of the hospital in 2007, but according to his mom, it was his specialized needs that helped launch the program just one year later. His coordinator has since been working behind the scenes to get him the highest level of care by the top surgeons in the field of burn care and management.

“I truly believe I’ve received the best care possible with the technology available at the time,” said Stephenson.

“I was actually pretty impressed when I researched and visited the top civilian burn surgeon out in California to see what he could do about getting me a prosthesis,” said Stephenson. “When I mentioned my surgeon was Dr. [Steven E.] Wolf, he looked at me with wide eyes and said, ‘Son, burn surgeons don’t come any better than Dr. Wolf.’ That made me feel like I was really being cared for by the best, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Health care professionals like Dr. Wolf continue to learn from our combat wounded to improve the treatment of unique combat burn injuries, and the VA continues to improve programs like FRCP to give veterans the continuity in care expected from the most medically advanced country on Earth.

In addition to burn care, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury also continues to develop best practices for case management in its own field.

In fact, on Thursday, Sept. 22, DCoE will hold a public webinar on that very subject. The session is free and open to the public. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer