Legendary Dad: How Online Gaming Brought One Marine Family Closer Together

Today, troops and families around the world come together with video games – many of them at USO centers. But that wasn’t always the case. USO Staff Writer Joseph Andrew Lee remembers the beginning of online console gaming– and how it brought him closer to his family despite being stationed half a world away:

When I visit my parents’ house, the first thing I hear when I walk through the door is a face-melting guitar solo followed by a string of heavy machine gun fire.

No, I’m not an Osbourne or a Schwarzenegger. My parents are online gamers. My father is well known (and feared) across the spectrum of first-person shooters, while my mother is known to snap-kick like Steven Tyler when she heats up on a Guitar Hero riff.

For years now, the living room gaming console has made my parents’ house a home. It’s not just a toy. For them, it’s a fountain of youth.

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Tommy Lee aka Legendary Dad, can be seen on Skype while playing Battlefield 3 against his son, Joe Lee just last week. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

As a teenager, “Goldeneye 007″ was a mainstay on Nintendo 64. In fact, I believe 007 was the first video game my dad ever attempted to master. He would get so angry whenever my brother and I would ambush him. He would ignore the dinner bell for hours until he was able to kill one of the two of us. Then — and only then — was it was time to eat. (Yes, sometimes I was hungry enough to let him win.)

My dad was already in his 50s when I left for boot camp in 1997, so my brother and I give him a lot of credit: He didn’t just play video games with us, but he actually took the time to learn how to set an effective proximity mine and launch an MGL round at just the right angle so it would land directly in someone’s path. Trust me, this takes skill, and is good reason to be impressed. If technology were alive it would have a restraining order against my dad.

When I left home at 17, I probably missed those gaming days the most. Not so much getting blown up by a random grenade, but the trash-talking and hanging out with my family and friends. Keeping my dad up to date on the latest games and watching him become proficient at them was really fun for us. We felt like it kept him young. When my siblings and I left the house, it was sad to think that without us he might grow old and lose track of how to play the newer, more technical games.

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“Goldeneye 007″: A father’s introduction to gaming.

I spent the first two years as a Marine in Okinawa, Japan, and I missed my dad and brother a lot. I could tell they missed me, too, but phone conversations between the boys always felt forced and awkward. Maybe it was just me, but I just never felt it was a guy thing to jabber on the phone about Grandma’s new hip or to describe what I just ate for dinner (pre-Instagram).

In the year 2000, (queue up Conan O’Brien bit) the world was supposed to change dramatically. In most respects it stayed very much the same. In the world of console gaming, however, there were some significant changes taking place.

Two paradigm-shifting consoles hit the ground running in the first few years of the century, and once they got their respective online networks established in 2002, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network began connecting families like mine.

The PlayStation Network was a free service, so it probably comes as no surprise this was the console of choice for a broke, young, enlisted Marine like me. The first big shooter to come out for the PlayStation Network was a game called SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs.

I was immediately engrossed.

The title was revolutionary in that every copy was packaged with a microphone headset intended to promote in-game communication. But as a perhaps unforeseen byproduct, the headsets created a new communication platform for fathers and sons, brothers and friends. Finally, the men in my family had a way to discuss Grandpa’s colon cancer with dignity — while shooting each other in the face.

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“SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs” became an international family affair for the Lees.

The first of my family to connect online was my brother and me. As an active duty Marine, my skills were valued in this new form of online competition, and as an aspiring Web designer, his skills were also useful. We made friends with other gamers quickly and formed a team (called a “clan” in first-person shooters) named Special Operations Training Group (SOTG). He built out our website and discussion forum while I designed our team’s tactical strategies. At its peak, SOTG had more than 200 adult gamers who played SOCOM daily. Many were active duty military. Some were on my base. Some were veterans assigned to Camp Couch, 1st HOME. Others aspired to be – and eventually became – servicemen and women themselves. All are still my close friends today.

Gaming was a reprieve from military life as well as a direct portal home. Knowing my family and friends were just a power button away lifted my spirits greatly while I was in the service. Before online console gaming, my brother and I spoke once every couple of years. Now we were hanging out daily.

Over the years the games have changed but the bond has stayed the same.

“Goldeneye” turned to “SOCOM” turned to “Battlefield” turned to “Call of Duty,” but I feel comforted knowing that somewhere out there, my dad is virtually mowing down fields of teenage gamers with an arsenal of automatic weapons. Maybe even with a flame-thrower (tear).

My Mom still kicks shoes across the living room, rocking out to Drowning Pool while simultaneously baking a five-layer wedding cake for one of my sister’s friends.

My brother doesn’t play so much these days, but when I have a chance, I still jump online to hang out with (and generally get “pwned” by) my father, whose call sign couldn’t be more accurate.

His name is Legendary Dad. Find him online and he will kill you.

–By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer (aka SOTG Marine)

Heartwarming Stories From the Troops

One of the greatest comforts you can give our troops is letting them know their families are taken care of while they spend months serving their country far from home.

These words from one military wife offer a glimpse of that special feeling our troops get:

“The night before my husband left for deployment he was reading the children their bedtime story, but in the middle of it, he broke down. He hugged them and told them he was just going to miss bedtime stories with them. Our son put his arm around his dad’s shoulders to comfort him and said, ‘It’s okay, Daddy. Remember? You can still read to us on the DVDs that you send…just like last time!’”

Through your support for the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program, you can help deliver powerful moments like this to tens of thousands of our troops. It would mean so much to them.

Help make more special moments possible for our troops by donating $10 or more to support the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program, hosted at over 70 USO locations worldwide.

Your support will allow our troops to read a bedtime story to their children and then send a personalized DVD recording of it back home. I asked one troop to describe what this program means to him, and his response nearly brought me to tears:

“The USO and United Through Reading® filled a communication void with my two-year old son. He interacted with the video of me reading, and my wife reported back on the parts of the story that he responded to and what he said. I felt like I was having a dialogue with him that I couldn’t have had by any other means.”

There’s nothing more powerful than a parent’s love for their child. And nothing more touching than knowing you’ve helped a parent in the military play an important part in the life of their son or daughter.

Make a donation to connect more troops with the children they’re missing back home through the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading®.

It’s the least we can do for these selfless and brave individuals who sacrifice so much to serve our nation and protect our way of life.

Thanks for making this amazing program possible - Kelli Seely, Senior Vice President, Chief Development Officer, USO

P.S. — Thanks to people like you, the USO has been able to join forces with United Through Reading® and deliver over 240,000 bedtime videos and storybooks over the last five years. Please help us keep reaching more troops and their families.

Daddy Comforts From Afar

As parents, we know that reading to our children is not only an important contribution to their development, but a powerful opportunity for emotional connection.  So when a military parent deploys, the parent is challenged to continue their vital role, despite a long separation. Father’s Day is just one of the many special holidays that a military family may not get to spend together.

United Through Reading’s Military Program is one way a military parent can remain engaged over the course of a deployment.  As this awww-inducing video from a United Through Reading beneficiary family shows, children are never too young to benefit from the soothing sound of their parent’s voice, and a dad is never too far away to comfort his son in this simple way.

Want to help? Simply like OshKosh B’gosh on Facebook and they’ll donate to help fund this great program!

USO Houston Presents Essay Contest Winner

How has military service made your family unique?

That is the question that USO Houston asked military children to answer in their recent essay contest.

On Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 19th, tenth grader Cheyenne Cavazos was named the winner. Cheyenne’s mother, Pamela Cavazos, said, “Cheyenne was very surprised and happy that she won the contest.”

With a father who serves in the Texas Army National Guard 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company, Cheyenne felt compelled to write about his deployments and how their family changes when he is away.

Like her father, Cheyenne is a leader for the military community. She is the Region 5 Representative for Southeast Texas in the Texas Army National Guard’s Youth Program.

Cheyenne’s essay illustrates what makes her family special and different from non-military families. She explains how everyone in a military family makes a sacrifice, not just the person serving.

That sacrifice is something Pamela Cavazos agrees with fully. “I wish more people would understand that family members of a soldier also sacrifice for this country,” she said. “Family members need support while the soldiers are away. But, regardless we all serve as one and we are very proud of our soldiers and our country.”

When they found out Cheyenne’s expressive essay had won USO Houston’s contest, Pamela Cavazos said she and her husband were very emotional and proud of their daughter’s accomplishment.

Here is Cheyenne’s winning essay:

I consider my family a unique, one of a kind family because we all serve, not just the “Green Suitor” all of us have our ups and downs, but find a way to get through it no matter how far apart we are from each other.

Family means a group consisting of parents and children living together in the same household. As a military family it’s not as simple. Growing up in a “military family” you learn there is much more than just being together, you learn respect, communication, sacrifice, and strength while your loved one risks their life to keep you as well as their country safe.

As a military family, making sacrifices is something you grow into, not always do we as a military family get to live together in the same household. Many times one has to leave for a period of time living somewhere different. A military family sticks together; it’s a family closer than most. It’s a wife without her spouse; it’s a daughter without her dad to watch her go on her first date because he is sacrificing his life.

No family is the same but a military family is a one of a kind family. In our military family as a child I knew what it meant when my dad goes to work, for most families it’s a 9-5 job, when my dad goes to work it’s a 24 hour job. Not a suit and tie but his ACU’s with his tan scuffed up boots. Not a suitcase in hand but a gun when in combat. After a long day of work most dads would come home eat dinner as they talk about their day and then spend time with his wife and kids. After a long day at work our soldier would open and heat up and MRE for dinner after walking a mile to the nearest phone to call home to hear his wife’s voice as she gets on to the kids for running in the house. Then go back to his room to play a game of Sudoku while munching on Girl Scout cookies and jalapeño chips his daughter mailed out two weeks prior. For my family this is a normal life when my dad’s deployed.

A family that sticks together through ups and downs and always tries to find a way to stay positive when duty calls; it’s a family where everyone serves, it’s a unique family, my family.

Cheyenne Cavazos

Cheyenne’s grand prize is an all-inclusive two night stay at Benchmark Hospitality International’s The Woodlands Resort for a family of four. This wonderful prize was made possible through the USO’s partnership with Benchmark Hospitality International.

USO Houston hopes to present Cheyenne and her family with the grand prize on-air at their Memorial Day phone bank on Monday. Congratulations Cheyenne on your beautifully written essay! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Sesame Street Puppeteers Take ‘Elmo’ and ‘Rosita’ to Germany on a USO Adventure

Celebrated puppeteers Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Carmen Osbahr (Rosita) bring their Sesame Street characters to life during a performance at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany October 14, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. In a show of appreciation, €˜Elmo€™ and €˜Rosita€™ sang, danced, and interacted with military kids throughout their performance. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

“I am so proud to be a part of Sesame Workshop’s Talk, Listen, Connect Initiative and to have the opportunity to go on a USO tour to Germany and uplift the spirits of today’s military schoolchildren.  They, unlike most of today’s youth, often face an array of changes on a routine basis and it is nice to know they aren’t being ignored or forgotten.” – Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo

Elmo and Rosita and the celebrated puppeteers who bring them to life, Baltimore native Kevin Clash and Mexico City native Carmen Osbahr, lifted the spirits of nearly 1,000 troops and military schoolchildren stationed at four military school in Germany!  It’s the first tour for both Clash and Osbahr, whose performances are an extension of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families in collaboration with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, and the USO.

As part of the ten performances they put on, Elmo and Rosita sang songs and interacted with military school kids.  They also danced and expressed their thanks to schoolchildren, in addition to helping the young children in the audience – most ages 2 to 8 –  cope with challenging transitions in their lives, such as deployments and when a parent comes home with a combat-related injury.

It was a fantastic, family friendly tour that won’t soon be forgotten. Check out more pictures below!

A student at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany hugs Sesame Streetâ€'s Rosita€ after a USO-sponsored performance October 14, 2010. Osbahr, who performs €Rosita,€™ began her relationship with Sesame Street as a teenager in 1985. Part of Sesame Workshop'€™s Talk Listen Connect program for military families, her other credits include Kiki€™ in The Puzzle Place, a role in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and as Lily€™ in Johnny and The Sprites for the Disney Channel. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Celebrated puppeteers Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Carmen Osbahr (Rosita) bring their Sesame Street characters to life during a performance at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany October 14, 2010. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Sesame Street's €˜Rosita€™ (right) and Elmo pose for a photo after a performance at Vogelweh Elementary School in Germany October 13, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Kevin Clash head out into the crowd to let the children get up and close and personal with on of their favorite Sesame Street characters - Elmo, of course! - during a performance at Kaiserslautern Elementary School in Germany October 13, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

“Military Wives (And Moms) Are Heroes, Too”

 

Military wife and mom Kelly Walker gets ready for the gala. (Photo by Kelly Wallace)

 

There was a special pre-party event that occurred before the 2010 USO Gala this year: P&G (our newest Worldwide Strategic Partner) set up a beauty suite for the wives of the Service Member Honorees of the Year!

iVillage’s Kelly Wallace was there to capture the moment, and spent time with Kelly Walker, the wife of Sgt. Eric Walker, the USO’s Marine of the Year.  “I very much enjoyed it,” Walker, a mother or two, told Wallace after her beauty sessions. “I don’t get pampering, I guess, very much, so it was quite enjoyable to have someone do my hair and my makeup.”

But, as Wallace points out, none of these women do what they do for attention or awards.  Walker concluded, “I’m just very proud of (my husband) and what he does, and so I’m honored for what I get to do for him.”

We’re proud of all of these military wives and moms (and their Service Member Honoree spouses!) and hope you’ll take a minute to watch the video below, then say “Thank You” to the military wife or mom in your life…