Faces of the USO: A New Way to Serve

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 2.22.26 PMElizabeth Vallette’s first experience with the USO wasn’t exactly life-changing, but it lifted the spirits of a cash-poor West Point cadet making her way through an airport en route to a training assignment.

“Another cadet came running … up the terminal at us, screaming ‘Free hot dogs at the USO,’” Vallette said.

Later, during a 12-month deployment to Iraq with III Corps in 2004, the USO brought comedian Robin Williams to her base in Baghdad. “His show was perfect timing,” Vallette said. “It was just sinking in that things were not going well. We really needed the pick-me-up, and he delivered.”

After leaving the Army, Vallette spent time as an MBA student at the University of Houston and worked for a Canadian nonprofit in Kabul, Afghanistan.

When the project ended, she saw a job listing for a center director at USO Houston.“It hadn’t ever really occurred to me that you could actually work for the USO … and get paid,” she said.

Since July 2011, she has led a team that serves nearly 35,000 troops and family members with the help of a team of 400 volunteers.

Anyone who wants a taste of Vallette’s Houston hospitality should check out the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s World’s Championship in February and checkout the USO’s entry in the bar-b-cue contest. - Derek Turner, USO Sr. Editor

World War II Heroes Join in D.C. for Day of Honor

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 11.05.27 AMWorld War II veterans will be honored on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day— Dec. 7—with a daylong celebration of their service, beginning with a trip down the National Mall to their memorial and culminating in a screening of the documentary film “Honor Flight” at DAR Constitution Hall. The event is sponsored by Blue Star Families and the USO.

Several veterans featured in the documentary will be in attendance, including Joe Demler of Wisconsin, a Battle of the Bulge infantryman and prisoner of war in Germany. America remembers Demler as the “Human Skeleton” in a 1945 Life magazine photo taken the day he was freed from a prisoner-of-war camp. Also attending is retired Navy Cmdr. Verner Utke-Ramsing of Washington, D.C., who was aboard the USS Drum in May of 1942 when it sunk a Japanese seaplane carrier off the island of Hushu with one torpedo hit. Without the sinking, there may have been an additional 10 Japanese submarines at Midway. As these heroes look into the twilight of their lives, now is the time to honor them.

“The number of WWII veterans is quickly dwindling, with 800 to 1,000 dying every day,” said Honor Flight Founder Earl Morse. “Honor Flight’s mission is to give these remarkable veterans the recognition they deserve: a plane flight to visit the memorials dedicated in their honor and a hero’s welcome when they return to their communities. For many, it is the trip of a lifetime.”

Washington, D.C.-area veterans who do not qualify for an Honor Flight trip due to their proximity to the memorial will be the focus of the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day event. After attending a wreath- laying ceremony at the WWII Memorial, veterans will be honored guests at a screening of “Honor Flight” at DAR. The powerful, feature-length documentary follows a devoted team of Midwest volunteers from the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Wisconsin chapter as they strive to send every local WWII veteran to Washington to see the memorial erected in their honor.

In addition to Demler, the film depicts veterans such as 86-year-old grocery bagger Harvey Kurtz, who witnessed the iconic raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima. Many veterans kept the atrocities of war to themselves after returning home, never revealing their experiences to spouses, children, friends or even fellow veterans. The film documents their emotional reflections of war as they visit the memorial, surrounded by their brothers and sisters in arms.

“‘Honor Flight’ is a remarkable film. Grandparents, parents and children can all appreciate the stories told in this powerful and moving tribute to WWII veterans and this country,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Dole.

The documentary has been garnering attention around the country, including a showing attended by 28,000 people at Miller Park Stadium in Wisconsin.

For tickets to the Dec. 7 Washington, D.C., screening go to:

http://www.honorflight.org/lastingtribute/index.cfm

Will You Join Them?

On Monday, we launched an effort to bring critical year-end support to our troops, especially those who have been wounded, ill or injured. The response has been truly amazing and inspiring.

Thousands of people are coming together to take care of these brave men and women who are just starting their road to recovery. I hope you will join with other USO supporters and make your special year-end donation today.

Please, make your year-end USO donation today to support our troops on the frontlines and all the brave wounded, ill and injured troops recovering here at home.

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This campaign isn’t just about bringing support to the wounded, ill and injured. It’s also about honoring a special request from our troops on the frontlines and in forward operating bases all around the world.

When we ask them what we can do to help, their first answer is always: Take care of my friends who have been wounded.

So, when you give today, you’re honoring the service and sacrifice of our active troops and helping support those who are wounded, ill and injured.

Donate today to help the USO’s effort to bring support to our wounded troops and provide ongoing care for our troops on the frontlines.

I’ve been so encouraged by the way USO supporters like you have stepped up to be there for our troops at this time of year. And I thank you for lending your personal support to this campaign today. - Sloan Gibson, President and CEO, USO

USO Volunteers Walk 50 Blocks to Open Times Square Center after Superstorm Sandy

Joan Ashner always goes above and beyond

Columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote that “volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the Earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain love for one another.”

At the USO, we are lucky enough to have the commitment of 25,000 reflections of America running our centers every day of the year. Even on days like Monday—when a major storm was plowing through New York City—volunteers like Joan Ashner are willing to walk 50 blocks through the wind and rain to make sure the USO center is operational to serve rescue personnel.

“It’s really amazing, our volunteers’ commitment to duty,” said Ray Kennedy, Vice President of Programs and Services for USO of Metropolitan New York. “On a day when most paid employees are keeping shelter from the danger of the storm, she is out there on the city streets risking her own safety to get to work.”

For Ashner, this sort of thing is par for the course. She was named a 2011 USO Regional Volunteer of the Year for her similar actions when a blizzard crippled the city. She single-handedly opened and operated the Times Square center for five days to help more than 800 stranded service members and their families.

“It was a little hairy,” Ashner said of her walk to open the center Monday. “But we were told there would be service members on duty there with [Joint Task Force] Empire Shield, so if there are troops on duty, the USO must also be on duty.”

As it turned out, the Empire Shield troops were diverted elsewhere and the Port Authority forced the closure of the USO until this morning. Still, Ashner and other New York City USO volunteers returned Wednesday—again walking 50 blocks—to open the centers at 7 a.m.

“All our centers are open. God bless our volunteers,” Kennedy said. “They, themselves are living in neighborhoods that are flooded and are without power, but instead of dealing with their own situations they are putting the welfare of our troops first. We couldn’t do this without them.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Grant a Wish for Our Heroes

Grant a Wish for Our Heroes is our observance of Veterans Day and serves as a way for Americans to show appreciation for the exemplary service given by our nation’s servicemen and women.

The USO lifts the spirits of troops and their families by providing morale boosts in many ways. Whether it is keeping deployed servicemen and women connected to their families or making a troop’s time in theater a little more comfortable or supporting returning wounded, ill and injured troops as they work to recover, the USO remains steadfast in delivering goodness to our nation’s military and its families.

Learn more about our programs and services and how you can help at USO.org.

USO Delaware Director Receives National Guard Honor

USO of Delaware Director Joan Cote receives the National Guard Association of the United States’ Patrick Henry Award in Reno, Nevada, earlier this month. Courtesy of the National Guard Association of the United States

USO Delaware Director Joan Cote received a career-defining honor this month when she accepted the Patrick Henry Award from the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) for her years of work with troops.

“What a thrill receiving this award was for me and USO Delaware,” Cote said. “As you can tell [from the photo above] my eyes were filled with tears. … [It was] the proudest moment of my USO career!”

Established in 1989, the Patrick Henry Award is the civilian equivalent to the NGAUS Distinguished Service Medal. According to the association’s website, the award “is designed to provide recognition to local officials and civic leaders, who in a position of great responsibility distinguished themselves with outstanding and exceptional service to the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Guard or NGAUS.”

Cote has been the director of USO Delaware for since it opened in March of 1991. Her duties include overseeing two centers at Dover Air Force Base, home to Air Force Mortuary Affairs and site of dignified transfers. USO Delaware has supported every dignified transfer at Dover since it opened its doors.

Click here to see the full list of the 2012 NGAUS recipients. - Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development