Touching Home from Afar: USO Volunteer of the Year Tells How United Through Reading’s Military Program Affects His Family

USO Volunteer of the Year Marine Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson spoke to our cameras Oct. 25 at the USO Gala in Washington about the power of United Through Reading’s Military Program.

Johnson – who has deployed throughout the world and has four children and four stepchildren – knows how powerful it can be to send a DVD of himself reading a book back home.

Find out more about how one Navy dad used the program to keep up with his young sons during a deployment at sea.

The Little Champs’ Visit to Manor View ES

We stood among 321 Champs at Manor View ES of Fort Meade to talk about The Little Champs  – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel.  Thanks to the USO’s commitment to our Nation’s littlest heroes, each student was given his/her very own copy of the book; to have and to hold, to read and to reread.  Meanwhile, the students had read The Little Champs in their classrooms with their teachers before we arrived.  Their minds, hearts and souls were full.  There was a wellspring of energy and emotion: the school’s guidance counselor noted, finally, this is a book that is about them and for them – and honors them.

The Little Champs accomplished its mission through literature and music, reaching and teaching to multiple learning styles.  The story intertwines their stories, with characters to whom they could relate.   As one parent commented, “the characters are ‘real time.’  My kid takes it wherever she goes.’”   Its characters walk the walk, talk the talk, and ‘feel the feel’ ­– they experience the multitude of emotions that our Champs experience.   Its characters acknowledge their feelings, and deal constructively and proactively with their situation, learning more about their inner strengths in the process.  I like to call it building resiliency by building character.

 Among the feedback from teachers, parents, and the guidance counselor, the story   evoked “Aha!” moments, proud smiles, cathartic tears, grateful giggles, and sighs of relief.

One 5th grade teacher said:  “I want to thank you very much for writing such a wonderful book for our military children.   Fifth graders have a lot of emotions as military children, and they’re not always open with their feelings.  They’re not always able to express what it is that they’re feeling.  They may be angry or upset or sad.

“During the time we were reading the book, they were making so many connections, and having these ‘A-ha’ moments, and just really related to what they were reading.  I had one student who, when the book talked about the Champ whose stomach dropped when the dad was moving the family back to the East Coast – he had experienced the exact same thing.  The student teared up and said, ‘Ms. Ricker, I have that connection.  The same thing happened to me and my family, and my stomach dropped.’  It was an opening to talk about it.

“I really appreciate that there’s a book to help them express their emotions, and lets them know they’re not alone.  These feelings are okay.  It’s okay to be angry.  It’s okay to be sad.  It’s just part of what comes with having a parent deployed or having to move a lot.  It’s a great book, and was a great experience, and one that I really appreciate.

“My favorite part was that we sat cuddled up together on the carpet; the kids were sooo into the book; each kid had his/her own book that s/he could go through; they didn’t want to stop reading until we’d finished . . . it was such a special, warm experience for all of us.”

In addition, each child had created a personalized “I Am Me” card, that they’d then placed in a Champ Chest.  The Champ Chests were decorated by University of MD’s college students, covered with motivational comments, through Operation Champs.   It was quite special to see them place their “I Am Me” cards in the Champ Chests as they headed to feast upon the ice cream treats that awaited . . . another sweet USO touch to make this a most memorable, multi-sensory experience for all!

We walked away with full hearts, full Champ Chests, and the knowledge that we’d reached out and touched the hearts and souls and minds of 321 of our Nation’s littlest heroes. – Debbie Fink, MA, Author 

Celebrating Our Heroes this Father’s Day

By Rita Cosby, TV Host and Bestselling Author

This Father’s Day is the most special one in my life and I hope the journey with my heroic father inspires all of you to reach out to your dad and get to know his life’s story as we honor the men in our lives on Father’s Day.

I have just completed the most amazing year of my life and focused much of it on getting to know my own father…finally after many years of separation. I hope all of you will look at my new book, “Quiet Hero: Secrets From My Father’s Past,” available now in bookstores and on line, which many think is the perfect Father’s Day gift! In it, I detail my own journey of self discovery and of getting to know a man who was estranged from me for decades… my own father. He left our family one Christmas which caused great friction and created a very detached relationship, but only now I have come to understand that although my dad is not perfect, what he did for his country and the fight for freedom is truly remarkable and truly inspiring.

My father is now breaking his silence after decades. As a thirteen-year-old he saw his hometown of Warsaw get decimated by Nazi bombs, he then joined the Polish Resistance and started by writing anti-Nazi slogans near the Warsaw Ghetto walls, a death sentence no matter your age. He grew into a full blown fighter, was severely injured, and later became a prisoner of war.

My father sold the suit on his back for a loaf of bread in his POW camp, so he and his comrades had enough energy to escape. At ninety pounds and standing six feet tall, my father and some of his fellow POWs made a daring escape in sheer darkness, and then spent the next few days evading German troops.

One day they saw a beautiful sight.. An American plane coming to the rescue, letting them know US troops were a few miles away. My father has never forgotten the faces of those young American GIs who hugged him and told him his nightmare of war was over.

My father and I have bonded through his sharing this story with me and sharing it for history. We will never forget how important our American military is in preserving freedom throughout the globe, and for saving a weary Polish POW, my father. We are giving a portion of our proceeds from our book, “Quiet Hero: Secrets from My Father’s Past” to the USO‘s great campaign, Operation Enduring Care, to help wounded soldiers and their families. We can think of no better cause and no finer men and women representing our great nation.

On this Father’s Day, let’s all remember the tremendous integrity and bravery of many of our fathers, grandfathers, brothers and loving husbands who are willing to put their lives on the line for freedom not just for America, but for the world. They are all quiet heroes and on this Father’s Day, I am blessed to have learned of one amazing hero in my own life. I love you Dad!

Through her book QUIET HERO, Rita Cosby has joined the USO to help wounded warriors and their families. Ten percent of book proceeds will go towards Operation Enduring Care, a comprehensive long-term initiative to support America’s Wounded Warriors and their families.Click here to purchase the book today!

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As part of our ongoing celebration of the Patriotic Six, we invite you to leave a message below telling us why YOUR father is a hero…we’ll pick two comments at random to win a fantastic USO prize pack!  Sorry, but USO employees and their families are not eligible.