Support Coming in WAVES: WWII Community Group Distributes Neck Pillows to Military Travelers at USO San Diego

WAVES members have made roughly 2,000 neck pillows for troops and families who visit the USO Neil Ash Airport Center. USO photo

WAVES members have made roughly 2,000 neck pillows for troops and families who visit the USO Neil Ash Airport Center. USO photo

You know those nifty neck pillows they sell at the airport? Well, if you’re a service member traveling through the San Diego International Airport, you may be able to score yourself a hand-crafted version sewn by a World War II-era female veteran for free.

Taking the lead from their counterparts in the Dallas area, a group of industrious female veterans known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) have been hand-sewing thousands of neck pillows to give out for free to service members as they pass through USO of San Diego’s Neil Ash Airport Center.

“It all started when we saw the WAVES in Dallas doing it, and at first we asked for the pattern so we could join their effort,” said Barbara Ellis, one of a small group of WAVES remaining in the San Diego chapter. “But then we asked ourselves why we weren’t just making them for the local USO, since there’s so many military here in the San Diego area.”

Ellis, who joined the Navy in 1954, is one of the younger ladies in the chapter. She helps to organize, plan and pull together the materials necessary to create the pillows. After collecting donated fabrics from volunteers at the USO of San Diego, the WAVES purchase filler and thread from the local Wal-Mart and then form up into an assembly line and turn out the pillows one at a time.

Ellis said the WAVES have distributed thousands of neck pillows in all shapes and sizes – yes they even make small ones for toddlers and even smaller ones for babies – to military families from around the world since starting the project in April 2012.

“USO San Diego strives to provide comforts of home for our traveling service members,” said Judy Forrester, President and CEO of USO San Diego. “Through our partnership with WAVES, we are able to distribute over 2,000 comfy travel neck pillows, handmade with care using fabric donated from the supportive San Diego community.”

Each week the ladies deliver approximately 20 more hand-made neck pillows to the center.

“We are always in need of fabric,” Ellis said, “and the filler costs money, too, so any help we can get would always be appreciated.”

‘I didn’t even know I had PTSD': Def Leppard’s Rick Allen Talks About Mental Health During Tour that’s Raising Money for the USO

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen didn’t let a life-changing obstacle derail his career. Not that it wasn’t hard. Allen lost his left arm in a car accident on New Year’s Eve 1984. But as he shares in this video, it was the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder that lasted long after his physical rehab.

Allen and Def Leppard are currently touring with KISS. The bands donating a portion of the proceeds to the USO and other military non-profits that help transitioning troops.

You can see the guys from KISS talking about their commitment to helping veterans get hired in the video below. And check out KISS’s website for military discounts at their remaining tour stops this summer.

‘I Couldn’t Stop Smiling’: USO Creates a Night to Remember for a Military Couple with CMA Music Festival Tickets

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

The Hendricks family was due for some quality time, and the USO had just the ticket. Two of them, in fact.

Within weeks of Sgt. Richie Hendricks return from deployment, USO Fort Campbell announced on their Facebook page that a generous donor had given two passes to each night of the CMA Music Festival, the largest country music festival of the year in Nashville, Tennessee. The only requirement to win the tickets was to share a story about why going to the event was so important.

Sgt. Ritchie and Danielle Hendrickson

Sgt. Richie and Danielle Hendrickson

USO Fort Campbell Program Director Kelli Pendleton and others read dozens of stories from spouses seeking to give a gift to a significant other. The first set of tickets was given to the Hendricks family, whose story included the following passage:

“The reason I would love to win these tickets is to surprise my wife with a date night she has not had in over a year-and-a-half,” Hendricks wrote. “She has been a single mom that whole time due to a year deployment I just returned from in March and then immediately afterwards in April I was sent to Texas [to attend the Army’s Advanced Leader Course] and for a few months before I left we were training for deployment. My wife is the biggest country fan I know and she has made me into a huge country fan, and it’s the one genre of music we can listen to and just relax and have a good time. I would love to get these tickets and take her to the concert and give her the one night she has not had in such a long time and make her truly happy.”

The Hendrickses received a pair of tickets to the opening-night show on June 5.

“This was the perfect way to end a long year away from each other,” said Danielle Hendricks, a former soldier, military spouse and mother of two.“Being pregnant and not having your husband by your side through it was hard, plus raising a 2-year-old who was completely attached to her daddy was the hardest part because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t have her daddy with her.”

The Hendrickses have been married for five years, but 24-year-old Danielle, originally from San Bernardino, California, has been country music fan her whole life.

“CMA fest was amazing,” she said. “When we found out we were going to CMA fest I couldn’t stop smiling. I have always wanted to go but never lived close enough or had the opportunity.

“All the artists were better live then I imagined. The fans of country music are always so nice and cheerful it makes for a great experience to be surrounded by people who share the same love for country music.”

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

“The shows were absolutely amazing and completely shattered our expectations,” said 24-year-old Richie Hendricks of Monroe, Michigan. “The fans were so great and we were all immediately friends before the concert even started it seemed like.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t the Hendricks’ first — or even second — experience with the USO.

Richie was introduced to a USO volunteer before he even met his first drill sergeant due to a delay getting to boot camp, and USO Northwest rescued his growing family when they were caught in a long delay at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“It was Christmas and we had our daughter at the time and she was under a year old and this USO had a nursery with cribs and a changing table and extra diapers,” Danielle said. “[It] was such a lifesaver that we had that available to us in such a tight spot.”

“They absolutely saved the day,” Richie said. “The staff was absolutely amazing and made my wife feel really comfortable with the whole situation.

“The USO has been absolutely amazing throughout my military career from literally day one,” he added. “We’re both grateful to be at home, together with our family, and even more grateful to have the support of our fellow countrymen who so generously gave these tickets to us through the USO. You made our year.”

Teeing Up Military Kids for Success: Lockheed Martin Volunteers Help Quicken Loans National Golf Tournament Attendees Build Deployment Kits

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BETHESDA, Md.–When children are faced with a parent’s deployment — or worse, a parent who doesn’t return from deployment — they encounter emotions which may be difficult to express.

Understanding this, volunteers from Lockheed Martin are helping Quicken Loans National spectators at Congressional Country Club — including many military families — assemble hundreds of With You all The Way Deployment Kits for military children this week.

The USO — in partnership with the Trevor Romain Company and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids — uses the With You All the Way program to support children ages 6 to 18 tackling difficult issues unique to growing up in a military family.

The unique kit helps children deal with deployment challenges and even establishes valuable knowledge for the reintegration process.

“This is just a great cause, and it’s so awesome to see kids — a lot of military kids, in fact, but others as well — coming in to pack deployment kits for other kids,” said Laura Stewart of Lockheed Martin. Stewart is one of many Lockheed Martin volunteers staffing the USO deployment kit assembly tent this week at the Quicken Loan National.

The deployment kit is centered around the “With You All the Way! Dealing With Deployment” DVD, which was created as a collaboration between The Comfort Crew and the USO. The Comfort Crew was founded by humorist Trevor Romain, who frequently tours with the USO, sharing life lessons with military children such as how to deal with bullies, facing fears, coping with separation and understanding grief.

“I am a full-on supporter of the USO and what they do for military families,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Tyler Barnes, a military caddy who helped construct a deployment kit Wednesday. “I’ve seen all of the support here at home and downrange. It’s just a great organization and they do a lot of great stuff for the military.”

The deployment kits include:

  • The animated “With You All the Way! Dealing with Deployment” DVD
  • A guided writing journal with prompts, calendar, map, and activities
  • The “With You All The Way! Dealing With Deployment Family Guidebook
  • A set of 10 postcards featuring original artwork by Romain
  • Cuzzie, a plush bear for military kids
  • A pair of imprinted dog tags to share with a deploying parent

A Long Way for a Surprise: USO Helps Mom Continue Tradition of Getting Unlikely Gifts to Air Force Daughter on Birthday

Emily Arthur received a birthday surprise courtesy of USO Bagram thanks to her enterprising mother.

Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur received a birthday surprise in 2012 courtesy of USO Bagram thanks to her enterprising mother.

No matter where she’s been stationed the last decade, Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur’s mother Jeanne McConnell has always found a way to surprise her on her birthday.

The challenges differed from year to year, base to base. One year she snuck a cake into the Air Force Academy during Arthur’s freshman year. Another year she embarrassed her daughter in front of her first command with a sheet cake made from a childhood photograph of 12-year-old Arthur in a Star Trek costume.

“She’s usually absolutely horrified,” said McConnell, a USO Delaware volunteer. “She’s got a prankster for a mother, and of course most of the time it’s totally embarrassing. But I know she loves it.”

Arthur deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, presenting McConnell her most challenging surprise birthday connection to date.

“It was my 30th birthday, so it was kind of a big one,” said Arthur, who was born Feb. 28, 1982. “And you know, I was sad, because it’s hard enough being away from home. I’d pretty much written off any chance of receiving anything.”

Arthur had just arrived at Bagram Air Base. Her mail wasn’t showing up yet. And with all the mortar attacks the base was getting, there wasn’t much celebrating going on.

McConnell knew there was a USO at Bagram Air Base, so she thought she would at least give it a try.

“It’s always been a challenge, but I’ve never been unsuccessful,” McConnell said. “But I really thought Bagram was going to be my Waterloo.”

Through a sequence of emails, however, Jeanne was connected with Scott Wilhite, the director of the Pat Tillman Memorial USO at Bagram East, who told McConnell he’d find a way to make the moment happen.

“It may not be the traditional birthday cake,” Wilhite wrote, “but we will think of something.”

Working only with the information that Arthur worked in contracting near the main gate, the USO was able to track her down and deliver the birthday surprise.

“A group of people came into the building and I thought for sure they were just more customers,” Arthur said. “But when I saw the USO logo, I just knew my mom sent them and the tears started flowing.

“It made a huge difference for me I just thought ‘Wow, I cannot believe she was able to get something to me from halfway across the world through the USO.'”

“It still makes me cry to think about all those people helping us reach out and touch our daughter in the war zone,” McConnell wrote in a thank you email to Wilhite. “THIS is why I volunteer … to pay it forward for all the USO’s around the world that have been there for Emily and her husband during their [Air Force] careers. I want to be that volunteer that makes that ‘special day’ for someone else’s son or daughter.”

This year, Arthur’s parents flew out to Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, to visit her on her birthday, but this year Arthur had a surprise of her own. And it has to do with her mother’s birthday later this fall.

“We already got your present,” Arthur told her mother. “But you have to come here to get it. It’s going to be delivered on your birthday.”

“What is it?” McConnell asked.

“Your first grandchild,” she said with a smile. “I’m pregnant!”

By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Multimedia Journalist

Support in Reverse: Guardsmen Help Out USO South Carolina Staffer Who Got a Flat Tire on Way to Restock Camp McCrady

South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Gene Parker - along with Sgt. 1st Class Charles Boone - provided clutch roadside assistance for the USO over the weekend. USO photo

South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Gene Parker – along with Sgt. 1st Class Charles Boone – provided clutch roadside assistance for the USO over the weekend. USO photo

For the past three years, the USO has provided a day room at Camp McCrady, South Carolina, a remote installation where the Army trains some Navy personnel before deployment. Because of its remote location, National Guardsmen maintain the day room and USO staff checks in on it and delivers supplies as needed.

Last weekend, USO South Carolina Program Manager Katie Kennedy got a flat tire on her way to restock the day room. She immediately called range operations to let them know she would be delayed. She didn’t expect what happened next.

“I wasn’t even on Camp McCrady yet,” Kennedy said. “But they dropped everything to come to my rescue.”

South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Gene Parker and Sgt. 1st Class Charles Boone drove out to Kennedy’s Jeep, changed the flat tire and got her back on the road.

“They knew I was coming out to support the deployment, so I was basically essential personnel,” she said. “It really tells you a lot about how valued your services are when troops act with such haste to make sure you get there on time.

“We’re out there trying to make moments count for them, and here they turn around and make one count for me.”