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.

Holidays at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO

While many have been enjoying time home over the past couple of weeks, there are some Troops who spent Christmas preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.  At the Jean R. Amos USO Center at Hartsfield-Jackson, though, the mood was positive and hopeful.  Deployment is never easy, but homemade Christmas cards, the support of volunteers, some delicious food, and Santa himself made the day a little bit better for those deploying out of Atlanta.

As Bill Liss of NBC 11 in Atlanta reported, “The troops were gathering at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO above the Airport Atrium.  And there to bring a festive holiday spirit were 63 USO volunteers and 8 top Metro Atlanta chefs serving up a festive holiday banquet.  Many of the troops were heading into active war zones on Christmas day for the first time.”

MyFox Atlanta interviewed Mary Lou Austin, the CEO of USO Georgia, whose sentiments reinforced the importance of the USO’s mission to families this time of year: “Today’s a very special day.  We try to make it as much like home…home for the holidays.”

more about “Troops Treated to Christmas Day Meal …“, posted with vodpod

UPDATE!  The City of Jacksonville USO made Christmas dinner possible for 1300 Marines from Camp Lejeune.  Check out the video below and read the full story from Eyewitness News 9.  “Gunny Claus” himself (their terms, not ours!) traveled 3,000 miles from the North Pole to provide encouragement