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USO, Jack Daniel’s Team Up to Toast to the Troops

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More than 5,000 Operation USO Care Packages were assembled Thursday by military spouses as part of the 20th “Toast to the Troops” care package assembly event. USO North Carolina volunteers and Jack Daniel’s employees took part in the event at the Fort Bragg fairgrounds. Following the assembly event, country music star and Army veteran Craig Morgan treated more than 3,000 troops, military families and members of the Fort Bragg community to a free concert.

“If it were not for these men and women who are serving, the people we are packing these bags for, we would not live in the country we live in today,” Morgan said.  “And it is imperative that we take care of them.”

The USO and Jack Daniel’s have worked together on these events for eight years. The USO has distributed more than 2.3 million care packages since the program began in 2003.  In addition to providing service men and women with needed items, the care packages serve as a touch of home and a reminder to our troops that America is always by their side.

–Story by USO Story Development

A Journey to Brotherhood

“Brotherhood is not defined by the bond of blood, but the common tint of the soul” – Frisco Cruise

I’ve watched enough war movies and sports themed dramas to realize that the bonds of brotherhood run deep, but growing up in a household of four women, I never had the opportunity to see those bonds forming in real life.  Well, that was until my recent trip to Kuwait and Germany as part of the weeklong Power 106 & Nick Cannon N’Credible All-Star USO Basketball Tour.

Ready to play some ball!

Ready to play some ball!

Think seven guys (platinum recording artist Baby Bash, Power 106 radio personalities Big Boy, DJ E-man and DJ Thirty Two, actors Arlen Escarpeta and NaNa as well as professional athlete Michael “AirDogg” Stewart) and me, the lone female, packed into one vehicle and you get the story of how I learned about brotherhood on a bus in Kuwait.

A team of 20, we were divided into two groups.  The first included multi-faceted entertainer Nick Cannon and artists from his N’Credible record label Kristinia DeBarge, boy band 4Count and hip-hop artists PWD, and we were the second group.  The objective of the trip, boost troop morale with some good-old fashioned team competition – basketball, anyone?

Our first stop was Camp Buehring in Kuwait.  Our mode of transportation, two 12-passenger vehicles.  Travel time, two hours.  As we headed toward our destination, I was unaware that I was undertaking a journey all my own.

The bus was alive with chatter.   From the Power 106 players recalling their “best of” moments on the court to USO tour veterans Baby Bash and Big Boy reliving their previous USO tour together, it seemed that every sentence began with “Remember that game…” or “Remember that time when…” followed by the laughter that can only come from shared memories.   And then there was me, quietly listening because it was clear that what was happening here was the same thing that could’ve been happening in locker rooms thousands of miles away, or here in Kuwait, in the middle of the dessert where the soldier next to you quickly becomes the brother who protects you – a brotherhood was forming.   And in what seemed like a blink of an eye, two hours had passed and we had arrived at our destination.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.02.46 PMGame time and its standing room only on the outdoor basketball court. A sandstorm on the horizon and you could feel the energy and excitement from both teams.  Cheers and laughter erupted from the sidelines as Big Boy emceed the game, and if it weren’t for the glare of reflector belts, the camouflaged uniforms and the blast walls, I could have been watching any pick-up game at a neighborhood court.

Both teams played hard and it was the Power 106/N”Credible team who finished with top points.  At the end of the game, players from both teams met center court to shake hands, hug and extend their compliments for a game well played. These men and women had sweated together, competed with and against each other, laughed with each other and from what I could tell neither team walked away with winning or losing on their mind, it was the experience they were taking away with them.

As we loaded into our buses and I settled back into my seat of anonymity, the chatter began again but this time it wasn’t about past experiences.  It was about the day, the people they’d met, the servicemen and women they played against and how the experience had changed their lives.  It was clear that being able to say ‘thank you’ to our troops, to bring them a break from their day-to-day activities and to hear from our servicemen and women how much that meant to them, was something that would forever connect these men to our troops.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.01.53 PMOften we think that something really big has to happen to have an impact on our lives, but sometimes it’s a combination of experiences that do the trick.  Being able to listen and watch as these men grew closer over their experience, combined with my own history with the military – hearing from troops how during deployments your fellow soldiers become your family –made me realize that there are brothers who we are born to love, and those whose bonds are forged in experience.  And those kinds of bonds don’t take a lifetime to make, sometimes the time it takes to play a basketball game or travel from one point to another is all you need.

We can’t all go to the places our troops are deployed to show our support, but there are ways that we as Americans can let them know that we are always by their side, and that we recognize the sacrifices they make to serve our country.  To find out how you can help visit us online at www.uso.org.   – Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist 

Thank You for the Memory

Debbie Fink – co-author of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel“ is currently on a USO tour of the Pacific talking to children from military families. Here is a blog post about her trip:

Alas, all momentous memories must come to an “intermission” as they become – memories.

DSC00946 copyOur whirlwind, 26-event Little C.H.A.M.P.S (Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel) USO Tour through mainland Japan and Okinawa, reaching 6,000+ Champs, is now settling into a monumental memory.

Thank you for the memory bound in classes filing in, singing  their song, “The Little Champs.”  Thank you to DoDEA’s music educators who took the time to teach it.

Thank you for the memory created as we exalted the Champs from each of the five branches, as the USO’s talented Cristin Perry led them singing their branch hymn while I roamed with my fiddle – getting close up and personal.  Each hymn was followed by everyone calling out in voice and American Sign Language (ASL):  “Go [NAVY] Champs!”

Thank you for the memory born as I shared the ‘backstory’ about the Little Champs’ book and song, followed by viewing  the Little Champs YouTube video, linking aural learning with visual learning: 

Thank you for the memory imbedded in reviewing a writer’s Six Golden Questions (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How);  and answering the questions in our book.  Hats off to our 156 volunteers, dubbed the Golden Questioneers!

Thank you for the memory fixed in my retelling the story’s plot on one foot in the yoga tree pose in ~25 seconds!

Thank you for the memory steeped in introducing each of our book’s characters, branch by branch, giving the Champs ways to “connect” to each character.  Our USMC character Lo even got me cartwheeling again (26x) ~ now that’s quite a memory!

Thank you for the memory set as we addressed the challenge of being on-the-move as Champs, collectively conducting  research identifying the “mode” for the total number of moves made by our Champs thus far.  The overall mode was 3-4 times.  Our Champs became statisticians!

Thank you for the memory rooted as we dug deeper, addressing other challenges faced by Champs:  deployments, injuries/wounds, and homecomings (reintegration).  Thank you to the 234 “Emotioneers;” the Champs who held out the emotions discussed at each event, as we addressed the need to feel and deal with, and identify, our emotions.

Thank you for the memory as we highlighted that it is a Champ’s  right to ask for help; that communication and community are key; and that it is our responsibility, as trusted adults, to respond to their pleas for help.

Thank you for the memory implanted in our emphasis on how each Champs is special, and has a spark.  They loved watching my co-author/songwriter Jen Fink, who was beamed in from the University of Maryland, alongside her oversized bear, delivering her message of gratitude and our “Heart Smart A-B-C Song” (available on OperationChamps.org).

DSC00735Thank you for the memory placed in Champs “finding” their Heart Smart Magnifying Lens, and filling it with virtues – taught in ASL – that they’ve already ‘learned and earned,’ simply by being a Champ:  Worldliness; Honor; Loyalty; Patriotism; Communication and Community; Adaptability and Flexibility; and gobs of our Gratitude for all they do for America.

Thank you for the memory sharing some role playing about positive differences between civilian kids and Champs (e.g., Civilians say ‘Goodbye;’ Champs say ‘Farewell.’”)

Thank you for the memory – hearing ~36 shining singers lead their peers, singing The National Anthem.  The audience stood tall and proud, hands over hearts, reflecting upon how they and their families help keep America ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ as they sang.

Thank you for the memory – the soaring memories amidst the incredible memories – when we concluded each ‘edu-tainment’ event clapping and singing “The Little Champs” at the top of our lungs, dancing on the tips of our toes, and smiling from ear to ear.  The resounding cheer at the end, the “Go Champs!” – shouted and signed in ASL by all – reverberated ‘round the room, and reverberates in our hearts.

Thank you for the memory – seeing the Champs file out, class by class, with song in their hearts; dance in their steps; pride in their souls; virtues on their mind; and a Little Champs book awaiting their li’l hands.

Thank you for the memory that comes from working with such committed, compassionate, and competent staff and volunteers at both the USO and DoDEA.

With a heartfelt attitude of gratitude to all involved, and especially to our 6,000 shining Champs that currently reside in mainland Japan and Okinawa, I conclude with a quote from Bob Hope’s signature song, “Thank You for the Memory”:  Awfully glad I met you / Cheerio and toodle-oo / Thank you.

To close with “The Little Champs’” signature song, Goodbyes are not forever / Goodbyes are not the end / They simply mean we’ll miss you / Until we meet again!

I’m ready to make more memories!  Go Champs!  Go USO! – Debbie Fink, Author, Edutainer And USO Tour Vet

For more information on the tour, visit:  facebook.com/AuthorDebbieFink or OperationChamps.org

‘Little C.H.A.M.P.S’ Author Fink Shares Stories from USO Tour to Japan

Debbie Fink – co-author of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel” is currently on a USO tour of the Pacific talking to children from military families. Here is a blog post about her trip:

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Author Debbie Fink, center, is on a USO tour in Japan. USO photo

A sandy-haired child scoots out of line after a Little C.H.A.M.P.S event to ask me “But what if I don’t feel any of those emotions ever?”

We had discussed the importance of identifying our emotions. Happy. Sad. Scared. Angry. Worried. Surprised. Embarrassed. Confused. In Denial (with explanation).

Now here’s a Champ who, at the very least, has endured multiple moves and parental deployments and homecomings. And yet he views himself as emotionless.

Anyone who has taken Psychology 101 would recognize that there is some suppression of emotions going on here. I have less than a minute with him to respond before he’s swooped into the exit line.

“Okay. You’re tuning in. Now is a good time to talk about your thoughts with a trusted adult. Keep communicating. You could visit your guidance counselor. I suggest you share with her what you shared with me.”

And he was gone.

Right behind him a bubbly, brown-eyed boy bumped along, saying, “My dad is deploying. Aaaaaagain. Now I know I can tell him that I’m feeling worried. And angry. And scared, too.” I have mere moments to say, “Good! It will help you and your dad to talk about how you’re feeling. Keep communicating.”

And he was gone.

After another performance, a giggly group of girl Champs approached me. The ‘spokesgirl’ said, “We love our ‘Little C.H.A.M.P.S’ song! We listen to it over and over! And your ‘Heart Smart’ song is awesome!” Then their stream of questions tripped over each other: “Did you really write it for your kids? Did you really fix it for us? Was that really your daughter singing? Is it on YouTube? She’s got a pretty voice! So does the USO lady who sang!” Chuckling, I answered, “Yes; yes; yes; not yet, though it’s posted on OperationChamps.org – but ask a parent to look for it with you. And thanks – I’ll tell them you said they have pretty voices!“

And they were gone.

Then there was the Champ who asked quietly as she passed, “Am I really special? Do I really have a spark?” Following my emphatic, reassuring “YES! YES!!” response, she was gone.

A last moment engraved in my soul was the precious li’l Champ who, on her way out, looked at me and said, “Can I hug you?  ‘Cuz I feel like you hugged me!” After our real hug and shared moment, she was gone.

These vignettes capture the li’l hearts and minds of the incredible Champs encountered during our first 10  “edutainment” performances in mainland Japan.   While these Champs came and went, heading back to life-on-the-move, they are emblazoned in my heart forever.

Thanks to the USO and its teamwork with the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA), each of the 6,000 Champs we visit in mainland Japan and Okinawa is receiving a copy of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S” book – a story that celebrates their selfless service and sacrifice, while giving them coping tools that further fortify their resiliency and character.

One overwhelming takeaway is how beyond impressed I am by the exemplary professionals handling all the logistical details that go into planning and executing this Little C.H.A.M.P.S tour. The USO’s stalwart and skillful team in the Pacific and stateside – working alongside DODEA’s dedicated and committed staff and educators – fills me with the greatest admiration and respect. I must also give a shout out to the USO volunteers who have helped behind-the-scenes to make all this happen!

Sixteen performances await us in Okinawa. Circling back to emotions, I’m so happy to be spreading the goodness and gratitude together with the USO and DODEA; and am already so sad to think that soon I will also . . . be gone.

Though, as is sung in “The Little C.H.A.M.P.S” song, “Goodbyes are not forever / goodbyes are not the end / they simply mean we’ll miss you / until we meet again.”  Farewell, Japan’s Champs! Hello, Okinawa’s Champs! Ready or not, here we come!   Go Champs!

–Debbie Fink

Operation C.H.A.M.P.s’ USO Tour Kicks Off in Japan

After a recent reading of her book “The Little C.H.A.M.P.s – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel,” author Debbie Fink overheard two fourth grade girls discussing an all-too-familiar story.

Debbie Fink, co-author of “The Little C.H.A.M.P.s – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel,” speaks to kids at Fort Meade, Md., on Oct. 25. Fink launched her USO tour in Japan this week. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

One CHAMP asked her civilian classmate what it’s like not having to move all the time. The girl said she liked staying in one place because she could keep the same friends and live in the same house.

The CHAMP admitted she’d never experience anything like that, but quickly found the silver lining, pointing out how excited she is each time she gets to redecorate her room.

With a new understanding of each other, they both agreed to give the book four out of four stars.

“The Little C.H.A.M.P.s” follows the lives of five fictional military children, celebrating their families’ service and sacrifice to our country while showing how they cope with the challenges associated with military life. The book aims to build a bridge of understanding between military kids and their civilian peers.

For the next two weeks, author Debbie Fink will be on a whirlwind tour of Japan and Okinawa “edu-taining” and delivering support and comfort to 6,000 CHAMPS currently living in the Pacific. The USO has teamed with Fink to provide the book free of charge to children in military families in an attempt to prepare them for the ups and downs of life as a dependent.

According to Fink, one of the key drives for the initiative and the inspiration for the book was the Defense Department’s Strengthening our Military Families report. The report says military children in public schools don’t feel like their peers or teachers understand them.

“We have to change that,” Fink said. “We will change that. Child by child, classroom by classroom, school by school, we can make a difference.”

As an Andrews Sisters wannabe (they clocked in 1,000 USO performances supporting our troops), Fink says she can’t think of a greater honor as a civilian than to go on tour with the USO. Fink wants to share some of this momentous experience with readers on Twitter, where they can follow her 25 performances at 13 schools, on Facebook, where they can track her adventures and like her page, and on her blog at OperationCHAMPS.org.

“We hope that by sharing, it will help build a bridge of understanding between our civilian and military worlds,” she said. “We surely owe this — and much more — to our military families.”

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO staff writer

The USO <3’s Drowning Pool

Multi-platinum hard rock band Drowning Pool has been on tour twice for the USO and has just announced their plans to go out for a third time this year!

The band rocks out for the troops during their 2006 tour to Kuwait, Iraq and Germany

Drowning Pool rocks out for the troops during their 2006 tour to Kuwait, Iraq and Germany

In 2005, Drowning Pool set out on their first USO tour visiting troops serving in Kuwait. Their second USO tour, in 2006, saw them returning to Kuwait as well as performing for troops stationed in Iraq and Germany. In total, they have performed 16 USO concerts and delivered their musical talent to more than 20,000 servicemen and women. This is the first USO tour for lead vocalist Jasen Moreno, who joined the multi-platinum band in 2012.

The band catches a break between shows on their 2006 USO Tour

The band catches a break between shows on their 2006 USO Tour

Bassist Stevie Benton took the time to answer a few questions for us:

Why did you start touring with the USO?

Thru the years, we had met a large number of service members at our shows in the states. We would often have some drinks and listen to stories about their deployment. It occurred to us that since these men and women were putting their lives on the line for our country, the least we could do was bring them a rock show and a little taste of home while they were stationed overseas. Thankfully, a friend of ours put us in contact with the USO to make it happen.

What’s one of your most memorable experiences with us?

Our most memorable USO show, and probably our most memorable show ever, was playing in Bagdad on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. I still get chills thinking about it.

If there’s one thing you could say to all the men and women serving right now, what would it be?

I’m sure they must feel a bit isolated and out of touch during their long deployment. But u are not forgotten. You will always have our support and our appreciation.

Buy a copy today!

Buy a copy today!

As part of their continued support of our troops, on April 3, 2013, the band hosted an album release party and invited servicemen and women from their hometown of Dallas, Texas, to celebrate the launch of “Resilience.” The night included a private acoustic performance and an opportunity to meet the band. More than 100 guests attended the event and all proceed from the release party will be donated to the USO. – Vyque White, USO Director of New Media