USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda is a Place Wounded Warriors Can Call Home
Sometimes, the mental grind of a recovery can be as tough as the physical obstacles.
That’s why the USO opened the second of two Warrior and Family Centers at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland, the home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in April.
“You can come here and cook food if you want to. You can come here and barbecue if you want to. You can come here and watch movies, play video games, learn music, use the Internet … all that is here,” said medically retired Army Sgt. Kevin Gatson, a recent patient at Bethesda. “I think this will give someone a place to kind of sit back, reflect, relax, work on themselves just on a personal level — a worry-free zone in a sense.”
Like its sister center on the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital campus in Virginia, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda provides a place where families can come together for everything from meals and game nights to post-military career counseling and classes.
“I go to my room, because a lot of times I just don’t feel like talking to anybody,” said Marine Cpl. Rebecca Fletcher, who lost her leg in a motorcycle accident and is recovering from her injuries at Bethesda. “But coming down here (to the center), you end up running into someone that you know and you end up in a conversation. The next thing you know, you’re forgetting about the pain [and] you’re forgetting about the mental things that get to you throughout the day.”
“When you have had a full day of appointments … you’re exhausted both mentally and physically,” said Navy Capt. David Bitonti, Naval Support Activity Bethesda commander. He said that the new facility, which opened in April, is an additional place of respite for wounded troops and provides a place where they can relax and recover.
“[This center] allows you to go and recharge the battery so that when you have to do whatever it is that you need to do the next day, you’re the best person that you can be.”
Wounded Troops and Their Families Hit the Beach at Warrior Week
More than 550 wounded warriors and their families headed to Virginia Beach, Virginia, in May to enjoy surf, sand and sun as part of the USO’s inaugural Warrior Week.
“The city of Virginia Beach approached me and asked if the USO could expand the programs and services that we’re doing for the wounded, ill and injured here in Virginia Beach,” said Jeff Hill, USO regional vice president, U.S. “We did the research … and found out that outdoor activities [were] one of the favorite things that our wounded, ill and injured like to do.”
With the help of the USO and local adaptive outdoor recreational organizations, participants enjoyed activities like kayaking, surfing, waterskiing and deep-sea fishing. Wounded warriors and their families were also invited to attend free outdoor concerts and shows by local performers and the USO Show Troupe.
“We wanted outdoor recreational activities that could include the families,” Hill said.
At the end of each day’s activities, Warrior Week participants were invited to attend the Patriot Festival to enjoy food and free performances by top recording artists including The Band Perry, Jake Owen and Little Big Town.
“I can tell you the vast majority [of the wounded warriors] had an absolute blast,” Hill said.
Dr. J.D. Crouch II Becomes President and CEO of the USO
Former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Deputy National Security Advisor Dr. J.D. Crouch II was named the 23rd president and CEO of the USO on June 23.
“I know I am fortunate to be able to join a remarkable USO family that encompasses colleagues, volunteers, supporters and their families,” Crouch said. “I am proud to join and lead this team and eager to begin our work together.”
Most recently, Dr. Crouch served as CEO of QinetiQ North America, a position he left in May. From 2001 to 2003, he served as former President George W. Bush’s assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, focusing on missile defense, nuclear forces and technology security. He later served 10 months as the U.S. ambassador to Romania before returning to Washington in March of 2005 to assume the role of deputy national security advisor.
“I know that J.D. Crouch is the right leader at the right time for the USO,” said retired Air Force General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the USO Board of Governors. “He comes to the USO with a record of government service, leadership and innovation, but most important of all, he has a deep and abiding passion for our men and women who serve this country.”
Crouch started his new role with the USO on July 28.
Despite Logistics, USO Pacific Centers Help Troops Celebrate Birthdays Far From Home
Birthdays aren’t supposed to be stressful. But when you’re separated by the world’s largest ocean and a dozen time zones, nothing is easy.
Luckily, families with loved ones serving in the Pacific don’t have to figure out the closest bakery to base, or if that bakery can translate their message or even deliver the cake. All they have to do is contact USO Pacific and ask about Operation Birthday Cake.
“USO Pacific’s Operation Birthday Cake is an amazing signature program that connects loved ones around the world,” said Carly Harris, USO Pacific regional vice president. So far, the program has delivered over 1,000 surprise birthday cakes to troops serving in the Pacific.
For many stateside families, an OBC surprise is the easiest way they can send warm wishes and celebrate their deployed loved one’s special day.
“[The service member’s family is] just happy that we could reach out and do something special for their loved one on a day when sometimes they can’t even call because of the time difference, technology, or whatever the issue may be,” said USO Camp Casey Manager Katie Kerr.
Celebs and BET Experience Attendees Sends Messages of Thanks to Troops
Some did it for their family members. Others did it for fun. And some just thought it was the right thing to do.
The USO parked one of its custom USO Mobile vehicles in the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 28 at the BET Experience and asked attendees and celebrities to send personal messages of thanks to America’s troops.
“So many of us want to say thank you and often times we don’t know how,” said Sonya Lockett, BET vice president of corporate social responsibility. “And this is just such a great way to be able to say thank you to our military all over the world.”
Lockheed Martin Volunteers, PGA Tour Fans Build Deployment Kits for Military Kids
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 helped Quicken Loans National golf tournament spectators at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, assemble hundreds of With You all The Way Deployment Kits for military children in June.
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. The unique kit helps children deal with deployment challenges and even establishes valuable knowledge for the reintegration process.
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.
The kits are designed to help kids tackle difficult issues unique to growing up in a military family.
“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 deployment kits. “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.”
Air Force Vet Now Serves Troops at USO Shindand
In his words, Frank Stinson joined up with the USO in 2009 because he “just wanted to give something back to our active-duty military.”
Today, the 21-year Air Force veteran is serving again—as the center manager of the USO Center on Forward Operating Base Shindand in Afghanistan.
USO Shindand, situated on a dusty airfield on the western plains of Afghanistan, offers forward-deployed troops a respite away from the everyday rigors of combat. Stinson, an Arkansas native, said that the troops who visit his center come to recharge and reconnect with loved ones.
“They want a relaxed place to come [to] and they want computer access and phones to be able to call home,” Stinson wrote in an email.
In addition to valuable connectivity, USO Shindand also offers troops two TV lounges and a movie theater boasting a 72-inch plasma TV. The three-tent facility was built by troops and civilian contractors in 2012 and 2013 and has a welcoming, small-town feel.
Stinson said that meeting troops, learning about their varied backgrounds and giving them much-needed support are the best parts of his job.
“With what we provide to the troops, this is the most gratifying job I have had.”