Fresh off the Plane: USO Fort Drum Volunteers Try to Think of Everything When Welcoming Home Troops

FORT DRUM, N.Y.–After a long flight – and a longer deployment – a little Febreze sounds like a good idea.

While no one is recommending it as a substitute for proper hygiene, it’s a viable – and apparently welcome – quick fix for troops who’ve just returned from their deployment and don’t have the luxury of showering before reuniting with their families.

These are the things USO volunteers George and Alice Barton prepare for when they are among the first civilians to welcome 10th Mountain Division soldiers home.

George Barton receives a certificate of appreciation for his USO volunteerism at welcome home events from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard on July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

George Barton receives a certificate of appreciation for his USO volunteerism at welcome home events from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard on July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

“We tell them ‘OK, arms up for a shower before you see your family.’ And we give them a quick squirt,” a chuckling George Barton said July 15, a few hours before welcoming 293 10th Mountain troops back from an Afghanistan deployment. “They get a kick out of that.”

The Bartons have been greeting returning troops at Fort Drum for more than three years. George – a retired airman who also worked for U.S. Customs and Border Protection – welcomes troops with a hearty handshake the moment they clear customs while Alice helps facilitate the snack table, occasionally weilds the Febreze bottle and trades playful barbs with the men and women who’ve just returned from deployment. A host of other USO volunteers are on hand as well, doing everything from ringing a cowbell and yelling “Welcome home!” on the tarmac as troops stream off the plane to making sure those service members have plenty of distractions, coffee and snacks while they kill time before their official return ceremony.

USO volunteer Alice Barton mans the snack table as troops wait for their welcome home ceremony July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

USO volunteer Alice Barton mans the snack table as troops wait for their welcome home ceremony July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

“It’s like being a mother to every one of these kids,” Alice Barton said before the July 15 ceremony. “I’m glad they’re back. It’s wonderful.”

“I appreciate what they’ve done because I know what they’ve done,” George Barton said. “I’ve been over in Iraq and Afghanistan and I know what it’s like over there and I know what they’re going through. I was only over there two, three weeks at a time. They were over there for a full year. So I appreciate when they come home, they’re glad to see green again most of the time.”

The Bartons – who spend their winters in Las Cruces, New Mexico – volunteer at USO El Paso as well, working with the USO Mobile program.

“For me the retirement’s great,” George Barton said. “And working with the service people – you couldn’t be with better people.”

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

Special Spring Moments at the USO

USO Helps 2 Deployed Soldiers Witness Birth of Sons via Skype

AFGHANISTAN–USO Bagram had the special pleasure of helping two soldiers welcome their baby boys into the world this week via Skype!


Spc. Kaznica and his wife welcomed their 7-pound, 14-ounce baby boy.


Pfc. McElroy and his wife welcomed their 8 -pound son, Evan.

Spc. Kaznica, left, and his wife welcomed their 7-pound, 14-ounce baby boy and Pfc. McElroy, right, and his wife welcomed their 8-pound son, Evan. Both babies and both moms are doing well and the dads couldn’t be any prouder! The USO congratulates the Kaznica and McElroy families!


Mobile USO Deploys, Supplies Refreshments to Air Force Trials

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Wounded warriors came together April 7-11 to compete at the inaugural Air Force trials competition at the Warrior Fitness Center and USO volunteers were there to supply an oasis of refreshments and support.

The trials are an adaptive sports camp used to identify which athletes will be selected as members of the Air Force Warrior Games team and compete against other military branches in September. Athletes competed in seven different events including archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, shooting, wheelchair basketball and seated volleyball.

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USO, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Host game on Nation

On April 18, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the USO hosted Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Mazzone and other high-ranking officials from MacDill Air Force Base for a game on Nation seminar at One Buccaneer Place. The seminar focused on leadership, teamwork and communication. Watch the clip now on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ website. 

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.

Never Missing a Moment: USO Programs Help Military Family Connect During Birth of First Child

Chuck and Mel Hubbell. Courtesy photo.

Their first child was just one month out, and everything was going according to plan for Air Force Staff Sergeant Charles (Chuck) Hubbell and his young wife, Melissa (Mel).

They were decorating the nursery in pastels at their home in Rapid City, South Dakota. They knew a little girl was on the way. Her name would be Madelynn Rae Hubbell—Maddy for short—and she was already a daddy’s girl. At night Chuck would read her stories and press gently on Mel’s belly. Maddy would push right back. It was their goodnight exchange.

Then the phone rang. It was the 28th Munitions Squadron—Chuck’s command. He was ordered to drop everything and deploy to the Middle East in just three weeks.

The news was a blow to the young family.  In the four years the Hubbells had known each other, they’d only spent one Christmas together.

“This would be our third deployment as a couple,” said Mel, “so we were used to it. But this time it was different. Our family would be starting off without him.”

Less than a week before the baby was due, Chuck kissed his wife and pressed a soft goodbye on her tummy as he boarded a plane.

While on a layover at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he stopped at the USO Center and recorded a message to his unborn child using United Through Reading’s Military Program.

The USO’s partnership with United Through Reading® gives active duty troops the opportunity to stay connected with their children. Troops read a book aloud while being recorded on DVD, then send the DVD and book to the child and family back home.

“In the last week before Maddy came along, I missed him so much,” said Mel. “When I couldn’t hear Chuck’s voice, I would play the recording. Maddy recognized his voice too.”

Thanks to a Skype connection, Chuck was there in the delivery room on the day his daughter came into the world last August.  Doctors and nurses passed Chuck’s floating head around the room so the camera on Mel’s laptop could pick up the action.

But that wasn’t the only way Mel planned to share the memory with Chuck. She didn’t tell her husband, but when she received the United Through Reading® DVD in the mail, there was also a coupon inside for a free photo album.

Through a partnership with RocketLife, LLC, the USO Photo Book program gives military families a chance to build and send their loved one a free, soft-cover photo album, small enough to fit in a uniform cargo pocket.

Mel took pictures of everything—from Maddy’s short stay in the Intensive Care Unit to her first bath, first meal and first outfit—all with the USO Photo Book in mind.

“What seems like every day things to us—your child rolling over or trying a new food—aren’t so mundane to a new dad 5,000 miles away from his first born,” said Mel. “Every event is a huge deal. They want to know about these things. They want to be in the loop and show their buddies pictures.”

Mel created the book online in less than an hour. Two weeks later, Chuck was flipping through pictures of the newborn daughter he’d never seen.  He took it with him everywhere. He showed everyone at his base in Qatar.

“Having pictures of my baby girl that I could look at any time… made my time apart from her so much easier to take,” said Chuck. “Technology is great, and while I was excited to be there on Skype with my wife through 15 hours of labor, that photo book put the icing on the cake.”

Staff Sgt. Hubbell returned from deployment in late February and met his daughter in person for the first time. She is now seven months old, and even though he sees her every day, he still carries his picture book with him everywhere he goes. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Madelynn Rae Hubbell. Photo by Amy Zochol Oyler of Legacy Photo and Design


With You All The Way

by Trevor Romain, founder of the Trevor Romain Foundation

Hello from Germany. I just arrived at Ramstein Air Base from the beautiful town of Garmisch, where I spoke at a conference sponsored by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. I would like to thank the Boys and Girls Clubs for all the work they do with our military children on bases all around the world.

I am proud to give you all some really exciting news. The USO, in partnership with our company, The Trevor Romain Company, is proud to announce the release of a brand new animated DVD that is designed to help school-age children with deployment. This project began about three years ago after I had just completed several tours with the USO, doing stand-up comedy for the school-age children living on bases overseas. After visiting with these kids, it became very apparent that a resource was need to help them with deployment. We approached the USO and asked them to help us produce an animated movie using the same characters from the series that airs on PBS stations and in schools all across the country. They liked the idea, and the project was born.

Let me tell you a little bit about the show. It is titled, “With You All the Way.” It deals with all stages of deployment; from pre-deployment, deployment, and re-integration. We teach the same main characters, Jack and Skye, how to help their buddies, Darrell, Brittany, and Pablo, deal with their families’ particular stage of deployment. Along the way, I interact with these animated characters and guide them through the story.

I love Jack and Skye. They have lived in my head for quite some time and I am so glad they got a chance to star in their own series. They are both great kids, but very quirky in their own right. Like all best friends, they really like to poke fun at each other.

On a side note, kids love to ask me why I named the characters Jack and Skye. Several years ago, my dad died. He was a really great guy and I wanted to remember him throughout the series because he would have loved it. His name was Jack and he is now in the sky, hence the names.

Trevor RomainAs I mentioned earlier, Jack and Skye have been running around in my head for many years. They drive me nuts. Jack is very gentle and has a big heart. However, he is a bit of a klutz and loves to crack jokes, most of which are not very funny. Skye is a smart, confident, and witty girl, who can have a pretty sarcastic tongue sometimes. Together they make a great team.

Their friends in this episode are Darrell, Pablo, and Brittany; all of whom are experiencing stress because of a family member’s deployment.

Darrell is a very nice kid but he can be quite shy. His older brother is about to be deployed, and Darrell really looks up to him. Darrell is worried that something bad might happen. He is scared, nervous, and down in the dumps.

Brittany is one of the ‘popular’ girls. She sometimes has trouble letting people know who the real Brittany is. She is very good at masking her true emotions. In this instance, her dad has recently returned from a 12-month deployment. Her dad is being very quiet, a bit standoffish, and not having much to do with Brittany. She is pretending that his actions don’t bother her, but in truth, she is really hurting.

Pablo is a fun kid. He generally likes attention and sometimes talks a bit much. His mom is deployed overseas for the second time. His dad is being very strict at home and he is feeling like his mom doesn’t care about him. Pablo is very frustrated by this and takes his frustrations out on other people.

In the DVD, “With You All the Way,” I send the characters on a field trip to a history museum. At the museum, Jack and Skye learn lots of great pointers from some legendary military leaders about deployment. They then share everything they learn with their friends, and like all of our shows, there will be lots of laughing along the way.

Someone once asked me, “Trevor, why do kids relate so well to your characters?” Well, it is simple, really. First of all, they are all funny and have good senses of humor. However, kids easily relate to these characters because the characters share their same issues and problems. Kids know that they are not alone with some of the stresses they are facing. We try to never shy away from being real and telling the story from a child’s perspective.

I can’t wait until the movie is released. We just showed it to a small group of youth professionals in Europe and we got some great feedback. In fact, I am with one of those youth professionals now! Dorothy Choate, Chief of Family Members Programs at Ramstein Air Force Base, has been a really good friend and a great supporter of ours for years. She has also been instrumental in helping us develop materials for military children. After viewing the movie, Dorothy said, “This is exactly the type of resource we need. It is on target and addresses not only the real feelings and behaviors that our military youth face, but it also addresses the complexity of the distinct and different phases of deployments.”

To wrap up this blog, let me say how honored I am to have worked with the USO on this project. I was born in South Africa, but now I am a proud American. As an American, it is a really great feeling for me to be able to help our military kids. I myself served in South Africa, and I know how it feels to be deployed and away from your family. I can tell you from several years of personal experience working with the USO and DoDEA, these kids need a little extra support. The strain of multiple deployments really takes its toll on the whole family. If this DVD can give these kids just a little support, some hope and inspiration, and validation of what they are feeling, it will make me extremely happy and proud.

Trevor Romain CompanyTrevor Romain is an award-winning author and illustrator of a series of self-help books for children, Trevor is a much sought-after motivational speaker. He hosts the Trevor Romain animated DVD series with a cast of animated friends using humorous adventures based on his books to teach real life lessons for kids.  The DVD “With You All the Way” will soon be available online and at various USO centers.  The deployment kits that include the DVD will soon be available from the Trevor Romain Foundation as well. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Trever Romain and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.