Special Delivery, Indeed: Air Force Spouse Leaves USO/What To Expect Baby Shower to Give Birth

Kylee Austin and Heidi Murkoff at the USO Special Delivery event, left, and then hours later at the hospital. Photos courtesy of the Austin family.

Kylee Austin and Heidi Murkoff at the USO Special Delivery event, left, and then hours later at the hospital with Kylee’s husband Air Force Capt. Josh Austin. Photos Copyright Candace Castor.

Heidi Murkoff said the room was beautiful — full of baby shower decorations and brimming with pregnant women.

Kylee Austin, an Air Force spouse and mom-to-be attending the baby shower at the Kadena Officers Club in Okinawa, Japan, had waited a year for the USO event to come back to the country after her friend raved about her experience at the 2014 edition.

“I thought my baby would come before the event and I was really sad I was going to miss out, but I figured I might register anyway just in case,” Austin said.

USO/What to Expect Special Delivery baby showers are a chance for new military moms and moms-to-be to bond with others in their community going through similar experiences, like being away from their family and coping with their spouse missing the birth of their son or daughter. The showers typically feature lunch, traditional baby shower games, supply giveaways and an intimate Q&A session with Murkoff, author of the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series.

But this wouldn’t be a typical baby shower.

Austin had gone to the doctor’s that morning and everything looked fine. She was enjoying the event with the other mothers and all of a sudden started having contractions. First seven minutes apart. Then six. Then five.

The USO volunteers were so worried for me, checking on me and offering to drive me to the hospital if necessary,” Austin said, “but I wanted to stick it out to hear what [Murkoff] had to say.”

Murkoff, familiar with pregnant mothers, noticed Austin pacing around the back of the room “looking very serious and talking on the phone.”

“She was doing a lot of belly clutching and holding her back,” Murkoff wrote in an email. “I thought — hmmm, that’s interesting. Sure enough, I found out during the book signing that she had been having contractions and another mama had taken her over to the hospital.”

The timing meant Kylee missed the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Murkoff, but the USO made a point to bring Murkoff by hospital the next day to meet baby Tristan, who was born at 5:42 a.m. that morning.

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“It isn’t easy being pregnant under the best of circumstances — to do it while serving our country, far from the network of family and friends who usually help and support a mom-to-be through the journey — is exponentially harder,” Murkoff wrote. “To work with the USO to fill in some of those blanks for these mamas is an honor and an incredible opportunity. Plus I love the hugs and the baby cuddles.”

Murkoff says a special delivery during Special Delivery was bound to happen at some point. Still, this was a first for the program.

“The USO was just so sweet and supportive,” Austin said. “My favorite thing about being there was just getting to meet all the other ladies who were pregnant and getting the community support. It was such a neat experience for us and to tell our son in the future.”

True to military fashion, the Austins had their son Tristan while deployed and then less than two weeks later executed orders to return stateside, doing what military families do best.

“It was no surprise to us,” Austin said about receiving orders so soon, “but that’s why we have the USO there to help us out along the way. We take advantage of every center at every airport and that’s honestly what’s been getting us through.”

Meet Bandit: The Comforting Canine at USO Fort Leonard Wood

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Missouri—When Kelly Gist adopted Bandit three-and-a-half years ago, she didn’t expect him to become a healer.

Sickly, underweight and suffering from a number of health issues before adoption, the great dane pup looked like he needed more help than he would ever be able to give.

But as Bandit grew stronger and healthier, and started accompanying Gist to her job at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist saw Bandit was more than an average rescue dog.

“We would bring him into the USO, and as he grew, his interactions with the troops were unbelievable and we realized he had something else to give [and decided to train him as a therapy dog],” said Gist, the USO Fort Leonard Wood center director.

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Bandit lays on Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Albrecht. USO photo by Sandi Moynihan

Whether it’s visiting patients at the hospital, comforting troops at the Warrior Transition Unit or hanging out with military families at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist says Bandit is always ready to comfort those in need.

“If anyone can spend five minutes with him, even two, they’ll realize the difference he can make in someone’s day,” Gist said.

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The Stories Behind the Modern Military Salute

Navy photo

Photo courtesy of the Navy

When it comes to the hand salute, everyone seems to agree on two things: (1) it’s always a sign of camaraderie and (2) no one knows its exact origin.

But everyone has a theory.

Let’s start with the practical application. Raising the right hand to one’s cap or forehead is not only a gesture of respect, but also a signal that you’re not wielding a weapon (which was far more important information a few centuries ago than it is in today’s military settings). Some believe the salute is the evolution of a gesture dating back a few thousand years when assassins were more prevalent in both military and government circles.

There are other theories, too, dating back to medieval times. The most popular involves knights lifting their visors to identify themselves to superiors.

Whatever ancient customs are to be believed, it’s also reasonable to infer the modern salute is a replacement for removing one’s hat in the presence of a superior. According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, a British order book from 1745 dictates “men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands and bow as they pass.” A page on the Quartermasters’ website explains military headgear had become so complicated and cumbersome by the time of the American Revolution, saluting was just an expedient change to protocol.

Department of Defense photo

Department of Defense photo

Today’s Salute

According to the Armed Forces History Museum, today’s standard salute – right hand touching the brim of the head cover with the palm down – was in place by 1820. The museum says the palm down portion of the salute may have been influenced by the salute style of the British Navy at the time. A sailor’s hands were often dirty, and exposing a dirty palm – especially to a superior – would have been deemed disrespectful. A correlating legend has it that Queen Victoria was once saluted with a dirty hand and declared thereafter that British sailors would salute with their hands at a 90-degree angle.

So who is always entitled to a salute?

  • The President of the United States
  • Commissioned and warrant officers
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Officers of allied foreign countries

What occasions should a service member give a salute?

Civilians have probably seen some of these instances in daily life (especially at a ceremony or a high-profile sporting event). But with rare exception, service members should render salutes in these circumstances:

  • During the playing of any national anthem
  • When the colors of the United States are presented
  • During official ceremonies
  • At a ceremonial reveal or retreat
  • During the raising or lowering of the American flag
  • During the Pledge of Allegiance
  • When reporting to a superior
  • When changing control of a formation

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When can service members skip a salute?

There’s protocol, and then there’s practicality. Salutes are not required when addressing a prisoner, when someone is in civilian clothing or when it would be tough or inappropriate to execute (for example, when someone is carrying equipment in both hands or at a crucial point of performing a complex task). Also, salutes are not usually required indoors, unless reporting to an officer while on guard duty, participating in an official ceremony or reporting to a commander or a military board. For a more nuanced look at salute rules, you can search out each individual service’s regulations on honors and salutes online (the Army’s can be found here).

Should civilians perform a hand salute when they see a service member?

Service members don’t expect salutes from civilians, even if those civilians are military employees or contractors. In fact, it could create an awkward moment unless the service member knows the civilian doing the saluting or recognizes the civilian to be a veteran. However, there aren’t any restrictions against saluting, either. The United States Constitution’s First Amendment protection for free speech and expression gives civilians the ability to do what they want when greeting anyone.

Our advice? Smile. Maybe say “hello.” And if you’re so inclined, shake their hand and thank them for their service.

USO Follows Troops Back to Baghdad with New Location

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If the military is going back into Iraq, then so is the USO.

USO services hadn’t been requested in the region since the 2011 drawdown. But that changed over the July 4th weekend when — with the help of troops there — the USO stood up an unstaffed location in Baghdad.

The facility was set up in a matter of days and features Internet connectivity, food and beverages, video games and a plethora of creative games and holiday supplies from USO2GO kits to keep troops there entertained.

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Bruno Mars Plays USO Show for Military Families at the White House

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Grammy-winning recording artist Bruno Mars performed a USO show for hundreds of cheering troops, military family members and guests of the First Family on Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House.

The multi-platinum recording artist played a collection of hits as part of the USO’s seventh annual Salute to the Military USO concert. While storms cancelled the pre-show cookout festivities on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama came out and addressed the crowd from the stage before Mars’ hour-long USO performance that led into a fireworks show on the National Mall.

“It was an honor to perform at the Fourth of July concert at the White House,” Mars said in a release. “It was incredible to stand with the First Family and the USO to recognize the service and sacrifice of our troops and military families.”

Photos: USO Center in Japan Rescues Kittens Hiding in its Floorboards

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It turns out troops aren’t the only ones who can get a helping hand at the USO.

A cat crawled through a small hole in the foundation of the USO building at U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo in Southwest Japan, this spring and gave birth to seven kittens.

In June, after a few weeks of hearing phantom meows, the USO Sasebo staff realized they had some feline squatters and called the base’s public works team. After cutting an additional hole in a wall, the kittens were eventually coaxed out one at a time until all seven newborns were freed. They were then passed to a foster family and have since all been placed in permanent homes.