26 Years Later, Military Spouse Renews Family Tradition By Painting a Children’s Mural at USO Guam

A panoramic view of part of the children's room at USO Guam. USO photos

A panoramic view of part of the children’s room at USO Guam. USO photo

Kasia Bennett has come full circle.

A lifelong artist, the beachy blonde describes herself as a flower child of the 1970s who was so against the Vietnam War that she admits to vilifying returning troops then because she thought “they were a part of the ‘problem.’”

That was until a Marine pilot swept her off her feet. The transition to military life changed the mother of two’s perspective. Now, while’s he’s flying a commercial airliner at 30,000 feet, Kasia is down on Earth pouring her heart into a new acrylic mural inside the children’s room at USO Guam.

“Honestly I am ashamed of my former beliefs and attitudes,” she wrote in an email interview with the USO. “I have learned about and come to appreciate the depth of commitment the enlisted men and women give. Paying if needed, the ultimate price and giving their lives for our nation.

“The time that I give volunteering at the USO to make a soldier or their family’s day a little easier or more pleasant will never be too much to ask.”

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The full-room work of three-dimensional art honors the local Chamorro people, highlights the cultural beauty of Guam and brings life-size Sesame Street characters to the walls to welcome military children.

“What was once designed as a USO for single service members, the Pacific pivot means more and more families are coming to Guam with very different needs,” said Leigh Leilani Graham, Area Director of USO Hawaii and Guam

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Graham described USO Guam as a “destination center” with more of an island spa feel as opposed to the more traditional USO centers military families are used to at airports and bases.

Bennett, a USO volunteer, has spent more than 200 hours creating the mural. And it’s not the first time her family helped paint the building. It was actually the discovery of an old newspaper clipping of her husband, Craig, 26 years ago, painting a USO Guam wall that motivated her.

“The location of the facility has changed, [but] we are keeping volunteering at the USO a family tradition,” Bennett wrote in an email. The USO has moved from Piti to The Royal Orchid on Tumon Bay between the time her husband painted the roof and now.

“It felt fantastic to give my time,” she wrote. “I was made to feel appreciated and supported during the entire endeavor by the Guam USO staff.”

Almay Helps the USO While Highlighting the Strength and Determination of Military Women

Our blog readers will be familiar with the story of Margaux Mange, a former military police officer who suffered a traumatic brain injury and PTSD after a pair of bombings in 2006 and 2007, the second of which killed three of her close friends. Her lingering injuries put her in a constant state of pain and depression. 

But Mange has been a model of resiliency. She had nearly 130 hyperbaric oxygen treatments that have helped diminish her pain and let her be active again. In the last several years, she’s won medals at the Warrior Games, trekked to the South Pole and recently attempted to summit Denali in Alaska.

Her strength and determination mirrors the values trumpeted by USO partner Almay. The cosmetics giant is celebrating female service members with their Simply American campaign. As part of the initiative, Almay is donating $250,000 to the USO and creating a #SimplyAmerican social push to raise additional funds and awareness.

Almay was so impressed by Mange that they wanted to hold her up as an example of the Simply American spirit. So when it came time to talk about their USO partnership on ABC’s “The View” this spring, Mange was front and center.

“I was in pain trying to climb up a flight of stairs, so I thought that the couch would be my best friend,” Mange said about the years after her injuries. “But after remembering that three of my best friends died in Iraq, I couldn’t live that way for them. So, with their memories, I chose to live instead.”

Almay will continue highlighting women like Mange throughout the summer in two unique ways.

First, they’re embarking on a summer-long road trip to fairs and festivals to create what they’re calling a Simply American experience that celebrates female service members, military wives and their families.

Almay also is soliciting photos depicting “Simply American moments.” The company will donate one dollar for every like or share on social media that uses the hashtag #SimplyAmerican up to a total of $10,000.

“Almay celebrates the spirit of American beauty,” Almay Vice President of Marketing Jill Krakowski said. “This fresh, uncomplicated, all-American beauty look. And there is no better embodiment of this spirit than the women of the U.S. military.”

Starbucks Hosts USO Transition 360 Alliance Event in Seattle

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SEATTLE–Coffee titan and USO partner Starbucks hosted a USO Transition 360 Alliance Career Opportunity Day on Thursday at Starbucks Center.

The synergy at Thursday’s event was ideal, as Starbucks — which has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in product to troops through the USO — has committed to hiring 10,000 former service members and their family members by 2018.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity for [the USO Transition 360 Alliance],” Starbucks Military Talent Acquisition Director Tom Tice said in an interview last month. “This venture into employment for the USO in partnership with other organizations like Hire Heroes USA really brings a new value to what the USO is doing for service members and their families.

“Starbucks is really honored from a military recruiting perspective to be a part of that. And I think we’re going to be able to build a relationship that can last.”

Career Opportunity Days, a joint venture between the USO and Hire Heroes USA, give transitioning service members the chance to do mock interviews and get real-time feedback with perspective employers. Sometimes, those interviews turn into real jobs.

USO Partner Kroger Hosts 13 Red, White and BBQ Events for Troops and Families Around the World

Kroger — a longtime USO partner — understands how many family dinners America’s troops miss while they’re deployed. As a gesture of their appreciation, the grocery giant hosted Red, White and BBQ events in 10 cities and towns across the United States and three additional celebrations on U.S. bases in Germany and Kuwait serving roughly 7,000 troops and their families.

Kroger has been a USO partner since 2010, raising more than $11.9 million through its Honoring Our Heroes program. The funds support USO programs and services that help troops and military families from the moment they join, through deployments and as they transition into civilian life.

Meet Bandit: The Comforting Canine at USO Fort Leonard Wood

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Missouri—When Kelly Gist adopted Bandit three-and-a-half years ago, she didn’t expect him to become a healer.

Sickly, underweight and suffering from a number of health issues before adoption, the great dane pup looked like he needed more help than he would ever be able to give.

But as Bandit grew stronger and healthier, and started accompanying Gist to her job at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist saw Bandit was more than an average rescue dog.

“We would bring him into the USO, and as he grew, his interactions with the troops were unbelievable and we realized he had something else to give [and decided to train him as a therapy dog],” said Gist, the USO Fort Leonard Wood center director.

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Bandit lays on Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Albrecht. USO photo by Sandi Moynihan

Whether it’s visiting patients at the hospital, comforting troops at the Warrior Transition Unit or hanging out with military families at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist says Bandit is always ready to comfort those in need.

“If anyone can spend five minutes with him, even two, they’ll realize the difference he can make in someone’s day,” Gist said.

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The Stories Behind the Modern Military Salute

Navy photo

Photo courtesy of the Navy

When it comes to the hand salute, everyone seems to agree on two things: (1) it’s always a sign of camaraderie and (2) no one knows its exact origin.

But everyone has a theory.

Let’s start with the practical application. Raising the right hand to one’s cap or forehead is not only a gesture of respect, but also a signal that you’re not wielding a weapon (which was far more important information a few centuries ago than it is in today’s military settings). Some believe the salute is the evolution of a gesture dating back a few thousand years when assassins were more prevalent in both military and government circles.

There are other theories, too, dating back to medieval times. The most popular involves knights lifting their visors to identify themselves to superiors.

Whatever ancient customs are to be believed, it’s also reasonable to infer the modern salute is a replacement for removing one’s hat in the presence of a superior. According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, a British order book from 1745 dictates “men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands and bow as they pass.” A page on the Quartermasters’ website explains military headgear had become so complicated and cumbersome by the time of the American Revolution, saluting was just an expedient change to protocol.

Department of Defense photo

Department of Defense photo

Today’s Salute

According to the Armed Forces History Museum, today’s standard salute – right hand touching the brim of the head cover with the palm down – was in place by 1820. The museum says the palm down portion of the salute may have been influenced by the salute style of the British Navy at the time. A sailor’s hands were often dirty, and exposing a dirty palm – especially to a superior – would have been deemed disrespectful. A correlating legend has it that Queen Victoria was once saluted with a dirty hand and declared thereafter that British sailors would salute with their hands at a 90-degree angle.

So who is always entitled to a salute?

  • The President of the United States
  • Commissioned and warrant officers
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Officers of allied foreign countries

What occasions should a service member give a salute?

Civilians have probably seen some of these instances in daily life (especially at a ceremony or a high-profile sporting event). But with rare exception, service members should render salutes in these circumstances:

  • During the playing of any national anthem
  • When the colors of the United States are presented
  • During official ceremonies
  • At a ceremonial reveal or retreat
  • During the raising or lowering of the American flag
  • During the Pledge of Allegiance
  • When reporting to a superior
  • When changing control of a formation

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When can service members skip a salute?

There’s protocol, and then there’s practicality. Salutes are not required when addressing a prisoner, when someone is in civilian clothing or when it would be tough or inappropriate to execute (for example, when someone is carrying equipment in both hands or at a crucial point of performing a complex task). Also, salutes are not usually required indoors, unless reporting to an officer while on guard duty, participating in an official ceremony or reporting to a commander or a military board. For a more nuanced look at salute rules, you can search out each individual service’s regulations on honors and salutes online (the Army’s can be found here).

Should civilians perform a hand salute when they see a service member?

Service members don’t expect salutes from civilians, even if those civilians are military employees or contractors. In fact, it could create an awkward moment unless the service member knows the civilian doing the saluting or recognizes the civilian to be a veteran. However, there aren’t any restrictions against saluting, either. The United States Constitution’s First Amendment protection for free speech and expression gives civilians the ability to do what they want when greeting anyone.

Our advice? Smile. Maybe say “hello.” And if you’re so inclined, shake their hand and thank them for their service.