A New Center For Our Warriors

The Sports Lounge in the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir is almost ready for our wounded troops and their caregivers and families to enjoy.

The Sports Lounge in the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir is almost ready for our wounded troops and their caregivers and families to enjoy.

More than 40,000 troops have been visibly wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more than 300,000 troops suffer from invisible wounds, like post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. In addition, the Pentagon said the military reached a record high of 349 suicides in 2012, highlighting the need for increased mental and emotional care for America’s returning troops. While these numbers are upsetting, we have to face the fact that returning troops need us now more than ever. It is a particularly important time for recovering troops to have a stress-free and supportive environment as they heal and reintegrate into civilian life.

Since 1941, the USO has been there for our troops. As we continue to adapt to meet the needs of our military and their loved ones, we are thrilled to open the doors to a new center – designed especially for our recovering troops, their families and caregivers – in just a few days.

Located steps away from the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., will offer activities for recovering troops, their families and caregivers that will help them relax, have fun and reintegrate into society. Specifically, the programs and classes offered will align with the USO’s Continuum of Care. The center will have programmatic offerings in the areas of physical health and recreation, family strengthening, behavioral health, employment, education and community reintegration. Inside the center, guests will have access to more than 20 areas, including a movie theater, respite suite, sports lounge, business center, music room and a healing garden outdoors.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 2.08.56 PM

The Game Room will be a place for recovering troops to relax and enjoy the latest games with state-of-the-art video game consoles and screens.

During the difficult journey toward recovery, this center will be a place for support, relaxation, a peaceful environment for families to come together and an opportunity to prepare for a fulfilling and happy life ahead. Men and women dealing with the aftermath of deployment can learn how to transition into a new and different role, find hope and embrace the change. Like all USO centers, the mission remains the same – to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.

A second USO Warrior and Family Center is currently being constructed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and is scheduled for completion in early 2014. The Warrior and Family Centers at Fort Belvoir and in Bethesda are possible because of the USO’s Operation Enduring Care campaign and our generous volunteers. We could not do this without you! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Support a New Center For Our Wounded

In 6 days, we open the doors on the new USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia – the first of its kind.

But this is more than just a new USO center. This is a symbol of America’s commitment to our wounded troops and their families. It’s an opportunity for all of us to let our troops know we’re right there with them.

The most effective and efficient way you can do that is by becoming a USO Proud Patriot. Your monthly pledge will be a clear sign to our troops that you’ll be there for them every day.

Become a USO Proud Patriot with a monthly pledge of $10, $15 or more and we’ll send you an exclusive USO tote bag.Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.06.33 PM

As a USO Proud Patriot, you’ll be playing a pivotal role in delivering support to our troops.

This special group of supporters gives us the resources to do more for our troops — more free calls home, more care packages to the frontlines, and more care for our wounded, ill and injured troops at the new USO Warrior and Family Center.

And once you make the decision to become a USO Proud Patriot, we’ll immediately send you an exclusive USO tote bag to show our appreciation.

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

This new center is an important step for us here at the USO. It’s a chance for us to renew our commitment to our wounded troops and their families, and to show them we’ll be by their side every day. I hope you join us in sharing this excitement by becoming a USO Proud Patriot today.

Thanks for all you do,

Sloan Gibson
USO President and CEO

Total Strangers and Roller Skates: A Chance Encounter at USO Delaware Brings Back a 50-Year-Old Memory

Rose Hirth, a volunteer at USO Delaware, was on a mission one blustery fall evening at Dover Air Force Base when a blast from her past marched through the door and reminded her of a promise she had made: She would be buried in her roller skates.


More than 50 years later, USO Delaware volunteer Rose Hirth still has the roller skates she won at a 1961 competition. Photo courtesy of Rose Hirth

USO volunteers take on many missions. At Dover, the mission often involves interacting with families of those who have been killed in action. These strangers often become family, and that bond usually starts with one warm-hearted USO volunteer.

Since the USO’s Families of the Fallen Program began in December 2010, the USO has supported more than 3,000 family members who have traveled through airports and stayed at the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen. Many USO staff and volunteers travel alongside these families and work with airport security officials, airlines and even vehicle rental companies to help smooth transportation logistics to Dover and then on to the fallen hero’s final destination.

On that fall evening, a military escort and a chaplain walked through the door of the USO. Hirth rubbed the two pins — a cross and an angel — she keeps immediately over her heart. The angel is a prayer for those in harm’s way, and the cross is a prayer for our fallen.

The young escort wearing his dress uniform was escorting the remains of his good friend and compatriot. Hirth took one look at him and a name came to mind.

“Oh my gosh, it’s Josh Ward,” she said to herself.

Hirth sat down and began to get to know the young man she was sure she already knew. She found out he was from Williamstown, N.J., and his family, in fact, was into roller skating.

After a few more questions, Hirth confirmed that the young soldier strongly resembled his grandfather. And after a little more conversation, she discovered the soldier’s grandfather died a few years back. Which led to perhaps the eeriest question of all.

“Was he buried with his roller skates on?” she asked

The escort looked puzzled. How did she know?

“Because your grandfather and I met by chance nearly 50 years ago,” Hirth said.

It was 1961 when Hirth and Josh Ward both signed up with different partners for a roller skate dance competition.

“I don’t even remember what the first place prize was,” Hirth said. “It was probably unbelievable but I didn’t care. I had my heart set on the second place prize: a set of roller skates worth $125. That was a pretty expensive pair of skates in 1961, so I was really upset when my partner didn’t show.”

That’s when she met Josh Ward.

“Apparently something happened to his partner, too, so by total chance we were teamed up together,” she said. “We really wanted those skates but we only had a quick moment to rehearse.”

Hirth and Ward came up with a brand new routine on the spot and it hit the mark. They took second place and won the $125 roller skates.

“I’ve taken care of those roller skates all these years and they are still in A-1 condition,” she said. “Every once in a while I’ll take them out and revisit that same rink and skate for ‘one last time.’”

The prize and the chance encounter were so valuable to them both that Hirth and Ward made a promise that they would never lose their skates. In fact, they swore to be buried in them.

“What’s amazing about this story,” she explained, “is that there really are no strangers in this world. Just people we haven’t met yet.

“It’s not a coincidence Josh was there for me that night, and it’s not a coincidence his grandson came through here,” Hirth said as she touched the pins over her heart. “Certain people are placed in your life for a reason. I always look at these kids as my kids because sometimes all it takes is a chance occurrence to turn a total stranger into family.”

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Filling Their Needs: A Look Back at How the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir was Conceived

At the end of every journey, it’s always interesting to look back and see how you got there.


The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., will officially open Feb. 5. USO photo by Eric Brandner

The USO ends a very small part of its Warrior and Family Care journey on Feb. 5, when it officially opens its first Warrior and Family Center. The Fort Belvoir, Va.-based center – the largest center the USO has ever constructed – will be a home away from home for wounded, ill and injured troops during their recoveries.

In most ways, the ribbon cutting will be a day of firsts. But there was a lot of analysis before the first shovel was stuck in the ground.

The USO and STUDIOS Architecture conducted extensive research in 2010 to develop a strategy for not just what the building would look like, but also what services it would offer. Here are three of those findings – and their resulting implementations. 

  • The 2010 Tell USO Survey asked wounded, ill and injured troops to rank a list of needs according to their level of importance. The item receiving the largest percentage of “very important” responses was access to “online college and professional development classes.” The USO responded by working with STUDIOS to design the Learning Center, a four-room setup inside the Warrior and Family Center that brings the connectivity and resources of a university library to their campus. Free computer and Internet access in the Classroom – along with an interactive white board and space for guest lecturers – should make taking a variety of online and in-person classes easy. The Study and Learning Center Office offer private spaces for interviews, career counseling or more intimate learning experiences. Meanwhile, the Learning Center Lounge provides open space for group activities.
  • Hundreds of thousands of troops who deployed to the Mideast since 2001 have returned suffering from varying degrees of post-traumatic stress. This can lead to anxiety issues, especially in crowded, public spaces. The architects at STUDIOS identified this as a potential problem early in the design process and addressed it by making large, open, multipurpose spaces. The Warrior and Family Center will be flooded with natural light through several windows, adding to the open feel. In correlation, the structure emphasizes natural elements like an exposed wood ceiling and a stone fireplace. The natural light and design features are the antithesis of the top two things Tell USO survey respondents didn’t want to see in the centers: artificial plants and florescent lights.
  • At the time of our initial research, four out of five wounded, ill and injured troops lived on or near the installation where they’re receiving treatment. However, at least two in five of those troops didn’t have easily accessible kitchens. Well, no one’s going to go hungry at the Warrior and Family Center. The sizable kitchen features around-the-clock access to snacks and beverages, along with a stout offering of staples and appliances to cook with. The handicap-accessible space will also host cooking classes for recovering troops and their caregivers who are looking not only for new dinner ideas, but also for tips on navigating the kitchen after a physical injury.

–Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development


Win Kellie Pickler’s Truck (and Help the USO in the Process)

For the last year, critically acclaimed country music singer Kellie Pickler has been driving a Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn truck courtesy of Ram. Now, you have the chance to win it at auction.


Pickler received a yearlong lease on the truck with the understanding that the vehicle would go up for auction in early 2013 to raise money for the organization of her choice. Pickler – a USO tour veteran – is putting the auction proceeds toward USO Warrior and Family Care, a comprehensive long-term initiative helping to provide wounded, ill and injured troops with the hope and confidence to sustain their journey towards a full and rewarding life.

“I love everything there is to love about my Ram Truck,” Pickler said in a release. “And I have to be honest I am a little sad about giving it up but its for a great cause, and we really want to raise a lot of money for the USO, so please log on and bid.”

Bidding starts today at 7 p.m. ET and will conclude at 7 p.m. ET on Feb. 1. Visit this link – or click on the photo – for more details.

Faces of the USO: A New Way to Serve

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 2.22.26 PMElizabeth Vallette’s first experience with the USO wasn’t exactly life-changing, but it lifted the spirits of a cash-poor West Point cadet making her way through an airport en route to a training assignment.

“Another cadet came running … up the terminal at us, screaming ‘Free hot dogs at the USO,’” Vallette said.

Later, during a 12-month deployment to Iraq with III Corps in 2004, the USO brought comedian Robin Williams to her base in Baghdad. “His show was perfect timing,” Vallette said. “It was just sinking in that things were not going well. We really needed the pick-me-up, and he delivered.”

After leaving the Army, Vallette spent time as an MBA student at the University of Houston and worked for a Canadian nonprofit in Kabul, Afghanistan.

When the project ended, she saw a job listing for a center director at USO Houston.“It hadn’t ever really occurred to me that you could actually work for the USO … and get paid,” she said.

Since July 2011, she has led a team that serves nearly 35,000 troops and family members with the help of a team of 400 volunteers.

Anyone who wants a taste of Vallette’s Houston hospitality should check out the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s World’s Championship in February and checkout the USO’s entry in the bar-b-cue contest. – Derek Turner, USO Sr. Editor