Team USO Runner Inspired by Fallen Soldier’s Sacrifice

Kenneth Bean graduated high school in the small town of Mansfield, Mo., alongside a school record 41 of his peers, just one year ahead of his friend and fellow baseball player Robert Pharris.

Kenneth Bean with his granddaughters after the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. Photos courtesy of Kenneth Bean

Kenneth Bean with his granddaughters after the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. Photos courtesy of Kenneth Bean

Pharris was the son of a farmer and a Marine who served in both Korea and Vietnam. He was the grandson of a farmer and World War II vet, and the great-grandson of a farmer and World War I vet. Once retired from the Army, Pharris deployed with the Missouri National Guard at 48 years old to serve alongside his son Benjamin — a Marine — in Afghanistan.

In January 2011, Pharris was attacked and killed by insurgents while serving as an agricultural specialist, helping to rebuild the local Afghan economy.

Bean – who’d just been diagnosed with obesity and high blood pressure when he heard about Pharris’ death – was greatly affected by the loss.

“What did I do to deserve one more day than him?” he asked himself.

Motivated by the service and sacrifice of the Pharris family, Bean decided to lose the weight and live a better life for himself, so he can be around longer his own family.

“I was up to almost 270 pounds,” he said. “The doctor said I had high blood pressure and he was going to put me on medication for it. It really worried me and I asked him if I could try something else instead.”

Bean began a strict cardio regimen. He located a place about five minutes from his home in Columbus, Ohio, where he knew he could get the kind of workout he needed. A hilly part of the countryside he now calls his haven.

“I knew I was going to need hills, so I found hills. Lots of them,” he said. “And the more I ran, the more I found I could run longer and farther.”

Bean began posting his longer and longer run results on Facebook where his friends and family encouraged him. A former supervisor from Wright-Patterson Airfield saw Bean had run for two straight hours and asked Bean if he was training for the Air Force Marathon.

“I laughed at him and said, ‘No way! I have no desire to run a marathon.’”

But the supervisor pressed on.

“’What about a half?’ he asked me. ‘Would you try a half?’ And that’s how I first ended up running a half-marathon,” Bean said.

Robert Pharris, who grew up with Bean, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.

Robert Pharris, who grew up with Bean, was killed in Afghanistan in 2011.

Bean didn’t have a detailed plan, but he started training with the goal of running a half marathon in honor of his friend. Unfortunately when it came time to register for the race, it was sold out. He was heartbroken.

He contacted the race officials and they suggested he go through a charity sponsor.

“I looked at their charity sponsors and immediately the USO stood out,” he said. “It was the obvious choice [considering the relevance of the Pharris family’s service] and I thought wow — you know, this is really cool.”

Bean signed up with Team USO and pledged to raise $3,000 in exchange for a free training plan and a website where his friends and family could donate. With the support of his family, he completed his first marathon at the 2012 Air Force Marathon.

“My wife, family and friends have been supportive from day one,” Bean said. “though [they were] a little hesitant in understanding why, exactly, I was doing this.

“After reading some of my training journals, however, my wife started to get it, which even made our relationship stronger, and now when I go out on a training run … she’s coming along and she has even started to help coach me.”

It’s been a little over two years since he first began training in the memory of his friend. Bean is only 10 pounds short of his goal weight of 210, and he has completed a marathon and raised more than $1,000 for troops and their families.

Bean plans to run four races this year, all for the USO and Pharris’ memory. His final race will be the Marine Corps Marathon in Arlington, Va., this October, where his wife, children and grandchildren plan to be at the finish line to cheer him in.

“I am matching my donations up to $100,” he posted on his Team USO fundraiser page. “Please, help me, help the USO for the troops. They are far away from home.”

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

OEF Crisis Hotline Gives Stressed Troops an Outlet Downrange

More than 1,000 runners came out for the OEF Crisis Hotline 5K, hosted May 24 at six USO Centers in Afghanistan. USO photos by Eric Raum

More than 1,000 runners came out for the OEF Crisis Hotline 5K, hosted May 24 at six USO Centers across Afghanistan. USO photos by Eric Raum

It was a run for those who feel trapped.

Six USO centers in Afghanistan hosted more than 1,000 total runners for a 5K on May 24 to promote the OEF Crisis Hotline, a downrange-based call center troops can contact if they are dealing with stress or other mental health issues. The hotline has two mental health professionals on duty 24 hours a day.

The USO – which has been advertising the hotline to troops via posters at downrange centers – provided prizes for the top three male and female finishers.

Sgt. Kristian Patino of the Army’s 254th Medical Detachment said the hotline fills a void downrange and is modeled off a similar system the Department of Veterans Affairs operates stateside.

“It is peer support in its purest form,” Patino said. “You have service members here in Afghanistan going through the same struggles and dealing with the same issues as whoever would be calling in, so they are able to connect with the caller and relate to them.”

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The hotline – which was originally run by the 254th Medical Detachment in Kandahar – is now operated by the Army’s 85th Combat Operational Stress Control Detachment out of Bagram.

Patino believes the hotline makes a difference.

“One instance, a woman called in and was very frantic, in a complete panic and crying,” Patino said. “When we were done, it was a day and night shift. We worked through relaxation techniques and talked through what was troubling her.”

Troops downrange can reach the OEF Crisis Hotline the following ways:

Stateside troops and veterans can reach the VA’s Military Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and then pressing 1. Europe-based troops can reach the Military Crisis Line by dialing 00800 1273 8255 on regular phones or 118 on DSN lines.

–Story by Eric Raum and Eric Brandner, USO

South Carolina Congressman Assembles USO Care Packages that May Find Way to His Son in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Joe Wilson was all smiles at last Wednesday’s Operation USO Care Package Service Project on Capitol Hill. But his reason for being there was serious.

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Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) jokes around with photographers at the Operation USO Care Package Service Project on May 22 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Wilson, who served 31 years in the South Carolina National Guard before retiring as a colonel in 2003, has deep family roots in America’s armed forces.

“I’m particularly grateful to be here, not just as a member of Congress, but as a military family,” Wilson said at the event, which took place in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. “I have four sons currently serving in the military. One is [in Afghanistan] today. So one of these packages could easily end up with him.”

The seventh-term Republican from South Carolina’s 2nd District praised the work he’s seen the USO do for troops and families not only overseas, but also in his home state. USO of South Carolina opened a new center in the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in 2010, and will be unveiling updates to that center on Friday.

“I’m just such a fan of USO,” he said. “As I travel the country, as I travel the world – beginning in my home community in Columbia, South Carolina – we have a USO canteen at the airport. It’s the most prominent location in the airport and we are very grateful, particularly with the trainees coming into Fort Jackson, [that] they are welcomed by USO right away.

“It shows the appreciation of the warriors who maintain our freedom.”

–Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

USO Centers Around the Globe Celebrate National Volunteer Week

As National Volunteer Week comes to a close, here’s a look at a few of the scores of celebrations held at  centers around the world. The USO’s 27,000-plus volunteers  donated more than 1.375 million hours last year in service to America’s troops and their families..

USO Fort Hood

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday's event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday’s event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood held a luncheon Wednesday to honor its volunteers who logged a total of more than 22,000 hours last year.

“I’m really proud to stand here and see how many amazing people answer the call,” USO Fort Hood Director Robin Crouse told the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald, which covered the event.

Read more about the event in the Herald’s story.

USO Forward Operating Base Fenty

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USO Forward Operating Base Fenty volunteers share a joke – and a cupcake – during National Volunteer Week. USO photo

The USO at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan showed its appreciation to volunteers – almost all of whom are troops themselves – with some baked goods. They posted photos of the volunteers earlier this week.

“Thanks to all the great volunteers at Fenty for all you do for your fellow soldiers!” USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes wrote in a Facebook comment about the celebration.

USO Houston

USO centers know how to get creative. To celebrate National Volunteer Week, the staff at USO Houston put together a JibJab breakdance video.

USO Houston had 248 volunteers donate 20,056 hours to their center last year.

USO San Antonio

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USO San Antonio volunteers pose at Wednesday’s USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at the USO’s airport center. USO photo

USO San Antonio held a USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at their airport facility on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, ‘We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,’” the staff wrote on its Facebook page.

–Story by USO Story Development

Passion for the Customer: USO Partner 3Di Goes the Extra Mile to Connect Troops to Families

Most of us get frustrated when our Internet service goes down. 

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Thanks to 3Di, troops were able to surf the Internet during their down time while deployed to New York City for Superstorm Sandy cleanup late last year. USO photo

But what if when you called your service provider – instead of putting you on hold for an hour to listen to elevator music – they made your broken connection such a high priority that the owner of the company dispatched a plane to fly a tech out to fix it that day.

It’s not make-believe. It’s 3Di Technologies.

The day before Thanksgiving, a satellite dish donated by 3Di to the USO for use during SuperStorm Sandy was inadvertently moved out of position, severing the Internet connection for deployed troops assisting with the cleanup. On a day most people were gathering with family, 3Di co-founder Don Baker wasn’t about to leave deployed troops in the dark.

As soon as he learned of the outage, Baker flew one of his techs from Baltimore to New York to fix the problem, re-connecting the dedicated satellite network in time for early-afternoon Thanksgiving chow.

“Serving the USO is a natural and truly effective way to provide comfort communication services to those who dedicate so much to our great country,” Baker wrote in an email. “We’re honored to do what we do, and we look forward to more opportunities to help the USO accomplish their mission.”

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The 3Di team during a trip to Kuwait. Courtesy photo

Satellite communications are at the heart of the USO mission to lift the spirits of troops and their families every day at more than 160 locations worldwide. The dedicated satellite network provided by 3Di makes it possible for the USO to connect deployed troops with family and friends over a game of Call of Duty from trailer in the middle of Africa, and it’s what brings new fathers into the delivery room via Skype from a remote center in Afghanistan.

3Di Technologies – a subsidiary of L3 Communications – helped the USO connect 3.1 million calls in 2012. That’s nearly 28 million minutes of goochie-goos and I love yous that military parents and spouses would have otherwise gone without.

After working for more than 10 years installing communications solutions in harsh, remote locations overseas, operating partners Dan Throop and Don Baker teamed with a financial backer to create 3Di Technologies. Their company aims to deliver end-to-end satellite communications, equipment, integration and – most importantly – field support, to their growing number of customers.

Their partnership with the USO began by supporting the USO-in-a-Box field canteen trailer program, and continues today with the coordination of connectivity at 14 centers in Kuwait and Afghanistan.

“USO-In-A-Box wouldn’t have existed over the past year without 3Di Technologies’ charitably donated bandwidth support,” USO-In-A-Box Program Manager Juston Reynolds said.

“Wherever those USO trailers went, no matter how far out into nowhere they were dragged, or what conditions they were under, they always had connectivity,” Reynolds said. “3Di came through when the USO needed them most, and I think that’s really what made them stand apart from their competition — their determination to get it right.”

In their own view, being passionate about the customer and working in the field to customize communications solutions that perfectly fit the customer’s needs is part of the fabric of the organization.

“The motto at 3Di has always been ‘passion for the customers,’” 3Di Technologies Director of Business Development Ray Fuller said. “That’s because most of our customers are guys on the front lines, and whether they are calling for fire support or calling their wife and kids from a USO, our mission is to make that connection happen.”

For the USO, it was clear 3Di understood the significance associated with connecting deployed troops with their loved ones at home via email, voice, video and gaming.

“Connectivity always rates at the top of troop needs in the field,” USO Director of Operations Kristen Baxter said. “What 3Di brings to us is a dedicated satellite network we can use to connect our troops directly to their families without hassle. Ten-digit calling — just like here in the states.”

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Christmas in Afghanistan

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit our troops overseas and see firsthand what it’s like for them to spend this special time thousands of miles from the people they love most. I’ll never forget the selfless heroes I met. That’s why I feel so strongly about the USO’s Christmas Convoy.

With your help today preparing the way, this very special convoy — loaded up with everything the troops need for a much-deserved respite from the rigors of war — will reach our troops serving in remote and hard-to-reach forward operating bases in Afghanistan in time for the holidays.

It’s part of a larger USO effort to give our troops everything they need this holiday season. The logistics of such an undertaking aren’t easy. It takes time to put together. And to get the job done, we need to raise $100,000 by October 20th.

Will you join me in making sure the USO has the resources to reach as many troops as possible this holiday season?

The Christmas Convoy is especially close to my heart because it reaches troops in some of the most isolated front line outposts, where the small comforts of home are especially hard to come by.

It’s the centerpiece of our ambitious effort to bring a touch of holiday happiness to more troops than ever. And everything we do — from care packages, to free phone calls home, to special holiday meals — requires vigorous support from folks back home like you and me.

So I’m hoping the thousands of troops who’ll spend the holidays on the frontlines dreaming of home and family can count on your loyalty the way you count on theirs.

Make a gift to help make the 2012 Holiday Season a special one for our troops serving in Afghanistan and around the world.

Some October thoughtfulness from you can pave the way for wonderful holiday moments for our troops. Please join me in making this happen.

Happy (Early) Holidays,
Joan Jett