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.”

Supporter Spotlight: General Federation of Women’s Clubs

GFWC_150x150The General Federation of Women’s Clubs has been there for the USO. Last May, the Statesville (N.C.) Women’s Club hosted the first ever USO Barbecue for the Troops. All told, the GFWC raised more than $20,000 in 2013 for the USO, helping our organization to do the following for America’s troops and families:

The USO thanks the General Federation of Women’s Clubs for their support.

And if your club or organization would like to support America’s troops though the USO, click here.

VFW Post Donates $50,000 to USO Delaware After Sale of Building

Dave Skocik, second from right, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 9962, presents a check to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Sept. 19. Also pictured are outgoing USO Delaware board members Dave Clapp, left, and C. Scott Kidner, second left, and USO Delaware Chairman Mike Tatoian, far right. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

Dave Skocik, second from right, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 9962, presents a check to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Sept. 19. Also pictured are outgoing USO Delaware board members Dave Clapp, left, and C. Scott Kidner, second left, and USO Delaware Chairman Mike Tatoian, far right. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

After serving 13 years in the Air Force and finishing out his military career with the Delaware National Guard and the Navy Reserve, Dave Skocik understands the needs of the military in his community.

That is why he and the veterans of VFW Memorial Post 9962 voted to donate $50,000 of the proceeds from the sale of the 1950s-era VFW post they called home to USO Delaware.

“Once it was decided that we would donate the proceeds to services for the military in our community, USO Delaware was the obvious choice,” said Skocik, who serves as quartermaster and president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition. “A lot of people go through the Dover facility and the USO there is doing a phenomenal job providing a much-needed service to our active duty troops and to their families.”

Skocik, a retired Vietnam-era veteran in his 60s, refers to himself as “the young guy in the group” of a few dozen World War II and Korean War veterans who have met at a local restaurant for the last few years while renting their building to a local school.

“We’re happy where we are,” Skocik said. “We don’t have a home anymore; we don’t want one. We don’t have a bar; we don’t want one. We all thought this would be a fitting end to the building and a fitting tribute to what the USO does.”

Joan Cote, director of USO Delaware, was astonished to see all those zeros.

“I was already very happy because one dollar is more than I had one minute ago,” Cote wrote in an email. “I was thinking in my mind that it might be $500 or $1,000 donation, but when Dave came out to present the check, he first handed me a note he wanted me to read explaining their donation. My jaw dropped and I honestly mouthed ‘OMG.’ It took everything I had to hold back the tears!”

Cote says USO Delaware will use some of the funding to improve services on its patio area for troops to enjoy 24-hours-a-day.

“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Skocik said. “We older veterans have to remember those who are serving today. Those who are serving multiple tours in harm’s way, uprooting their families — separations — and I can’t think of a better organization to contribute to than the USO.”

Yoga for the USO

“It really bothers me that we’ve been at two wars for 10 years and the direct impact for seeing it in our community isn’t there.”

Karen Citow, owner of a Chicago-area yoga studio, is willing to go to the mat for our troops and their families. The 34-year-old mother of three was looking for a tangible, meaningful way to show her support, so she decided to donate all her profits for the year to the USO of Illinois.

“My husband and I are in complete awe of the bravery and dedication of the men and women who volunteer for our armed forces,” she says.

Karen in action

Citow, a former licensed clinical therapist, believes that yoga makes people kinder to themselves and others, resulting in an outpouring of goodwill and good deeds.

This taut, toned and relentlessly optimistic entrepreneur opened Breathe…A Yoga Oasis in 2010 as an entirely philanthropic venture. She draws no salary, and each year, she picks a different charity to receive any studio profits.

Leslie Wooten, associate director of development for the USO of Illinois, thinks the idea is “totally new and totally awesome.”

“It’s about paying it forward and supporting causes that matter in the world,” says Wooten.

But Citow knows she has skeptics. To date, her business hasn’t actually generated any revenue beyond its operating expenses, so she’s had to come up with other ways to raise money. Once a week she teaches a Dedication Class, with all the revenue—usually more than $100 per week—going directly to her chosen charity.

In 2011, that amounted to nearly $5,000 for a local cancer foundation. In 2010, Citow raised more than $13,000 for UNICEF, with a boost from a successful Halloween, trick-or-treating fundraiser.

She hopes to come up with new fundraising ideas this year, and she believes her business will finally be in the black, allowing her to give even more generously to the USO of Illinois.

Citow chose the USO because of its reputation for supporting active duty troops and military families. She worries that too many Americans have no connection at all to the men and women who defend our freedom.

“I try to make sure that our kids are really aware this is happening, and to be grateful and thankful … that people are sacrificing and serving.”

Citow knows that most other small business owners can’t forgo their salaries or give away their profits. She calls herself fortunate—her husband is a successful surgeon, so she doesn’t have to work. Her studio allows her to use her time and talents to promote the benefits of yoga, while giving back for all her blessings.

“I hate to say I wanted to make the world a better place, but it’s true!” she admits with a laugh, “I’m proud of what I’m doing… and I love yoga and believe that if more people practiced yoga the world could be a healthier and kinder place.” – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development

NONPOINT Releases the Official Video for “Frontlines”

Download the digital version of the new NONPOINT single “Frontlines," and a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit military charities. (Image courtesy nonpoint.com)

Ft Lauderdale hard rockers NONPOINT have unveiled the official video to their new single, “Frontlines.”  Inspired by the bravery of our military, lead vocalist Elias Soriano explains, “When I wrote the concept for Frontlines, I wanted to make sure the focus was on the commitment of what our soldiers do for us. The weight they carry, and the intensity they hold steadfast to protect people they don’t even know.”

“I say this with as much meaning as I could possibly have,” says Soriano. “God bless the men and women of our military, and thank you for allowing me to be what I am, and do what I do. Every single one of you are the reason I’m free to do so.”

NONPOINT will be donating proceeds of the digital single sales of “Frontlines” to the USO and Soldier’s Angels foundations.  Watch the video below and  then click here to purchase it today!

Airmen March from Base to Base for USO

USO Delaware's Center Director Joan Cote (r) hits the 17-mile marker with walkers during the 3rd Annual Base to Base March on May 21, 2010.

The 3rd annual Base 2 Base March commenced on May 21, with  four dozen participants undertaking a 22-hour,  47-mile ruck march from the Delaware Air National Guard headquarters in New Castle to the Dover Air Force Base.  And the money raised – over $1000 this year alone – goes to the USO!

“I would love for deployed servicemembers to see we are thinking of them every day,” Tech. Sgt. David Jackson told Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle of 512th AW Public Affairs. “We may be bruised and blistered today, but they do this all the time. This (Base 2 Base March) is just a way of showing our appreciation for what they do.”

“The USO Delaware is thrilled that Sergeant Jackson has honored us with his Base 2 Base March,” said Joan Cote, USO Delaware director. “It brings awareness about the USO and also provides funding to support his military peers. It’s pretty remarkable that this Air Force member takes time away from his family life after a hectic work schedule to coordinate and complete this incredible event year after year. I don’t think many people realize what a difficult task the march is. That’s pretty impressive.”

This event would not have been possible without the dedicated walkers, volunteers, and other folks who made it possible.  It was tough going at times, but those who completed the walk all crossed the finish line together, showing that teamwork and support make anything possible.  Way to go!