‘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

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

 

Sisters in Arms, Comrades at Heart: A Valentine’s Day Celebration

Kelli Picker Skypes with service women at the USO in Kandahar

Kellie Pickler Skypes with service women at a USO in the Middle East

Songs have been written about them and movies made but nothing beats a real-life GNO! What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s a good old-fashioned “Girls Night Out,” and lets be honest, most of us need one every now and again.

No matter the reason or occasion, women around the world have been getting together to laugh, bond and make some life-long memories and friendships. And our servicewomen in Afghanistan and Kuwait are no exception.  Amidst desert conditions, high-stress missions and the added strain of missing their family and loved ones, they’ve managed to take comfort and find strength in their sisterhood.

You won’t find them at their favorite restaurant, or catching the latest tearjerker at the local movie theater, because they’re on a mission to protect and serve and are deployed in theater.  But once a month, you can find them at their local USO centers taking a break from the stresses of deployment, letting their hair down and getting as glammed as one can in the middle of warzone.

Always looking for innovative ways to serve our troops, USO centers in Southwest Asia recognized that the deployed female military population was in need of some Tender Loving Care and instituted their monthly “Ladies Night” events, where troops are given a private space (women only) to pamper themselves.  From nail polish, to sweet treats and chick flicks, USO centers supply servicewomen with the touches of home they’ve been missing.

When six-time USO tour veteran Kellie Pickler traveled to Afghanistan, to perform and show her support for servicemen and women, she came home realizing just how hard it is to for a woman to feel like a woman when she spends her days and nights in the desert, dressed in camouflage.  Once she heard about the USO’s “Ladies Nights,” Pickler knew she wanted to get involved and what better time than Valentine’s Day.  That’s why this Feb. 14th, the singer/songwriter and a team of her sponsors shipped off a supply of items to USO Centers in Afghanistan and Kuwait– so that our servicewomen could have an extra special day of pampering.

“I am grateful to all of our servicemen and women for the sacrifices they make, but I have a special place in my heart for servicewomen. They are some brave, beautiful and dedicated women. That’s why I wanted to do something special just for them this Valentine’s Day.  While our servicewomen are spending this time away from their families and loved ones I wanted them to be able to take a moment and pamper themselves” – Kellie Pickler

Pickler’s support didn’t end there.  She wanted our servicewomen to know exactly how much she appreciated their sacrifices and she told them via Skype.  Troops at USO Kandahar and USO Shindand in Afghanistan and USO Camp Buehring in Kuwait LIVE chatted with the songstress and heard first-hand about how much their service means to America.  And for those USO centers that couldn’t participate, due to connectivity restraints, Pickler recorded a special message of support.

Everyday that our deployed servicewomen are away from home they are missing out on the opportunity to fulfill their roles as mother, wife, sister, daughter or friend.  And there is no doubt that they are missed by their families and loved ones. Even in the harshest of conditions and when the heartache of homesickness seems overwhelming, our troops know that they can lean on each other and that no one understands what they are going through more than their sisters in arms. While we can’t recreate the moments in life that they are missing, we can show our appreciation and let them know how much their service means to us all.   With support from the American public and celebrity volunteers like Kellie Pickler the USO will always be there for our troops delivering goodness and support wherever they serve.   – Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist

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See more pictures at the USO Kandahar Facebook Page and USO Camp Marmal Facebook Page!

Google, USO Honor Military With Circus Performance

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 1.00.37 PMAs a part of Veterans Week NYC, the USO and Google teamed up with Big Apple Circus to provide laughs for more than 1,500 veterans, active duty service members and their families! This special performance opened with a full military color guard, with the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ performed by the USO Liberty Bells, and an had a guest ringmaster, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Paul Bucha of the U.S. Army. The show was held in NYC’s Lincoln Center and also streamed live on both YouTube and Google+.

Jenny Milewski, wife of SSGT Bryan Milewski  said “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to see the Big Apple Circus! Each family member had a favorite part—we had never been to the Big Apple Circus, but we are now going to make it a family tradition! This was one of the highlights of Veterans Week, and the USO has been so wonderful to our family.”

Watch some of the highlights with your family now!