Caregivers of Wounded, Ill and Injured Troops Get Lessons in Resiliency at USO Seminar

Brooks, left, chats with another caregiver attendee.

Angela Brooks, left, chats with another caregiver attendee.

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Missouri—Angela Brooks can’t remember the last time she put herself first.

Between working, taking care of her children and caring for her disabled Air Force veteran husband of 20 years —who struggles with PTSD — there’s little time left at to address her personal needs.

“I literally have the world on my shoulders,” Brooks said. “[Caregivers like me] do a lot and it’s not so much physical anguish, it’s mental anguish, and that’s hard, hard.”

So when Brooks heard Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, was hosting a USO Caregivers Seminar — a day of interactive programming designed to address the immediate needs of those who care for wounded, ill and injured service members — she knew she had to attend.

Brooks, second from the right, plays a icebreaker game between sessions

Brooks, second from the right, plays a icebreaker game between sessions.

“I came because I wanted it to be about me [and my needs for a change],” Brooks said.

After participating in the two morning sessions, which featured gameon Nation Vice President Blair Bloomston and Stronger Families Executive Director Noel Meador, respectively, Brooks — who’d never attended any type of caregiver-centric programming before — was already glad she came.

“I felt very isolated up until today,” Brooks said. “[But today at the USO Caregivers Seminar] I feel comfortable. I feel safe and I feel like I’m not going to be judged.”

Brooks, far right, takes a selfie as part of an icebreaker activity.

Brooks, far right, takes a selfie as part of an icebreaker activity.

Brooks even felt comfortable enough to share details about her daily challenges with the entire room during a communications skill development activity. Brooks admits she relished in the rare opportunity to talk about the sometimes-difficult task of being a caretaker with other people who are experiencing similar situations.

“I just want to learn more and be open and this environment is very opening and freeing,” Brooks said. “What I was talking about earlier, [my personal story], there was no way I would have said that in certain [other] settings.”

“I just really really appreciate people thinking of us,” Brooks said.

Bloomston, second from left, plays a game with a caregiver

Bloomston, second from left, plays a game with a caregiver.

According to Bloomston, even the simplest, quietest games can have a profound and lasting impact.

Take the game of Coins for example. To play, Bloomston asked attendees to think of a list of things that made them smile, shine and feel valuable. There was one catch: none of the participants’ ideas — which are called Coins in this game — can include things that were related to their role as a caregiver. For example, a standard list of acceptable Coins might include favorite foods, favorite places or simply the role of being a sibling, friend or family member.

Attendees play the game of 'Zip Zap Za' at the game on Nation session.

Attendees play the game of ‘Zip Zap Za’ at the game on Nation session.

Once attendees had their list, Bloomston asked them to pause and focus on their Coins for a moment. Many caregivers in the room started to smile. Then, after the time was up, Bloomston asked participants write down or remember their Coins so they could always carry them, metaphorically, in their pocket for empowerment the next time they face a difficulty as a caregiver.

Although it might not seem like much, Bloomston says the game, along with other gameon Nation games, can lead to huge improvements in how caregivers approach their challenges.

“You can tell somebody a statement like ‘Be confident’ or, you can put them through and experience and feel what it’s like to be confident and the spirit of play and the science of game dynamics makes that moving experience happen in a very quick way,” Bloomston said. “Caregivers can use these skills … to do their job with excellence and stay revitalized and give oxygen back to themselves.”

In fact, Bloomston’s already seen the positive impact on previous USO Caregivers Seminar attendees who have participated in gameon Nation sessions.

“The best part of the feedback is when I return to a base or when I return to a post years later and people come up to me and say ‘I still have my coins in my pocket,'” Bloomston said.

A Lifetime of Service: Officer-Turned-Businessman Talks About Supporting USO

When retired Army officer Tom Kilgore decided it was time to give back, it was clear which organization he would support.

“I became active with the USO shortly after my retirement [from the Army],” said Kilgore, who now heads risk management for ArcLight Capital Partners in Boston. “It was one of the organizations while I was on active duty which provided great value, I thought, to my soldiers and to my family.”

At West Point, Kilgore was taught that graduates engage in a lifetime of service.

“One of the ways in which you can continue a lifetime of service is to continue to give back to the organizations [that] have taken care of us while we were on active duty,” Kilgore said. “The USO affords me an opportunity to live up to the goals that were set for me as a young man, and the goals that I embrace and continue to hopefully embrace and live to this day.”

Operation That’s My Dress: Female Troops, Military Spouses Get Styled Up at USO Event

NEW YORK–As a busy mom and public affairs officer in the Navy, Petty Officer 1st Class Bickiana Patton doesn’t have many opportunities to show off her feminine side. But thanks to the USO — and sponsors Sherri Hill, Ann Taylor and Ralph Lauren — Patton was able to let her hair down and enjoy an afternoon of fashion and pampering at USO Operation That’s My Dress at Fleet Week New York 2015.

“I have to admit, it was wonderful,” Patton said. “The USO helped me feel like a diva today.”

Now in it’s third year, USO Operation That’s My Dress, which normally caters to military teens attending formal events, has expanded to include events tailored towards female service members and military spouses.

“There are many, many sacrifices these women make to serve our country or to go with their husband,” said USO of Metropolitan New York Vice President of Programs Ray Kennedy. “And today is a way to make sure we know that we value them, we understand their femininity and we want to make them feel beautiful inside and outside.”

The afternoon of glitz and glam kicked off with a performance by the USO Show Troupe and a fashion show featuring professional models and the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA titleholders. After the show, attendees enjoyed hair and make-up demonstrations by professional stylists before heading upstairs to find the perfect dress. Spouses and female service members were event treated to free accessories by JTV jewelry to complete their look.

“My husband and I are transferring very soon, so just to be able to do this before we move … we just want to thank you,” said Coast Guard spouse Casey Van Huysen.

USO Korea Helps Military Families Fuel Up Before Meeting Secretary of State John Kerry

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The USO on South Korea reacted quickly to support troops and their families as they met and listened to Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit Yongsan Garrison near Seoul.

USO Korea staff and volunteers were on-site at the Collier Field House, where Kerry spoke, providing troops and families with water, healthy snacks and USO fans, wristbands and stickers.

“The children absolutely loved all of the … [giveaway] items, especially fans and wristbands,” USO Korea Area Programs Manager Michelle Zamora-Trilling wrote in an email.

As the event transitioned inside, USO Korea staff continued to provide refreshments and even got to snap a few pictures with Kerry.

9 Perspectives on Memorial Day

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Here are nine great reads (and views) that get to the heart of what Memorial Day weekend is really about.

1. Julie Webb lost her son in a training accident. She turned that loss into something that helps others by helping families of the fallen through the USO.

2. Do you know how Memorial Day came into being? Mental Floss has you covered with its list of 10 facts about the holiday.

3. The Washington Post has the story of Lt. Col. Michael B. Baka, a soldier who was so inspired by the actions of his comrades — including a subordinate who jumped on a grenade — that that he joined The Old Guard to honor them.

4. London Bell lost her Marine brother at war. She found help through a community of Americans dealing with the same thing.

5. USO program partner TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) is prominent in the news around Memorial Day because of the unique families they help. TAPS CEO Bonnie Carroll wrote about Memorial Day for Huffington Post.

6. How do we reconcile memories of the ones we’ve lost? The USO’s Sarah Kemp — who worked for the organization in Afghanistan and now in Arlington, Virginia — wrote this blog post in 2012. The message is just as relevant today.

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7. The story of how a spur-of-the-moment visit to the USO for one mom brought her just a little bit closer to her fallen son.

8. How are Americans around the country  thinking about Memorial Day? Here’s a look at the military driven Sunday front pages from newspapers around the U.S.

9. Just because a soldier doesn’t die on the battlefield doesn’t mean his loss isn’t deeply felt. Here’s a story of how the USO and TAPS helped quickly reunite one family of the fallen in the wake of their son’s suicide.

Congress, USO Pack Healthy Snacks for Troops on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON—Wednesday’s USO Congressional Service Project at the Rayburn House Office Building offered a unique opportunity for members from different sides of the aisle to support the troops together.

Elected officials spent part of their morning assembling healthy snack packs the USO will then distribute to service members and their families.

The snack packs are a direct result of requests from the TellUSO survey and contain items like oatmeal, dried fruit, pretzels and nuts. The snacks were donated by Harris Teeter, a USO partner that has raised more than $1 million for the USO since partnering with the organization in 2012. The 1,500-plus snack packs created Wednesday will be distributed at the USO centers around the Washington metropolitan region.

“On behalf of nearly 20,000 associates who work for our stores, we’re so proud to be a part of this,” said Rodney Vines, Regional Human Resource Manager at Harris Teeter. “We want to be partners with the community that we serve, and we thank the USO for giving Harris Teeter the opportunity to thank our troops and serve them as members of our community.”