USO Delaware Director Receives National Guard Honor

USO of Delaware Director Joan Cote receives the National Guard Association of the United States’ Patrick Henry Award in Reno, Nevada, earlier this month. Courtesy of the National Guard Association of the United States

USO Delaware Director Joan Cote received a career-defining honor this month when she accepted the Patrick Henry Award from the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) for her years of work with troops.

“What a thrill receiving this award was for me and USO Delaware,” Cote said. “As you can tell [from the photo above] my eyes were filled with tears. … [It was] the proudest moment of my USO career!”

Established in 1989, the Patrick Henry Award is the civilian equivalent to the NGAUS Distinguished Service Medal. According to the association’s website, the award “is designed to provide recognition to local officials and civic leaders, who in a position of great responsibility distinguished themselves with outstanding and exceptional service to the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Guard or NGAUS.”

Cote has been the director of USO Delaware for since it opened in March of 1991. Her duties include overseeing two centers at Dover Air Force Base, home to Air Force Mortuary Affairs and site of dignified transfers. USO Delaware has supported every dignified transfer at Dover since it opened its doors.

Click here to see the full list of the 2012 NGAUS recipients. - Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

Congressmen Speak Out on Military Suicide Rate

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) goes through the line at the Operation USO Care Package assembly event on Sept. 11 in Washington, D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Seventy members of Congress turned out for an Operation USO Care Package (OUCP) assembly event on September 11 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. But putting together the much-appreciated bags of goodness for troops downrange wasn’t the only thing on their minds.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and with the staggering rise in military suicides in recent years—as of July the Army was on pace for a 200 suicides this year alone—there appears to be an even greater drive to address the issue than ever before. The USO spoke to a few Congressmen who attended the OUCP event about the rising rates of suicide in America’s military ranks. Here are their thoughts:

Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), founding co-chair of the USO Congressional Caucus

“I am proud that Fort Bliss is leading the way through mental health screening and counseling in the Army. It’s something we want to keep supporting and pushing forward so that not a single military person feels the desperation to have to contemplate committing suicide. Only then can we as a nation say that we’ve done everything we can to support our men and women in uniform and their families, because the solution is going to be to involve the families so they can have that support system.”

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), member of the USO Congressional Caucus

“The main thing is getting them together with their loved ones. A lot of the suicides are over personal relationships that may have deteriorated while [a service member] is overseas. … There’s a whole host of things. Some of it is a direct result of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I think we have a responsibility to deal with it. They suffer enough and risk enough when they’re in a combat position, that suffering and risk [should] not continue when they get home. They need to be embraced by their families, their loved ones, their communities and this country.”

If you are a service member or veteran dealing with tough times—or are concerned about a member of the military family in this type of situation—visit the Veterans Crisis Line at veterancrisisline.net or call 1-800-273-8255.

— Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development 

At Warrior Open, Competition Only Half the Story

Retired Army Corporal Chad Pfeifer, right, hugs retired Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Donarski after clinching The Bush Center Warrior Open title Tuesday on the 18th green of the Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. (Photo Credit: Eric Brandner/USO)

Chad Pfeifer was moved.

Backdropped by his peers and clutching the Warrior Open trophy, the Iraq veteran paused for just a second during victory speech to gather himself.

He’d won tournaments before, including this one just last year. Pfeifer is “that guy”: the one who picks up a golf club one day and is regularly flirting with even par a few years later while others spend their lives trying to break 90.

But none of that mattered at this moment. There’s just something different about reaching the mountaintop in front of your peers.

Twenty-two veterans—all of whom suffered severe injuries fighting for their country and lived to tell about it—took the course for two days this week at The Bush Center Warrior Open at the Las Colinas Country Club outside Dallas. The USO played a big support role during the three-day event, hosting a military village and providing free meals for military families.

Pfeifer was indeed the star, taking home the trophy and even carding a hole-in-one in front of former President George W. Bush. But all 22 men left with new bonds that may never be broken.

“All the participants of this year’s tournament and last year’s … continue to be an inspiration for me,” Pfeifer said. “That’s what I take away from the tournament. Getting the win is amazing, but at the same time, seeing these guys do what they do, fighting through the pain and just being able to enjoy golf on this type of level, it’s really special.”

Pfeifer’s golf skills were brought to light by a horrifying turn of events. His vehicle rolled over a pressure-plate improvised explosive device while deployed to Iraq in 2007. His blast injures resulted in the amputation of his left leg above the knee.

The now-retired Army corporal hadn’t played the game seriously before his injury, but his natural hand-eye coordination from his days as a junior college baseball player proved to be a great fit for the golf course.

“[Golf] got me doing stuff outdoors and it provides a great tool for balance and being able to walk with a prosthetic,” he said.

Four-plus years of golf later, Pfeifer holds a job at the Golf Club of Estrella in Goodyear, Arizona, and has two Warrior Open trophies on his mantle.

But that’s only half the story.

Army Corporal Chad Pfeifer, right, talks with Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Donarski after winning his second consecutive Bush Center Warrior Open on Tuesday at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. (Photo Credit: Eric Brandner/USO)

The other half is epitomized by the man that put his arm around Pfeifer on the 18th green when the tournament was over, vowing to move to Arizona so he could play with Pfeifer every day.

Retired Army 1st Lieutenant Brian Donarski—known to everyone on the course as just “Ski”—may well have an indomitable spirit. A former Marine, Donarski was medically discharged from the Corps in 1998. He worked to rehabilitate himself and joined the Army in 2004, only to be hurt during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he suffered a traumatic brain injury along with a host of other serious ailments after hitting an anti-tank mine. Despite his pain, Donarski was a beacon of positivity throughout the event, even in the end when he came up short of his goal of unseating the defending champ.

“Technically all of us probably shouldn’t be here right now,” said Donarski, who finished in second place, 15 strokes behind Pfeifer. “We’re all given a second chance, and we get to choose our own direction, and we’re choosing golf as our therapy to get better.”

Former President George W. Bush, center, and Warrior Open participants stand during the national anthem Monday at Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas. (Photo Credit: Eric Brandner/USO)

The tournament’s host echoed the sentiment.

“If anybody feels self-pity, all they’ve got to do is look at these [men],” Bush said, flanked by all 22 competitors during the trophy presentation. “There’s no self-pity in this crowd.” – Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

USO Military Village Draws a Crowd at Warrior Open in Texas

It was smiles, cheese steaks and a little bit of sweat under a bright blue Texas sky Monday as the USO opened its Military Village at The Bush Center’s Warrior Open just outside Dallas.

Trucks and tents lined the Las Colinas Country Club parking lot about 1,000 feet from the first tee, serving up both breakfast and a bevy of lunch options to military personnel and their families from around the region. Guests were treated to a 7-Eleven Slurpee station, an assortment of Blue Bunny ice cream, cheesesteaks from the All-American Beef Battalion and more delicious offerings from several other Texas establishments. All USO Military Village vendors donated both their time and food.

USO contingents from both Fort Hood and San Antonio made the trip up to Irving, Texas—just outside Dallas—brining troops with them and drawing veterans from around the region to watch 22 servicemen injured in the line of duty test their skills in a two-day golf tournament. – Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

Our Wounded Need You

While we can never do enough for our wounded, ill and injured troops, their families and caregivers, today we have the opportunity to do something very special for them.

The USO is preparing to open a brand new 21,000-square-foot facility adjacent to the U.S. Army’s Community Hospital at Fort Belvoir. It is dedicated to helping wounded, ill and injured troops relax in comfort with the support of their loved ones — and reclaim the full, rich lives they deserve so much.

While the USO has been supporting wounded, ill and injured troops since World War II, this is the first-ever USO Warrior and Family Center in the United States designed and intended primarily for these healing heroes. We have launched our “Here for America’s Heroes” campaign to raise $200,000 in the next 11 days to help stock the new USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir and support the USO’s other programs and services for our troops.

Please step up for our troops. Make your Here for America’s Heroes donation before the October 1st deadline.

Why the urgent deadline? At least 40,000 of our nation’s finest men and women have been injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. And an estimated 400,000 more suffer from the invisible wounds of war, including post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

The USO needs to be there for them to provide comfort as they begin to recover and reintegrate back into their lives at home. And we need your support to do everything we can to make their recovery process successful.

Please help stock the first USO Warrior and Family Center and provide support for other programs and services dedicated to supporting our troops with a generous donation toward our goal of $200,000 during the Here for America’s Heroes campaign.

I know how much this new center will mean to all our healing heroes. But until we stock it with all they need, it will only be an empty shell. I hope I can rely on you to play an integral role in this mission quickly. When the first troops come through those doors, they’ll know just how much you care.

Thank you for being Here for America’s Heroes.
-General Richard B. Myers, USAF (Ret.), Chairman of the Board, USO

Trevor Romain Addresses Bullying with Military Children

For some children, “back to school” can mean back to bullies.

Bullying is especially common for military children who, according to the Military Child Education Coalition, move about six to nine times from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

So where’s the good news? Trevor Romain is setting out to help military children in Europe identify and change bullying behavior! During his USO tour, Trevor will also discuss how to recognize the signs that your child is being bullied (or is bullying others), how to talk to your kids about bullying and ways families can cope with this important issue together.

You can hear Trevor’s thoughts about bullying behavior and how to handle it and how Trevor discusses these problems with military children in his interview with the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Bullying Statistics

  • About 71 percent of students report bullying as an on-going problem they face at school.
  • Over half of all students have witnessed a bullying crime take place while at school.
  • A reported 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school.
  • About one out of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
  • About 282,000 students are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month.

As a nationally-recognized children’s motivational speaker and author, Trevor will also share the USO’s With You All the Way program with military children. Through a partnership between the USO and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids and the Trevor Romain Company, this program focuses on helping children and families cope with deployment, reintegration, and what happens when a parent returns from combat with wounds, both seen and unseen.

People often forget about the sacrifices and hardships that are unique for military children. At the USO, we understand the difficulties military children endure and we are so proud to partner with Trevor in our mission to support and connect with our military children around the world.

Thank you Trevor!

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist