The Little Champs’ Visit to Manor View ES

We stood among 321 Champs at Manor View ES of Fort Meade to talk about The Little Champs  – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel.  Thanks to the USO’s commitment to our Nation’s littlest heroes, each student was given his/her very own copy of the book; to have and to hold, to read and to reread.  Meanwhile, the students had read The Little Champs in their classrooms with their teachers before we arrived.  Their minds, hearts and souls were full.  There was a wellspring of energy and emotion: the school’s guidance counselor noted, finally, this is a book that is about them and for them – and honors them.

The Little Champs accomplished its mission through literature and music, reaching and teaching to multiple learning styles.  The story intertwines their stories, with characters to whom they could relate.   As one parent commented, “the characters are ‘real time.’  My kid takes it wherever she goes.’”   Its characters walk the walk, talk the talk, and ‘feel the feel’ ­– they experience the multitude of emotions that our Champs experience.   Its characters acknowledge their feelings, and deal constructively and proactively with their situation, learning more about their inner strengths in the process.  I like to call it building resiliency by building character.

 Among the feedback from teachers, parents, and the guidance counselor, the story   evoked “Aha!” moments, proud smiles, cathartic tears, grateful giggles, and sighs of relief.

One 5th grade teacher said:  “I want to thank you very much for writing such a wonderful book for our military children.   Fifth graders have a lot of emotions as military children, and they’re not always open with their feelings.  They’re not always able to express what it is that they’re feeling.  They may be angry or upset or sad.

“During the time we were reading the book, they were making so many connections, and having these ‘A-ha’ moments, and just really related to what they were reading.  I had one student who, when the book talked about the Champ whose stomach dropped when the dad was moving the family back to the East Coast – he had experienced the exact same thing.  The student teared up and said, ‘Ms. Ricker, I have that connection.  The same thing happened to me and my family, and my stomach dropped.’  It was an opening to talk about it.

“I really appreciate that there’s a book to help them express their emotions, and lets them know they’re not alone.  These feelings are okay.  It’s okay to be angry.  It’s okay to be sad.  It’s just part of what comes with having a parent deployed or having to move a lot.  It’s a great book, and was a great experience, and one that I really appreciate.

“My favorite part was that we sat cuddled up together on the carpet; the kids were sooo into the book; each kid had his/her own book that s/he could go through; they didn’t want to stop reading until we’d finished . . . it was such a special, warm experience for all of us.”

In addition, each child had created a personalized “I Am Me” card, that they’d then placed in a Champ Chest.  The Champ Chests were decorated by University of MD’s college students, covered with motivational comments, through Operation Champs.   It was quite special to see them place their “I Am Me” cards in the Champ Chests as they headed to feast upon the ice cream treats that awaited . . . another sweet USO touch to make this a most memorable, multi-sensory experience for all!

We walked away with full hearts, full Champ Chests, and the knowledge that we’d reached out and touched the hearts and souls and minds of 321 of our Nation’s littlest heroes. – Debbie Fink, MA, Author 

Service After Service: Paul Andrews

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

Paul Andrews and his wife volunteer during the USO Fort Campbell grand opening last year. USO photo by Christian Pelusi

Way back in 1968, 20 days after my high school graduation, I was on my way to Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill., for boot camp and more than a year of electronics school. This was my first time away from home and I was in a strange place where I didn’t know anyone or where anything was. On weekends during school, several of us would go to Chicago or Milwaukee for liberty. The USOs in both cities were our first destination, as this was the place to find out what was going on in the city for the weekend. Also, the meals they served were mostly the only food we got. They were our home away from home.

Eventually we settled on spending our free time in Milwaukee and were frequent visitors at the USO and the activities they sponsored. As E-2s and E-3s in the late 1960s, we would not have been able to see and enjoy the things we did without the USO.

I now am retired and have the opportunity to give back some of what I received. Fort Campbell, Ky. and the military are different now from when I was at Great Lakes, as the members are older and many are married with children. Some things are still the same, as many troops lack of money to do anything special. Helping these folks and their families is a great way to support our military, especially on a base that has carried a heavy burden in the present warfare.

Oh, and by the way, I met my wife when she was a volunteer with the USO in Milwaukee. We have been married for almost 43 years and now both volunteer at the USO in Fort Campbell.

–Paul Andrews
USO Fort Campbell volunteer