USO and Team Red, White, and Blue Help Troops and Veterans Scale New Heights at Rock-Climbing Camp

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ESTES PARK, Colo.—For many people — especially those scared of heights — scaling a 50-foot mountain wall is the last thing they’d want to do on a warm August afternoon.

But for a group of adventurous transitioning troops and veterans who attended a special three-day rock climbing camp in Colorado, climbing along the steep peaks of the Rocky Mountains seemed like the perfect way to spend a long summer weekend.

The camp, hosted by the USO and Team Red, White, and Blue, taught leadership skills and built confidence among attendees while scaling new heights. The two organizations began partnering last year to deliver an environment for troops, civilians and veterans to come together, share their stories and to build a foundation for healthy, active living.

The camp was led by climber and Wheaties athlete Tommy Caldwell and his father, Mike Caldwell, a climbing guide with over 30 years of experience. For the second year in a row, the pair helped participants scale 50-foot-plus tall mountain walls in Jurassic Park and Lumpy Ridge.

“I didn’t have people to keep in touch with when I got out,” said camp participant and veteran Antonio Ruiz. “I wish this situation was available for me back then. It would have made a big difference in my life.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers receive instruction during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

During the three-day session, Tommy Caldwell shared his personal story of overcoming a traumatic experience with the camp participants in hopes of inspiring them to conquer life’s challenges.

In 2000, while on a climbing expedition in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, his group was held hostage at gunpoint for six days before Caldwell seized an opportunity to overpower the kidnappers, allowing for their escape. Once home, he struggled to cope with the memories of his captivity. One day, while doing home repairs, Caldwell accidentally sawed off his finger. Unable to reattach it, doctors prepped him for the possibility that he’d never climb professionally again.

“At one point a doctor told me I should really think about what I wanted to do,” Caldwell said during his speech to attendees. “I got mad because how could he not believe in me? And that inspired me even more. I left the hospital and immediately went to the gym to train.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers gather during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of outdoor climbing, campers participated in a leadership seminar lead by Team Red, White, and Blue Director of Operations J.J. Pinter.

“Think about all that leadership experience,” Pinter said, according to a Department of Defense story on the seminar. “There’s no reason that you can’t go back in your communities and be the leaders that our country is drastically needing.”

USO Communications Manager Sharee Posey contributed to this post from Estes Park, Colorado, and USO Multimedia Journalist Sandi Moynihan contributed to this post from Arlington, Virginia.

24 Things You Should Know About the Coast Guard for Its 224th Birthday

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Today marks the 224th birthday of the United States Coast Guard. To celebrate, here’s 24 facts about one of the federal government’s oldest organizations.

  1. The Coast Guard was founded on August 4, 1790, after Congress commissioned the construction of ten ships to help enforce federal tariffs and prevent smuggling.
  2. The Coast Guard has two official flags: The Coast Guard standard and the Coast Guard ensign.
  3. Walt Disney created a special logo for the Coast Guard’s Corsair Fleet during World War II, featuring Donald Duck.

    Donald Duck photo via US Coast Guard.

    Donald Duck photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

  4. Members of the Coast Guard have served in 17 wars and conflicts throughout U.S. history.
  5. Anthony Christy was the oldest active serving Coast Guard member. The keeper of the Christiana Lighthouse in Delaware, Christy died on duty in September 1862 at the age of 105.
  6. Since 2003, the Coast Guard has been operating as part of the Department of Homeland Security.
  7. In 1791, the Coast Guard launched its first cutter Vigilant.
  8. The first permanent Coast Guard Air Station was in Cape May, New Jersey, in 1926.
  9. In 1967, the Coast Guard adopted the trademark red slash design – or racing stripe – that appears on its vessels.
  10. In 1941, the Coast Guard hired its first civilian women to serve in secretarial and clerical positions.
  11. 241,093 Coast Guard members served during World War II.
  12. “Semper Paratus” is the Coast Guard motto.
  13. While many animals have served as mascots aboard Coast Guard vessels, Sinbad, a dog, is one of the service’s most famous. He served on board the cutter Campbell during World War II, keeping troops company during their voyages.
  14. The Coast Guard was referred to as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries.
  15. The Coast Guard has authorized a total of 43 battle streamers, which are attached to the Coast Guard standard, replacing cords and tassels.  They are carried in all ceremonies representing heroic actions in all naval encounters from 1798 to today.  Any Coast Guard unit may display the battle streamers.
  16. The Coast Guard refers to a vessel as a “cutter” if it’s over 65-feet long.
  17. From 1942-1944, the Coast Guard had a championship hockey team called the Cutters that played in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, considered to be one of the most competitive leagues of its time.

    Team photo via via US Coast Guard.

    Team photo via via U.S. Coast Guard.

  18. Until the Navy was re-established in 1797, the Coast Guard was the only naval service in the country.
  19. In 1918, sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker were the first uniformed women to serve in the Coast Guard.
  20. President George Washington commissioned the first Coast Guard officer, Captain Hopley Yeaton, on March 21, 1791.
  21. The Coast Guard was featured in the 1996 featured film “White Squall” starring Jeff Bridges.
  22. The oldest Coast Guard boat station is in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
  23. In 1967, the Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind became the first cutter to ever sail around Antarctica. Eastwind was also the first ship to circumnavigate Antarctica since 1843.
  24. The Coast Guard core values are honor, respect and devotion to duty.

–Information from uscg.mil and other sources.

USO Arizona Volunteer Sacrifices Sleep so Stranded Troops and Families Have a Place to Stay

When Michelle Selby showed up to volunteer at the USO Arizona center at the Phoenix International Airport last week, she had no idea it was going to be an overnight shift.

But after a large sand storm (called a haboob) blanketed Phoenix — and stranded many traveling service members and their families overnight in the airport — Selby decided to make sure they had a comfortable place to spend the night.

“It makes you feel good when you can do something like that,” Selby said.

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USO Arizona is normally open to service members and their families daily until 8 p.m., unless special extended hours are requested ahead of time. But Selby chose to stay up all night so the USO Arizona center could stay open for the stranded military travelers.

“I just kept thinking, I wouldn’t be able to sleep when I got home,” Selby said. “As tired as I was getting, I couldn’t get myself to leave.”

Initially Selby thought she’d be able keep the center open until 10 p.m. But before she knew it, it was midnight, so she decided to keep the center open for as long as she could stay awake.

“I just didn’t have the heart to go wake them all up and say ‘You guys have to go sleep on the floor out in the airport, I’m going home to my comfy bed,'” Selby said.

Selby, whose son serves in the Air Force, hopes her actions inspire others to volunteer for the USO.

“My whole incentive when I’m at the USO is to try to treat people like I would want my son to be treated and taken care of,” Selby said.

New USO Center at Portland International Airport Welcomes 1,000th Visitor

USO Northwest’s Center at Portland International Airport welcomed its 1,000th guest today, less than a month after opening its doors.

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The lucky 1,000th guest was Marine Lance Cpl. Garrett Rhodes, who is currently stationed in Camp Hansen, Japan. Rhodes, who hails from Cottage Grove, Oregon, said he was excited to find out his home airport had a new USO center for him to enjoy.

“I was pretty excited because I have a long layover, and I’d been to PDX before when there was not a USO,” Rhodes said. “I was trying to figure out how I was going to spend the wait time, and I was very relieved to find out there was a USO now.”

The center, which opened July 1, serves active duty troops and their families traveling to and from the Portland International Airport. While visiting the center, troops can enjoy snacks and refreshments and relax between flights by watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web at computer stations. Find out more about the center here.

Fort Drum Youth Volunteer Gives USO Tip of the Cap at High School Graduation

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For USO Fort Drum volunteer William Zenyuk, decorating his graduation cap with USO Every Moment Counts stickers seemed like the most logical way to spice up his outfit for the big day.

“I spend the large majority of my time at the USO,” Zenyuk said.

Zenyuk, who was honored as this year’s Fort Drum Youth Volunteer of the Year, is one of USO Fort Drum’s most active young volunteers, and has volunteered over 1,000 hours in the past year and a half.

What initially began as a way to rack up service hours for the National Honor Society eventually turned into regular routine, Zenyuk said. From volunteering at USO Fort Drum events to helping with daily duties at the center, Zenyuk said he’s made his service to the USO a part of his every day life.

“My favorite part is listening to [troops], their stories and explain how their days are going,• and just talk,” Zenyuk said. “Cause a lot of them just like when you listen.”

Zenyuk, a who’s father served in the military, plans on attending Syracuse University in the fall to study pre-law and American history. He also said he’s planning to enroll in Syracuse’s Army ROTC program in hopes to become a JAG officer one day.

“I’m gonna go [Army] Reserves while I’m in college and hopefully choose to go active duty once I complete law school,” Zenyuk said.

Teeing Up Military Kids for Success: Lockheed Martin Volunteers Help Quicken Loans National Golf Tournament Attendees Build Deployment Kits

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BETHESDA, Md.–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 are helping Quicken Loans National spectators at Congressional Country Club — including many military families — assemble hundreds of With You all The Way Deployment Kits for military children this week.

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 tackling difficult issues unique to growing up in a military family.

The unique kit helps children deal with deployment challenges and even establishes valuable knowledge for the reintegration process.

“This is just a great cause, and it’s so awesome to see kids — a lot of military kids, in fact, but others as well — coming in to pack deployment kits for other kids,” said Laura Stewart of Lockheed Martin. Stewart is one of many Lockheed Martin volunteers staffing the USO deployment kit assembly tent this week at the Quicken Loan National.

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.

“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 a deployment kit Wednesday. “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.”

The deployment kits include:

  • The animated “With You All the Way! Dealing with Deployment” DVD
  • A guided writing journal with prompts, calendar, map, and activities
  • The “With You All The Way! Dealing With Deployment Family Guidebook
  • A set of 10 postcards featuring original artwork by Romain
  • Cuzzie, a plush bear for military kids
  • A pair of imprinted dog tags to share with a deploying parent