Get Some Oxygen—Don’t Let Your Marriage Become a Casualty of War

In an interview with Army SGT Philip Romero about the invisible wounds of war, he told the USO that it’s difficult to explain complex wartime emotions to his wife.

Romero suffers from post-traumatic stress.  “My wife asks me … ‘Why don’t you talk to me about it?” he says.  “How am I supposed to tell my wife that I’m sorry I didn’t die and two younger guys could have made it home? How do you explain that?”

Romero’s silence and bouts of anger are not uncommon in military marriages, particularly those where a spouse is dealing with PTSD.

“There is a level of stress on wounded warrior couples that seems ten-fold what a normal marriage bears,” said Noel Meador, Executive Director of Stronger Families, creator of a marriage training program called Oxygen.

A military couple learn to communicate more effectively at a recent Oxygen Seminar

The USO recently teamed up with Stronger Families to provide the workshops free to wounded, ill or injured troops.  It’s a way to tackle tough issues in a non-threatening environment.

Stronger Families coaches work with groups of about 25 couples, teaching them practical skills for improving communication, resolving conflict, rekindling romance and finding new hope.

“The ability for a spouse to empathize is tremendous,” said Meador, “and that’s really what we’re trying to reinforce… If we can help give couples the tools they need to communicate how they are feeling, we can help them attain a mutual understanding of the problem and work together to diffuse the anger safely.  Eventually couples can come up with an action plan to move forward in their relationships.”

In partnership with Stronger Families, the USO hosted three Oxygen seminars last year and plans to host six more this year.  The workshops are held near military hospitals, warrior transition units and wounded warrior battalions. -  Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

The USO Proud Patriots Club

The limited edition car magnet the USO is releasing today is special in two ways.

First, it conveys a powerful message: “I’m a Proud Patriot and I Support Our Troops.” Secondly, it is only being issued to USO Proud Patriots, a group of members who have chosen to honor the service and sacrifices of our troops by making a monthly pledge of financial support.

To make sure we can be there for our troops through every twist and turn in 2012, we’re on a drive to add 1,000 new USO Proud Patriots by January 31. Will you step forward and become a USO Proud Patriot today?

Become a USO Proud Patriot with a monthly pledge of $5, $10, $15 or more and get your limited edition car magnet.

As a USO Proud Patriot, you’ll be playing a pivotal role in delivering support to our troops. More USO Proud Patriots means more free phone calls home for our troops, more USO care packages distributed on the front lines, more bedtime stories from troops to their children who miss them every night as well as providing many of the other comforts of home.

It also means tangible help to returning troops adjusting to life at home after long and difficult service overseas. As a USO Proud Patriot, you’ll also be supplying enduring care for those who have returned home from war with wounds that need healing.

Take a strong stand for our troops. Make a monthly pledge of $5, $10, $15 or more.

We only have a few days to meet our goal of 1,000 new USO Proud Patriots. Help us get there by making your personal commitment now. – Kelli Seely
USO Chief Development Officer

A New Home

Once I started working for the USO my friends in the service began sending me text messages whenever they stopped by   a USO Center.  Usually they are just passing through an airport and only have  time to grab a cup of coffee, but the texts usually read something like “volunteers were so friendly!” or “everyone was so helpful, tell them thank you!”.  Having visited many centers through my work with the USO, this never comes as a surprise.  Our volunteers and staff are known for providing outstanding service to our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families.  Yet, on a recent trip alongside a military family, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand how our centers go above and beyond to make America’s heroes feel at home wherever they are.

The Harris family gets a look around after being greeted by Ty Pennington as the Extreme Makeover Home Edition provides a house for the Shilo Harris family outside of Floresville, Texas on January 21, 2012. Photo: Express-News, TOM REEL / © 2012

The Texas family of four was traveling to Germany as part of a special Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that will air later this year.  The mother works as an Army advocate for wounded service members and the father is an Iraq war veteran with burns covering 60% of his body.  As a result of his injuries, the father tires easily and has problems regulating body temperature which makes traveling across multiple time zones and varying climates challenging, especially with a two year old son and nine year old daughter in tow.

As part of the television production we were treated to many amazing sights, smells and tastes that Germany has to offer.  Yet, where I saw the family the happiest and most comfortable, was the final day spent at the USO Warrior Center located adjacent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC).  With a fire “burning” in the fireplace (it’s a faux fireplace), a movie playing, spaghetti cooking on the stove, garlic bread in the oven and homemade carrot cake being cut on the counter, it felt like home.  The staff and volunteers immediately embraced the family, enlisting the daughter’s help to serve spaghetti and swapping Army wife stories with mom.

The family knew several people at the center as the father had been treated at LRMC following the IED explosion that wounded him in Iraq.  Yet, being in the room, you would have thought you had walked in on a family reunion.   That is what the USO does.  Whether you are in a USO Center in Europe, the Pacific, Afghanistan or the states, the USO creates an atmosphere of home, inclusion and support for our nation’s heroes and their families.  Thank you, USO team – especially USO Georgia and USO San Antonio, for making this family’s journey truly a special one. - Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager

USO | Hire Heroes USA Workshops & Career Opportunity Days

Springfield, Virginia, USA - June 10, 2011: Hiring Our Heroes veterans jobs fair for wounded warriors. Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Through USO Warrior and Family Care programs, the USO is building a continuum of care from the battlefield to the community to provide our wounded, ill and injured troops, their families and caregivers a broad array of programs to help them. The USO has partnered with Hire Heroes USA and the Chamber of Commerce to assist in the transition from troop to employed civilian.

Through the year, OEF/OIF veterans and wounded warrior-led workshops are held at various military installations. They focus on resume writing, mock interviews with actual employers, professional work practices and translating prior military experience into a civilian career – invaluable tools for transitioning service members!

Career Opportunity Days (COD) are another transition program for wounded, ill and injured troops, spouses and caregivers. A COD is a non-traditional career fair where employers connect with seven to 10 troops based on interest and background. Employers conduct mock interviews and provide feedback, providing an additional level of support for transitioning service members to meet with employers offering jobs. These CODs are limited to 25 employers and 100 service member attendees to maximize impact and ensure the attendees don’t get overwhelmed.

“They’re small… but to us that’s an advantage. It means putting employers that want to hire transitioning service members and unemployed veterans in a room. With just a small number, but typically better prepared, soldier, marines and veterans, the effectiveness of this type of venue has been very good,” said Nate Smith, Executive Director, Hire Heroes USA. “Typically we see participants walking away with a 25% job offer rate. So its good for the companies, its good for the participants and this is helping to solve one of the significant problems in America right now.”

Learn more about the USO’s many programs and services at USO.org and find upcoming events and resources at Hire Heroes USA.

USO Liberty Bell, Miss New York Places Third at Miss America Pageant

She performs for troops all over the country, stands up for bullied children, and also finds time to compete in beauty pageants.

She is Miss New York—Kaitlin Monte—and I recently caught up with her over the phone after she earned second runner-up at the 2012 Miss America Pageant, Jan. 14 in Las Vegas.

“To make it as far as I did was just a blessing,” said Monte, who demonstrates through her humility and her civic involvement that Miss America isn’t just a beauty contest—it’s a contest of character.

“The literal pageantry of it all becomes so small when you realize what’s really going on there,” she said. “It starts to be so silly what color lip gloss you’re wearing when you’d rather talk to the girl next to you about how she’s impacting her community. That’s what Miss America is all about.”

USO Liberty Bell and Miss New York Kaitlin Monte

For the past three years, Monte has provided joy and entertainment to troops and veterans across the country as a member of the USO Liberty Bells, a throwback performance group that sings and dances to classic hits like the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” as well as other contemporary music of today for active duty military.

Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Monte joined the New York-based troupe after graduating from college to spread the message about an organization that she felt her generation didn’t know enough about.

“There was a time when troop support wasn’t needed as much,” said Monte. “But today it’s needed more than ever and it’s great to be a young person who can explain to people what [the USO] is because it’s such a powerful resource.”

She’s found inspiration from meeting and talking to men and women who’ve served and sacrificed.

“There’s one gentleman we met at a show who had suffered some pretty severe burning,” Monte recalled. “Despite his injuries being very significant visually, you hardly noticed because he was by far one of the most jovial people we had ever interacted with.”

“That’s where veterans become so impressive,” she added. “Despite major sacrifices and losses, their spirit remains so alive and you can take so much away from that. Our problems as civilians can start to look so trivial when you look at what they’ve gone through.”

Monte’s experiences with the USO were so impactful she was even inspired to start her own non-profit called Project Empower, aimed at broadening the world view of school-age children who are being bullied and cyber-bullied.

“The USO is really where I learned how powerful the individual could be,” she said. “It’s one of the most effective community organizations out there because of [its volunteer base] … and many people don’t realize how powerful that can be.”

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life,” she added, “but I never took for granted the fact that those who serve are the reason why I have those opportunities and I appreciate it very much. The USO is such an iconic name and has so consistently over the past 70 years been supporting the military. It has been so great to be a part of such a rich and historic American organization and I’m proud to help spread its message.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

The Invisible Wounds of War

As 2012 begins, many of our troops and their families will be looking forward to a new year with new opportunities. But for some, a challenging task awaits them – tackling the invisible wounds of war.

Often difficult to detect and negatively stigmatized, these invisible injuries can cause longterm or permanent damage if overlooked. Hundreds of thousands of troops are living with post traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) and many more will be diagnosed over the next few years.

A handful of brave troops have shared with the USO their deeply personal stories and how their conditions have impacted their lives. We ask you to become educated and join us in making a difference.

Watch more videos and learn more at USOInvisibleWounds.org and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #InvisibleWounds. Get educated. Get inspired. Get involved.