Holding On To Cuzzie

Every now and then during our travels and presentations you come across a child that has a story that is very touching and inspirational. On this particular day, we were lucky enough to do the presentation at a theater in base housing in Sasebo. This one little girl comes skipping down the aisle holding a Cuzzie bear. We see this from time to time to time. It is very cool to see that because we know that she must have received one of our deployment kits. These kits are called the With You All the Way deployment kits. The USO gives these out to help kids with all phases of deployment. The Cuzzie bear is an integral part of the kit along with an animated movie and journal.

Trevor shows off a Cuzzie bear

Her teacher brought her over, carrying her With You All the Way journel along with her Cuzzie. She sat with me for a minute or two showing us what she had written and drawn in her journal. She also showed off a picture of her dad in full uniform, which she had glued it into her journal. She was so proud.  Her dad is currently deployed, but she seemed to be doing really well.

After she went and took her seat her teacher came up to and visited for a little bit.  The teacher wanted us to know she had really been using the kit and practicing some of things recommended in the DVD and journal.  Then the teacher shared something that had me tearing up with pride, joy, and also sadness.

On the day that the little girl’s father deployed she went with her mother to the ship that her dad was leaving on. Before he got on the ship the little girl sang, ‘Anchors Away’ to her dad. And as she sang, the little girl’s dad cried. I know that he couldn’t have helped but feel an overwhelming sense of many emotions. But he must have been incredibly proud of his little girl.

Trevor visits with military children overseas

Just seeing this little girl’s face and picturing that moment made me choke up instantly. And as I watched the little girl during that presentation I couldn’t help but get emotional. It is so gratifying to know that the kit the USO provided that little girl had such a positive impact on her deployment experience. And the way that she held on to her Cuzzie was absolutely priceless.

This was a great way to wrap up the second leg of the tour of the pacific region. Makes for a much shorter plane ride. - Trevor Romain, USO Entertainer and Children’s Author & Illustrator

USO Liberty Bells 2012 Troupe Refresh

The USO Liberty Bells, a traveling song and dance troupe based out of Times Square in New York City, looks for new talent at the start of each year.

At their annual auditions, Bells from the previous year return to show off their talent, and new performers try out for a panel of judges.  This year, the Bells plan to add about six new singers to the troupe.

“There is so much talent out there,” said Ray Kennedy, USO Liberty Bells Director and Choreographer. “The new singers that auditioned this year and the returning Bells sang from their books and man, did they raise the bar!”

These amazing singers and dancers perform at hundreds of shows each year, entertaining tens of thousands, and carrying on the morale-boosting entertainment tradition of the USO.

“I’m a huge fan of the Liberty Bells,” said John Pray, USO Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff. “Not simply because they are incredibly talented performers, but because they do so much to help us lift the spirits of troops and their families.”

Judges will reveal the final list of 2012 USO Liberty Bells this spring.   But in the meantime, watch the video below to learn what being a USO Liberty Bell means to one performer who just completed her first year. — Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

In the Name of Love, USO of Illinois Connects Military Couples

Long deployments away from home can put a strain on military marriages.

To help couples communicate and stay connected, the USO of Illinois wanted to provide an opportunity for some local troops to share a romantic getaway with their spouses.

This center, made up of six locations, came up with a video challenge.

The “How Do I Love Thee?” Valentine’s Day Getaway contest asked troops and spouses to create a creative, compelling video about why they love their valentine.  Contestants entered on Youtube, and the USO of Illinois put the top three videos online for voting.

Today, they announced the two winning couples on their website. Congratulations to Lindsey and Curt Borjas of the U.S. Marine Corps and Mindy and Mark Maroon of the National Guard!

Watch Lindsey and Curt’s winning video:

Watch Mindy and Mark’s winning video:

The lucky couples won a weekend getaway including a romantic carriage ride at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca, Illinois.

Thanks to Media, Marketing, and Public Relations Director, Beth Polio and Programs Manager, Dayna Malow, for organizing the contest and making the arrangements with Eaglewood.

The USO of Illinois’ Valentine’s Day contest is just one example of how USO centers around the world work hard to keep military couples and their loved ones connected.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of America’s troops and families! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

The USO’s Love Connection

Here at the USO, our mission is to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.   During any holiday, it can be difficult for deployed troops and their families to stay upbeat.  But this Valentine’s Day, we have a way for you to share your love while supporting the troops.

FTD is partnering with the USO to offer a 15 percent discount on flowers, plants and gifts.  FTD will also donate five percent of the purchase price to the USO.  Just go to ftd.com/USO to place your order.

FTD is also offering a special USO Collection every month through September.  The USO collection will feature a changing selection of special floral arrangements and other gifts.  Just go directly to the FTD.com website to find the USO items.  FTD will donate 15 percent of the purchase price to the USO.

You can also show your appreciation for our servicemen and women by choosing a gift from the USO Valentine’s Wishbook. New items include: the Pocket-Sized Photo Memories, which gifts a USO Photo Book to troops ($25), a Special Treat of food for troops ($40), a Family Fun Day ($50), Tech to Connect ($75), Love Letters and Pigskins ($100) and Run a Center for a Day($5,000).

Whether buying flowers from FTD.com/USO for your loved one or shopping through the Valentine’s Day Wishbook, you’re helping support the brave men and women of our armed forces. – Joseph P. Scannell, USO New Media Intern

The Great American Love Story

The Greatest Generation told some of the most romantic war-time love stories.

An Airman paints his girl’s figure onto the nose of his warplane and she wears his bomber jacket around town, whistling their song from the night they met at a USO dance.

Almost three-quarters of a century later, romantic stories of love and separation in a time of war have begun to re-emerge.

The plot remains the largely same: boy meets girl, boy (or girl) goes off  to war, they write to each other, and when (s)he gets  home, they get married.

***

It was a Sunday afternoon when Lindsay Banks was working the send-off shift at the Dallas / Ft. Worth USO, saying goodbye to troops as they returned to combat after a period of R&R (Rest and Recuperation).

Originally from Iowa, she moved to Dallas after college and began volunteering at the local USO to meet new people and support her troops. She met her best friend there, and her roommate. She never expected to meet the man of her dreams.

But then it happened.

A single Airman stood apart from the crowd. Lindsay was shy, and it would be against USO protocol to approach him.  Luckily, he struck up a conversation with her and they spoke for almost an hour.

When it was time for him to board, they exchanged email addresses, said their goodbyes, and she reluctantly watched him go.

***

Four months and dozens of emails later, her Airman was finally coming home. They had become friends while he was gone.  Now, they would meet again in the same airport—in the same terminal.

“I was shaking,” she recalled. “I REALLY liked him. But did he like me just as much?”

The airport seemed like Grand Central Station that day as she scanned the crowd for her man in uniform.   Then, she realized he was right behind her.  When she turned around, their eyes locked.

They shared their first kiss that day, but they both realized it wouldn’t be their last.

The  Killoughs tied the knot a year later and remain happily married today.

Happy Valentine’s Day Richard and Lindsay Killough! – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and LOVE, please share your story of how USO  Centers overseas have helped your loved ones stay connected during their deployments.

Lindsay and Richard Killough on their wedding day. Courtesy photo

The USO Mission: Serving the Troops for 71 Years

In early 1941, we were a nation on the brink of war.

England and France were already at war with Germany. Japan had invaded China years earlier, and soon Pearl Harbor would draw the U.S. into a worldwide conflict.

With global tensions escalating, our military was growing, and so were the needs of our troops. But at the time, there was no single organization focused solely on supporting our men and women in uniform.

At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, six civilian agencies came together and created a partnership called the United Service Organizations for National Defense, later known as the USO. It became official on Feb. 4, 1941.

The original USO mission statement is typed on yellowing paper and bound in a slim black volume that we dug out of the archives at our Arlington, Virginia, headquarters.

It reads in part:

“The purposes for which this corporation is formed are to aid in the defense program of the United States by serving the religious, spiritual, welfare and educational needs of the men and women in the armed forces and defense industries [and]… to contribute to the maintenance of morale in American communities…”

The original six organizations making up the USO were the Salvation Army, YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Services, National Jewish Welfare Board and National Travelers Aid Association.

During the war, the USO opened more than 3,000 centers across the country, setting up facilities in any available space—log cabins, museums, castles, barns, railroad sleeping cars and storefronts. The USO soon became famous for its Camp Shows, with more than 7,000 entertainers traveling overseas to perform for the troops.

In the decades that followed, the USO continued serving troops with entertainment, recreation and social support programs in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and the Balkans.

In the 21st century, the USO has followed our servicemen and women to bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. Now it’s tackling another challenge—expanding services for wounded, ill and injured troops along with their families and caregivers.

Seventy-one years later, the mission statement is shorter and simpler, but the mission itself remains the same:

“The USO lifts the spirits of America’s troops and their families.”

- Ellen Bjork, USO Director of Internal Communications, & Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development; Photography by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer