Your USO At Work: April 2014 — Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda Opens

USO officials, military leaders and celebrities cut the ribbon to USO's Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda.  USO Photo by Mike Theiler

USO officials, military leaders and celebrities cut the ribbon to USO’s Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

USO Opens New Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda

After a year of construction and several years of planning and fundraising, the ribbon was finally cut on April 1 at the USO Warrior and Family Center located on Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

The center – which is the sister structure to the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. – opened to troops, families and caregivers the next day and provided a much-needed home away from home for wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers living on the installation.

More than 200 people – including Department of Defense officials, wounded warriors, esteemed donors and even Miss America – attended the ceremony at the new center.

“This is where the future begins,” USO President and CEO John I. Pray, Jr., said. “We built this Warrior and Family Center to serve all troops and their families who pass through this healing center of excellence.”

The 16,217-square-foot center has places for recovering troops and their families and caregivers to relax and plan their futures away from the grind of the hospital. Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, the Warrior and Family Center has a classroom for recovering troops to take college courses, plenty of computers and a fireside lounge and kitchen where they can relax and grab a bite to eat.

Troops seeking to have a good time can hit the sports lounge, where they can watch the biggest games, or visit the studio, where they can work on creative projects or jam on house instruments.

“It’s hard to capture in words what a center like this means to recovering warriors and their families,” said Adm. James A. Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “To be able to get away – in the midst of it all – to such a beautiful, peaceful and comfortable place right here on campus … is more than just nice to have. It is an essential part of recovery.”

Cheryl Laaker Hall, vice president of operations for USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, spoke with confidence when she talked about the center’s future.

“We’re very certain, after the last few days of being here, that we have a winner,” she said. “We know that troops and families want to be here. They need a place like this, where they can go and be themselves. … We’re just so proud to have this facility and be able to be that space for them.”

USO,What to Expect Foundation Host Baby Showers for Military Moms-To-Be

The time-honored tradition of celebrating the birth of a child with a baby shower is one of the moments many of our expectant military moms miss out on, especially if they live overseas. To help fill that void, the USO, in collaboration with the What to Expect Foundation and author Heidi Murkoff, brought “Special Delivery,” a very special baby shower to military moms in Landstuhl, Germany.

Best-selling author Heidi Murkoff hugs a service member at a Special Delivery baby shower held in Landstuhl, Germany, in March. USO photo

Best-selling author Heidi Murkoff hugs a service member at a Special Delivery baby shower held in Landstuhl, Germany, in March. USO photo

“Motherhood is the ultimate sisterhood,” said Murkoff, the best-selling author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” “For military moms-to-be, far from their immediate family and friends, these baby showers are more than gift bags and cake. They are about connecting and sharing a common bond and creating friendships with women experiencing the same mix of emotions.”

Over three days, the USO and the What to Expect Foundation hosted three baby showers for hundreds of new and expecting military moms in Germany. Each baby shower featured food, gifts and games as well as a question-and-answer session and book signing with Murkoff.

“Military families sacrifice countless everyday moments in service to our country,” said USO Europe Regional Vice President Walt Murren. “It is such an honor for USO Europe to host a program like Special Delivery, because for many of these women this may be their only baby shower. We want to make sure it’s an experience they won’t soon forget.”

Find out how you can show your support for military moms by visiting USOmoments.org.

Longtime USO of Georgia CEO Looks Back – and Forward

As the Vietnam War was raging in late 1968, a USO ad in a newspaper caught the eye of Mary Lou Austin, who was teaching in Washington, D.C. After interviewing for a job, she was hired and sent to New York City – then the home of USO headquarters.

USO of Georgia President and CEO Mary Lou Austin. Courtesy photo

USO of Georgia President and CEO Mary Lou Austin. Courtesy photo

Forty-five years later – after holding numerous USO jobs and traveling around the world – Austin is still with the organization, serving as president and CEO of the USO of Georgia.

“I guess you can say the ad made me curious,” she said. “The organization interested me, and the mission compelled me. … I started in January of 1969, and thus began my wonderful, meaningful journey serving troops.”

She’s been able to support thousands of service members and their families over the years and taking care of them has always been her top priority—and her favorite part of the job.

“We [at the USO] have unique opportunity to provide a myriad of programs and services to the committed and courageous men and women serving our country. … You see them in happy times and in times of sadness, but at the USO, you represent a living symbol of respect and honor for their service.”

Austin said she’s been fortunate to have had such a gratifying career, and even after helping countless troops and families, she remains dedicated to our spirit-lifting mission.

“USO receives many accolades and awards, but the most meaningful part is knowing that you truly helped someone in some way, through a program, service, or even a smile.”

USO Helps Woman on Journey After Marine Brother’s Death

On Nov. 30, 2011, Marine Staff Sgt. Vincent J. Bell, 28, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. The youngest of three children, he was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan after having served four tours in Iraq.

“He was the sweetest, most gentle, loveable man I have ever known. He was the love and light in our family, and every day without him feels so painful,” his sister London Bell said.

London Bell poses in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center during her USO/TAPS-sponsored trip to the Big Apple in October. Photo courtesy of London Bell

London Bell poses in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center during her USO/TAPS-sponsored trip to the Big Apple in October. Photo courtesy of London Bell

In October, Bell was approaching the anniversary of her brother’s 2011 death in Afghanistan when the USO and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offered her a chance to take a trip with others who lost siblings to war. Weeks later, she was making unexpected friends in Manhattan. She was also finding out that she wasn’t alone.

“I started out on the journey as a lone traveler, but I left meeting several people who were really just like me,” Bell said. “It was a good way for me to bond.”

Bell lives in Chicago and relies on TAPS retreats for emotional assurance that is critical to brothers and sisters who lost so much during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On her retreat, Bell and her fellow sibling survivors were able to enjoy a weekend in New York City together, sharing stories, sightseeing and attending a live taping of “The Daily Show.”

“I feel that it is important that I continue to reach out to TAPS to find support,” Bell said. “I’m the only person in my circle of close friends who has lost a sibling in battle and it can be very isolating.

“I need to be able to share my story as a sibling,” she said. “I do a lot to support my mom and dad and my sister in their grief, but I also need that support for myself.”

She’s learned a lot about life since Vincent died and wants to be a support to other siblings.

“I can be an ear, a hug and a friend to other sibling survivors, and I want to be able to do that for others on this journey.”

NFL Stars Jimmy Graham, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Fields Visit Troops in the Middle East on USO Tour 

While the official NFL season ended in February, a trio of professional football players continued the tradition of traveling to the Middle East for an offseason USO tour. New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon and Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields met up with U.S. troops downrange.

From left to right, NFL stars Brandon Fields, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Garcon pose for a photo with troops during their USO tour to the Middle East in March. USO photo by Dave Gatley

From left to right, NFL stars Brandon Fields, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Garcon pose for a photo with troops during their USO tour to the Middle East in March. USO photo by Dave Gatley

“This experience for me has truly been life-changing,” said Graham, who caught an NFL-best 16 touchdowns last season. “The personal connection I’ve been able to make is something that will be with me forever. I grew up in a military home and this just makes me more of a patriot. I have more of an appreciation for the little things we have back home each and every day.”

“The best part of this trip [was] being able to spend time with the troops and interact with them,” said Fields. “We are truly blessed because of the sacrifices that our men and women of our armed forces are willing to make.”

Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol Delivers $25,000 Check to the USO

What would you do if the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol showed up on your doorstep?

Staff and volunteers at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., were jumping for joy in January after receiving a $25,000 check from the Publishers Clearing House recent Facebook promotion, The Give Back.

“We’re really grateful,” said USO Vice President of Operations Glenn Welling, who was presented the check by the Prize Patrol. “This was our first opportunity to get involved with the Publishers Clearing House Give Back promotion, and just to be able to be recognized by the Americans who went online each day is awesome. For 73 years, the USO has been the connection between America and her military, and donations like this one will allow us to continue doing what we are do for another 73 years.”

This year’s The Give Back event featured three charities: the USO, ASPCA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Fans were allowed to vote for their favorite charity once per day, with the charities earning prizes based on where they finished in the voting.

“We love being able to give back to the charities our customers care about,” said Danielle Bertellotti, assistant manager for digital marketing development at Publishers Clearing House. “Our audience has been very vocal on social media, and they have made it clear that the USO is a charity they care deeply about, so we are very happy to give.”

New USO Center Opens at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait

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CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – With U.S. forces slowly drawing down in the Middle East, the USO is re-allocating its resources to the remaining places it can best serve the most troops. On Nov. 3, the USO opened a new center on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with some of the gear that was packed up after the summer closure of USO Camp LSA on Ali al-Salem Air Base.

With many of the current personnel rotating home, the outpouring of support for the center opening was an example of service members looking out for each other.

“With a USO center on Camp Arifjan, it will be a lot easier to call home directly,” said Spec. Noshoba Ann Davis of Deville, La. “Also, I really enjoy getting to volunteer and give back to our base community.”

USO staff has been providing services and building up the center at Camp Arifjan for several weeks in anticipation of the opening.

“In the months leading up to the center being ready to open, we did a lot of outreach on base,” said DeAnne Dotson, a USO duty manager at Arifjan. “What I found was that everyone had a USO story, whether it was being stranded in an airport and finding a place to rest and a hot meal or being sent off on their deployment, or visiting a USO on a previous deployment, everyone brings that story with them. When people would hear that a USO was opening up on Camp Arifjan, they were so excited.

“The free phones and Internet are the two pillars of staying in touch with your loved ones, and already today they have proven to be a huge hit. There are no phone cards, no operators, just pick up the phone and call.”

The troops on hand were happy to talk about their appreciation for what the USO provides.

“This is my third deployment, and the USO has been with me through different stages throughout my career,” said Maj. (Chaplain) Jim Lewis of Kent, Ohio. “When I was stateside, I was working with the USO to help send off units that were deploying. My first deployment I flew out on Christmas Day, and ate Christmas dinner at the USO in the airport. I know because of all the wonderful experiences I have had with the USO around the world that my deployment at Arifjan will be much better because there is a USO center here.”

–Story and photos by Eric Raum

USO Osan Opens in South Korea

Troops and USO staffers prepare to cut the ribbon to officially open the new USO Osan on Osan Air Base, South Korea. USO photo

Troops and USO staffers prepare to cut the ribbon to officially open the new USO Osan on Osan Air Base, South Korea. USO photo

A banner year for center openings and refurbishments continued Wednesday with the opening of USO Osan, a new location inside the Osan Air Base Community Center in South Korea.

USO President Sloan Gibson and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas were among the officials who attended the ribbon cutting to open the new center.

From left, USO President Sloan Gibson, USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas speak at the event. USO photo

From left, USO President Sloan Gibson, USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris and Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas speak at the event. USO photo

“The USO has been an important member of the military family in Korea for more than 60 years,” Gibson said. “On the eve of America’s birthday, the USO is proud to recognize the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women and military families serving here, their constant vigilance protecting the freedoms for those of us at home.”

The center features many hallmark USO touches, including multiple, free ways to connect to loved ones back in the United States like Internet-ready computers and phones. The center will also offer core USO programming such as United Through Reading’s Military Program. USO Osan and nearby USO Camp Humphreys also plan to co-host large events like barbecues.

Visit the USO Osan Facebook page to keep up with events at the center.

–USO Story Development

USO Fort Campbell Opens

Photo by @FortCampbell

A center opening is always a happy occasion for the USO. Today we opened the 142nd USO center worldwide in Ft. Campbell, KY, home to to the 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles.”

There were brand new shiny USO signs, the ever-popular cups of coffee, troops, families, community leaders, donors and a Huey.  Yep, a Huey —  right smack dab in the middle of USO Fort Campbell.

This helicopter was recovered from a scrap yard at ft Campbell in 2010.  Thanks to the 159th combat brigade, Bravo Company  563D Aviation Support Battalion it’s now the newest, coolest gaming station you’ll ever see — and loaded with Xboxes and games thanks to Microsoft.

The 159th not only transported this helicopter, they also helped restore this UH1 Huey. Thanks to these soldiers, their labor of love will help lift the spirits of their fellow soldiers for years to come. – Gena Fitzgerald, USO VP of Communications

USO Opens Its First Center in Kansas!

(L-R) Col. Brown, Fort Riley Garrison commander; Sloan Gibson, USO president & CEO; April Blackmon, USO Fort Riley director; Mrs. Carol Brooks, wife of Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division & Fort Riley; David McIntyre, President & CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance; and Brig. Gen. David Petersen, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley deputy commanding general cut the ribbon at the grand opening on USO Fort Riley on May 25, 2010. (USO Photo by Virginia Hagin)

“USO Fort Riley is a home away from home for our service members and families – a place for them to unwind and feel comfortable. We are extremely grateful for the support of our partners and the Fort Riley community, as well as the dedication of our wonderful volunteers.” – April Blackmon, Center Director at USO Fort Riley.

This week, we opened our first center in Kansas – USO Fort Riley – to serve the more than 23,000 troops and family members stationed on one of the largest U.S. Army installations in the United States. The new center will be open 365 days a year to provide a wide variety of programs for the Fort Riley military community.

With 7,000 square feet of room, this center features a computer lab with nine computer stations and WiFi connectivity; a video gaming area with Xbox®, Sony Playstation 3, and Nintendo® Wii™ consoles; a library and family room; pool, air hockey, foosball, shuffleboard, poker and chess tables; a movie theater with a large DVD and Blu-ray library; nine televisions with DirecTV; a United Through Reading® recording area, outdoor patio, snack bar and fire place lounges.

We’d like to thank the Department of Defense for their cooperation in opening the center, and the generosity of the TriWest Healthcare Alliance, Mark Gelfand, United Renovations and Harbor Group, and donations from the public that make it all possible.  David J. McIntyre, Jr., President and CEO of TriWest Healthcare Alliance & USO Board Member has this to say: “The USO Center offers Fort Riley-based men and women a place to relax, have fun and meet friends. TriWest is proud to contribute to the construction of this new center as a thank you to Service members and their families who sacrifice so much in defense of our nation.”

We say thank you, too and can’t wait to hear the great stories from USO Fort Riley.  Enjoy more photos below!

Col. Brown, Fort Riley Garrison commander, greets center visitors at the standing-room-only USO Fort Riley grand opening on May 25, 2010. (USO Photo by Virginia Hagin)

USO Fort Riley opened to more than 100 guests on May 25, 2010, providing a "home away from home" to service members and their families. (USO Photo by Virginia Hagin)

USO Fort Riley features a computer lab with WiFi connectivity, a video gaming area, library & family rooms, game tables, movie theater, televisions, a United Through Reading® recording area, patio, snack bar and lounges. (USO Photo by Virginia Hagin)

Service members enjoy the gaming area at the new USO Fort Riley center, the first USO center in Kansas, during a grand opening celebration on May 25, 2010. (USO Photo by Virginia Hagin)

USO Fort Riley volunteers help serve dozens of troops outside of the USO Mobile Canteen during the grand opening of USO Fort Riley on May 25, 2010. (USO Photo by Virginia Hagin)

USO of Metropolitan Washington Opens USO Lounge at Joint Base Andrews Airport

Fort Myer, VA – The USO of Metropolitan Washington (USO-Metro) today opened its newly renovated USO Lounge at Joint Base Andrews. USO-Metro operates four locations in local airports to assist military travelers. USO Lounges are also located at Reagan National Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

“Intense travel schedules of today’s military put pressure not only on active duty service members, but on their families as well. Since 1941, the USO has assisted members of our armed forces, today we are excited to expand our services to those traveling through the Andrews Passenger terminal,” said Elaine Rogers, USO-Metro president. “I want to thank Maj Gen Jones, Commander Air Force District of Washington and 89th Airlift Wing, whose support made this expansion possible.”

The USO Lounge at Joint Base Andrews will be open from 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily. The lounge will be staffed by knowledgeable USO volunteers and offer complimentary services to traveling service members and their families including:

§ Variety of snacks and beverages

§ Wireless internet

§ Two desktop computers with printing capability

§ Copy and Fax services

§ Free books and magazines

§ Shower and towel sign out

§ Toiletry items

§ Volunteers will also assist with transportation, lodging and other questions service members may have

Traveling service members seeking assistance can reach the USO Lounge at 301/981-4686.

Rebecca Hemming helps her son, Levi, 7, decide which backpack to choose as her daughter, Megan, 8, eats ice cream during a USO-sponsored free backpack and ice cream give away at the Youth Center recently. Co-hosted by the Air Force District of Washington, the backpacks were packed with school supplies by first lady Michelle Obama and her daughter. Rebecca is the wife of Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Hemming, Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron 209 aviation machinist. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Bobby Jones)