Helping in Healing: Grant from The Bob Woodruff Foundation Supports USO Efforts

During the time her husband, journalist Bob Woodruff, spent recovering from a roadside bomb blast that nearly killed him in Iraq, Lee Woodruff found moments of healing, quiet and temporary escape by gardening.

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USO President Sloan Gibson speaks with Anne Marie Dougherty, center, executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, and Barbara Lau, the foundation’s charitable investment program director, on Feb. 5 at the grand opening of the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. USO photo by Mike Theiler

It’s no coincidence that recovering troops, their families and caregivers can seek their own peace of mind in the Healing Garden outside the new USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va.

The Bob Woodruff Foundation provided a generous grant to the USO to support education, employment training, rehabilitation and quality of life for our nation’s recovering heroes. The foundation also supported the Healing Garden, which will be in full bloom by spring. The garden will provide respite and tranquility for all who visit the center.

Walking from the building to the garden, visitors will read a message from the Bob Woodruff Foundation engraved along the path. Spaced out on the sidewalk will be the words Hope, Faith, Family and Resilience. The last part of the message will read: “Honoring the indomitable human spirit.”

“This is what we believe in. In keeping with what Bob and Lee envisioned for the Foundation, the Bob Woodruff Foundation seeks strategic partners that share a proven history of caring for the wounded and their families and the USO does just that,” said Anne Marie Dougherty, the executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

–Story by USO Publicaitons

What Our Troops Asked For

When you really need to get something done, you turn to the people you can count on. Time after time, you’ve been there when we’ve asked you to invest in critical projects supporting our troops. That’s why I’m turning to you now.

Here’s the situation: Our new USO Warrior and Family Center at Ft. Belvoir is now operational. That’s crucial because the road to recovery for our wounded troops can be physically and mentally challenging.

And part of the help we can provide is the opportunity now and then to visit a home away from home during their recovery where they can relax and relieve some stress. Can we count on you to help with some critical USO projects at the USO Warrior and Family Center including furnishing and supplying our new state-of-the-art Game Room?

Please, make your donation of $10 or more to help supply and furnish the new Game Room at the brand-new USO Warrior and Family Center at Ft. Belvoir.

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The Game Room in our new USO Warrior and Family Center at Ft. Belvoir is going to be something special — a state-of-the-art gamer’s dream. The latest and greatest video games — and all the technology to enjoy them to the fullest.

We’re installing eight 32-inch displays, video gaming chairs with built-in speakers and controls. With all of the technology provided our wounded troops and their families are guaranteed to not only have fun, but to also be helped along their path to their recovery through the therapeutic effects of positive stress relief.

And it’s impossible to think of a group of people more deserving of a chance to enjoy themselves and the comforts of home at our newest center.

Can we count you in on this special project? Click here to donate directly to the supplying and furnishing of the new Game Room at Fort Belvoir.

You’ve always been there for our troops. I hope you will step forward and support them once again with the care and commitment you’ve always shown. - Kelli Seely, Senior Vice President, Chief Development Office, USO

When Riding a Bike is Not ‘Like Riding a Bike’

Recovery from catastrophic injury takes time – and patience.

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Oscar “Oz” Sanchez, shows off his Paralympics Gold Medals on March 3 at the Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton Calif. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

For Recon Marine and two-time Paralympic handcycling gold medalist Oscar “Oz” Sanchez — known by some as the “fastest cyclist on two hands” — recovering from a spinal injury meant accepting his paralysis and refocusing his energy on a new passion. It was about recognizing a new reality and learning how to apply a positive mental attitude to a new sport, which took time.

For others – like retired Marine Capt. Derek Liu and Australian Defence Force Signaler Gary Wilson – who are each working to overcome severe brain injuries, recovery means reminding the brain how to walk, talk, read and write. It’s relearning the old and then learning something new, which takes patience.

I met these three athletes at the Marine Corps Trials, an international Paralympic competition held by the Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and sponsored by USO San Diego. The trials are held annually to select the Corps’ best wounded, ill and injured athletes to compete against its sister services at the annual Warrior Games in Colorado.

All Paths are Not Paved

With victory in his eyes and pride on his chest, “Oz Sanchez” had a certain confidence about him at the trials. Maybe it was the London Paralympics gold swinging from his neck like he was keeping time. No one could avoid catching his contagious smile.

As I listened to his story, though, I learned he wasn’t always so optimistic. After two deployments with 1st Recon Battalion, Sanchez saw his dreams of serving in one of America’s most elite warfighting units — SEAL Team 6 — wash away.

He was in the middle of making the transition from the Marine Corps to the Navy SEALs when a hit-and-run motorcycle accident left him with a severe spinal injury. A wave of depression came over him. He initially drowned his sorrows in alcohol and painkillers. It wasn’t until two years after his injury that he pulled himself out of depression and onto a handcycle.

The transition to a handcycle was challenging, but he knew recovery meant meeting challenges head on, pushing through and setting bigger goals for himself.

After winning all the local races in Southern California, he competed at the nationals in Colorado, where he was introduced to the Paralympics team.

Only five years after learning to ride a hand cycle, Sanchez won his first Paralympics gold medal in Beijing in 2008.

“Things are only as bad as you allow them to get,” he said. “Sure, you’re dealing with the inherent truth of whatever your physical state is, but that’s just your body that’s broken — not your mind.”

TBI, ABI and PMA

For Liu and Wilson — who’ve both made great strides in the year after I first met them at the 2012 Marine Corps Trials — the same concept holds true.

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Swimming coach Dawn Romero helps Marine veteran Capt. Derek Liu with adaptive swimming techniques. Liu recently participated in his second Marine Corps Trials. Photo by Pat Cubel

In 2007, Liu suffered cardiac arrest while jogging at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Wilson was involved in a Blackhawk helicopter crash in Afghanistan in 2011. Both incurred brain injuries and were in comas for nearly two months after their respective accidents.

Most head injuries today are categorized as traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which is a broad category that always involves trauma to the brain, but can also indicate damage to structures other than the brain, such as the scalp and skull. Liu and Wilson were affected by anoxic brain injury (ABI), which is when the brain is damaged by lack of oxygen. A 2005 study demonstrated the cognitive and emotional injuries that result from both ABI and TBI are — in fact — one and the same, and the severity depends on the volume of grey matter physically compromised.

For Wilson and Liu, the damage was as severe as it gets.

“I’m no longer the person I once was and cannot do the things I did before,” Liu said. “My memory is still not trustworthy, I get confused easily, and my vision is poor.

“I’ve had to find out who the new Derek is.”

Physical Fitness is Key

For Sanchez, Liu and Wilson physical fitness plays a key role in their ability to maintain a healthy mindset.

“One of the things I missed the most, and what had me in such a doom-and-gloom state, was not being able to work out,” Sanchez said. “Once I started to get active again, I started to get some healthy thoughts back, and that effect snowballed into success. What was once me feeling like I was a product of the situation turned into me being in control of the situation.”

According to Dr. Mark Bates, Associate Director of Population Health at the Deployment Health Clinical Center, physical health and mental resiliency are closely related.

“Some of the things one can do to build psychological resilience aren’t necessarily psychological, and research suggests a strong relationship between being physically fit and mentally fit,” Bates wrote in an email. “Regular exercise increases energy, improves cognitive abilities and can help prevent or treat depression.”

Mental Health and Adaptive Sports

“Running and swimming were passions of mine,” Liu said. “So gaining back the physical strength enough to do them has boosted my confidence, and that lets me know that there is so much more I can do and achieve.”

Wilson plans to become a psychologist so he can look after people who have been through similar situations.

“I’ve been seeing a psychologist for almost two years now,” he said, “and it’s helped me heal a great deal better.

“There’s no judgment. Having someone who is genuinely interested in your progression and helping you deal with the issues that come along has been invaluable to me.”

Sanchez is exemplifying his own motto: “Know no limits.”

“It’s a long road to recovery, and it’s not always paved,” he told a group of handcyclists at the trials. “How will you get there? That’s the most difficult part, and it’s up to you. But believe me, you will get there.”

Liu builds his confidence with each new skill he masters. So far, nothing has been “like riding a bike.”

“When one is initially injured like I was, the gravity of the situation doesn’t hit you right away, but it will in five or 10 years,” Liu said. “Down the line you begin to see the outcome of your hard work and start to realize why you pushed on. The prognosis may not get better, but your adaptation to your injury and outlook on life will get a lot better.”

–Story by Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer

Sons of Anarchy Bring Smiles to the Pacific

Is there a word or phrase that conveys “happily exhausted?” When I first meet Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior and Dayton Callie of Sons of Anarchy on the last day of their whirlwind tour of the Pacific, that is the first thing that comes to my mind.

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Clockwise from top left: The line snaked around the parking lot; Kim Coates and Mark Boone Junior admire a framed photo of the cast before signing; The actors met with hundreds of troops and their families in the morning

Over the past seven days the trio of actors had visited troops and their families stationed in Japan and Guam, and now Hawaii. This was be the second USO tour for Coates and Boone and the third for Callie. In 2010, the cast set out on their first USO tour together, along with fellow actor Theo Rossi, and delivered cheer and a touch of home to more than 2,000 troops in Kuwait and Iraq. Last year, Callie and Rossi, along with fellow “Sons of Anarchy” star Ron Perlman, spent a day visiting troops and military families at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California.

They had just landed the night before, but no time for sun and surf – we were immediately off to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a meet and greet event!

The line of hundreds of military members and families wrapped around the parking lot in the hot sun, but it was all cheers smiles as we arrived! For three hours straight, the actors gave out hugs, took pictures and signed posters and t-shirts.

"I'm star struck!" explained one pregnant military spouse after the actors signed her tummy!

“I’m star struck!” explained one pregnant military spouse after the actors signed her tummy!

After a brief lunch, filled with signing more posters, it was off to tour a ship and meet with some of the crew members. Dayton Callie, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, joked, “In my day we were still using cannon balls!”

Then it was off again to meet hundreds more excited military fans. By this point my back and feet had begun to ache and I couldn’t fathom how they were still standing. Yet they were excited to meet more people and ready with big smiles as they spent two more hours taking pictures and autographing items.

Coates, Boone and Callie at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Coates, Boone and Callie at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Finally, we spent the evening taking a private boat tour of Pearl Harbor, stopping by the USS Arizona Memorial. Awed by its significance, Coates, Boone and Callie agreed that our men and women in the military sacrifice so much and deserve the utmost respect.

Wrapping up the long day and tour with a dinner, the actors were weary but content… and already contemplating what they’ll do next with the USO! - Vyque White, USO Director of New Media

 

The USO’s Iraq Legacy: A Decade of Evolving Support for America’s Troops

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

While American forces have been out of that country for more than a year, the legacy of the war is still sorting itself out.

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USO photo

With the absence of a draft, the conflict pushed America’s all-volunteer force to bear its greatest burden to date, with multiple deployments becoming a large concern on the home front. While the death toll was comparatively low when pitted against previous American conflicts, the extent of the injuries – both mental and physical – were unlike anything the country had openly dealt with before.

But while warfare evolved, one thing didn’t change. Through the last decade, the USO was by the side of our troops on the battlefield and their families at home.

We were there providing millions of phone calls home.

We were there delivering the comforts of home to desert battlefields.

We were there with a video connection to the delivery room when babies were being born.

We were there when the dread of losing a loved one came into focus in the form of a temporary casket being transferred on the tarmac at Dover Air Base, Del.

And we were there when America’s heroes returned, hosting happy homecomings at airports for the majority of troops who made it back unscathed and providing programs for others to deal with the physical and invisible wounds of war. To better confront these issues facing wounded, ill and injured troops, the USO conceived and constructed two Warrior and Family Centers to help them and their families both recover and get on the right track to rewarding lives and new careers.

Thanks to the generous support of the American people, the USO was always by the side of our troops and families during the Iraq War. And we’ll continue to be there, wherever they go.

–Story by USO Story Development

Fact or Fiction? On Patrol’s New Issue Tackles Things You May Not Know About the Military

Where did dog tags come from? What do all those statues with generals on horses signify? And how hard is boot camp, really?

ImageThere are thousands of things the average person – and even some members of our armed forces – don’t know about the military. On Patrol, the magazine of the USO, set out to change that in their Spring 2013 issue.

“After working with the military in some form or fashion for more than a decade, it hit me as long as I’d worked around the military there were still things about it that baffled or fascinated me,” said Samantha Quigley, the magazine’s editor in chief. “It seemed reasonable to think that other civilians might not understand what a soldier is saying if they’re not versed in milspeak, how much preparation goes into the military’s participation in a presidential inauguration or how prominent dogs’ roles in the military are.

“Despite some serious, and even heart-wrenching stories, this issue was fun from the perspective that even the staff learned something.”

The Spring issue – which arrived in USO centers and subscribers’ homes around the United States earlier this month – debunks military myths, shares some captivating stories and is filled with trivia that could win you a bet or two at the officer’s club.

The “Fact or Fiction” feature challenges basic perceptions people have about the military like the assumed cruelty of drill sergeants, the aforementioned question about boot camp and how hard it is for women to actually climb the ranks. There’s a look at how military operations actually get named, how to understand military speak, and a piece on celebrities who worked for Uncle Sam before they got their big breaks.

You can check out the full issue online here, get a free subscription to On Patrol here, follow them on Facebook here and on Twitter at @USOOnPatrol.

—Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development