The Power of a Phone Call Home from the Battlefield

Alexander Carpenter with his daughter, Chloe, shortly after his third and final deployment as a Marine. Photo courtesy of Alexander Carpenter

Alexander Carpenter with his daughter Chloe shortly after his third deployment as a Marine. Photo courtesy of Alexander Carpenter

Six years ago today, then-Marine Alexander Carpenter was going on long patrols in Iraq in the aftermath of the bloody Battle of Ramadi. But the dangerous fighting he and his fellow Marines encountered wasn’t the only stressful situation on his mind.

In this edited email to the USO, Carpenter recalls a phone call made from a USO in December 2006 that changed his life:

I got back from a 12-day-out rotation. It was close to midnight in Ramadi. Our staff sergeant told us to clean our weapons and then we could shower, eat and have some time off. I cleaned my [weapon] so fast … because, my baby girl was to be born that day. I frantically cleaned my [weapon] and got a buddy to go the USO call center with me. (I skipped the chow and skipped the shower.) I called three or four different people and no one answered. I was so scared, I didn’t want to go back out without hearing my baby girl’s cry. Finally, I call one more time and I get an answer. She has been born!!! Ten fingers, 10 toes, healthy and kicking! … I shouted “I’M A DAD!” No one said shut up. No one told me to be quiet. But [the others in the USO] clapped and congratulated me. Tears streamed down my face. I spent six more months of patrols and firefights with my brothers by my side. I came back to the USO every 12 days to call home to hear my daughter. I made it home and saw my baby for the first time May 26, 2007 (she was born Dec. 2006).

I fought from that first phone call on not for oil, not for WMDs, not for Bush: I fought for my brothers to my left and right so we could all see our babies. The USO made that call possible for me. And to this day I have never said thank you. … Thank you USO.

Troops deployed across the globe rely on free calls home from USO centers to celebrate the seminal moments of their lives, connect with family members or just let people back in the States know they’re doing OK. Find out how you can help keep these phone calls free for America’s troops here.

Touching Home from Afar: USO Volunteer of the Year Tells How United Through Reading’s Military Program Affects His Family

USO Volunteer of the Year Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson spoke to our cameras Oct. 25 at the USO Gala in Washington about the power of United Through Reading’s Military Program.

Johnson – who has deployed throughout the world and has four children and four stepchildren – knows how powerful it can be to send a DVD of himself reading a book back home.

Find out more about how one Navy dad used the program to keep up with his young sons during a deployment at sea.

Throw(not-that-far)back Thursday: Gen. Ray Odierno Touts USO Support for Troops Across the Globe

Here’s a previously unpublished clip from the 2013 USO Gala archives of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno talking about how the USO affects troops serving in every corner of the world.

And for a look at the overall events of  night, check out our short 2013 USO Gala compilation video.

USO on TV: Skype Connections Downrange Keep Families Together

photo“He wasn’t there when she was born, and, almost two months later for him to hold her, she knew his voice.” Those are the words of Brittany Ellridge, wife of Spec. Najee Ellridge, who watched their daughter Nyla’s birth over a USO-provided Skype connection in Afghanistan. The Nov. 10 edition of the CBS Evening News featured a story on how American troops serving across the globe stay in touch with their families back home.

CBS also profiled Allison Simerly, who spoke at a USO/With You All The Way symposium on military kids and post-deployment issues at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., back in April. Simerly, and her father – Army Col. Mark Simerly – keep in touch via online video chats.

The CBS story also featured file footage of Senior Airman Gabriel Time, who had this emotional reaction to watching his child being born via a Skype connection at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan in 2011.

Pa. School, National Constitution Center Deliver Lessons via Veterans Day Video Chats with Troops at USO Centers

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Stacy Henry was determined to give her first graders a Veterans Day lesson to remember.

Thanks to a little persistence – and a hand from USO Bagram in Afghanistan – she was able to pull off a lesson the kids at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center in New Castle, Pa., won’t soon forget.

“This year, with my husband being in the [Army Reserve] and two of his fellow soldiers being deployed in Afghanistan, I decided that it would be awesome to connect with them,” Henry said.

Henry’s initial plan was to virtually connect her students with Army Reserve Sgts. Michael Maurer and Joshua Reilly – both deployed to Afghanistan with the 333rd Engineer Company – for a Skype chat. Maurer and Reilly are in the same reserve unit as Henry’s husband, Sgt. Todd Henry.

While the two deployed soldiers weren’t able to get in on the event, Henry was still able to uplink her school’s gymnasium – packed with 300 first-through-third graders – to USO Bagram to speak with troops at the center on Veterans Day. Todd Henry and fellow Army Reserve Spc. Jason McCray also came to the school to be with the kids during the Skype connection. The kids read a poem, sang patriotic songs and even tried to ask a few questions of the troops on the other end of the call.

“[It was] an awesome, unforgettable, honorable, memorable event on Veterans Day, which I feel proud to be a part of,” said Stacy Henry, whose youngest son, Morgan, is a third grader at the school.

And while Maurer and Reilly missed out on the chat, they won’t be forgotten. Henry said the school was preparing care packages for the duo, and was also looking to send a large envelope full of student-written letters their way.

Constitution Center Links to Troops Downrange

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

USO Kandahar also got in on the Veterans Day Skype action, linking up to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a Q&A with visitors.

USO Kandahar’s DJ Stanhope linked up with Liberty USO – which covers the Philadelphia region – to set up the Skype call, where visitors to the National Constitution Center got an inside view of USO Kandahar and the life of a deployed service member.

Stanhope said the highlight of the call came when two children – a boy around the age of 2 and a girl no more than 4 – sang “God Bless America” for three young soldiers who were participating in the call from Kandahar.

New USO Center Opens at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait

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CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – With U.S. forces slowly drawing down in the Middle East, the USO is re-allocating its resources to the remaining places it can best serve the most troops. On Nov. 3, the USO opened a new center on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with some of the gear that was packed up after the summer closure of USO Camp LSA on Ali al-Salem Air Base.

With many of the current personnel rotating home, the outpouring of support for the center opening was an example of service members looking out for each other.

“With a USO center on Camp Arifjan, it will be a lot easier to call home directly,” said Spec. Noshoba Ann Davis of Deville, La. “Also, I really enjoy getting to volunteer and give back to our base community.”

USO staff has been providing services and building up the center at Camp Arifjan for several weeks in anticipation of the opening.

“In the months leading up to the center being ready to open, we did a lot of outreach on base,” said DeAnne Dotson, a USO duty manager at Arifjan. “What I found was that everyone had a USO story, whether it was being stranded in an airport and finding a place to rest and a hot meal or being sent off on their deployment, or visiting a USO on a previous deployment, everyone brings that story with them. When people would hear that a USO was opening up on Camp Arifjan, they were so excited.

“The free phones and Internet are the two pillars of staying in touch with your loved ones, and already today they have proven to be a huge hit. There are no phone cards, no operators, just pick up the phone and call.”

The troops on hand were happy to talk about their appreciation for what the USO provides.

“This is my third deployment, and the USO has been with me through different stages throughout my career,” said Maj. (Chaplain) Jim Lewis of Kent, Ohio. “When I was stateside, I was working with the USO to help send off units that were deploying. My first deployment I flew out on Christmas Day, and ate Christmas dinner at the USO in the airport. I know because of all the wonderful experiences I have had with the USO around the world that my deployment at Arifjan will be much better because there is a USO center here.”

–Story and photos by Eric Raum