With Parents Deployed, Military Toddlers Confront Monsters

He’s the baby on the block, but he already knows his A, B, C’s; his 1, 2, 3’s; and his Do-re-mi’s. He’s perpetually turned 3-and-a-half for nearly 20 years, but he’s still “got new shoes.”

For toddlers, he’s an A-List celebrity. For parents, he’s nothing short of a red felt superhero.

Elmo is back with the Sesame Street gang in the USO’s longest-running traveling show and the first-ever designed specifically for military families.

The Rood family and the Mowry family got a chance to meet the whole gang back stage, May 16, at the Wallace Theater on Ft. Belvoir. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Families like the Roods, who saw the Sesame Street/USO Experience at Fort Belvoir just three weeks before moving to a new duty station. Their 2-year-old son Deyvian may be too young to absorb what’s happening, but his older brother, 4-year-old Marques, will have to make new friends for the first time.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they incorporated a new character to talk about relocation,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Rood, who came with his two sons and his wife, Kimberly, to see the show May 14 at the Wallace Theater.

Make no mistake—Marques and Deyvian are both diehard Elmo fans. But they might find they have a lot in common with the new kid on Sesame Street.  Her name is Katie, and she’s a 6-year-old military child moving to a new place. She is confronted with the same concerns of today’s real life military families like the Roods—the separation and anxiety of a deployment, and the stress of packing up every few years and relocating to a new base, a new city or a new country.

Ella Terry, 5-year-old daughter of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry, connects with Sesame Street character Katie, a 6-year-old girl who understands what it’s like to move to a new duty station. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Ella Terry is just 5 years old, and she likes that “Katie had a daddy in the military too.”

“I am a military child and you are a military spout (spouse),” she said, pointing to her mom, Beth, wife of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry.

“Ella has already moved from Maine to San Diego to Washington D.C. in just her first 15 months of life,” said Beth Terry. “And though the transitions were great and she had no idea it was happening, in a couple years we will move again, and I appreciate being able to remind her of Katie.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Mowry is currently deployed to Afghanistan. His 2-year-old daughter, Keirah, attended the show with her mom, Crystal. At night, Keirah dances with her Rock and Roll Elmo doll and spins around giggling every time she hears him laugh. Her mom recalls doing the same thing when she was young.

“I remember learning so much from Sesame Street,” Crystal said. “Now, being able to watch her enjoy and grow up with the same characters, it is just incredible.”

Before the show, the Mowrys and the Roods had the chance to actually meet Elmo, Katie and the whole gang face to face. After her one-on-one with the not-so little red monster, Keirah was elated.

When asked what her deployed daddy would think about her meeting Elmo, her jubilation quickly subsided and her brows began knitting. She responded quietly, staring down at her feet.

“Daddy’s far, far away for work,” she said. ~ Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has performed more than 371 shows on 115 installations in 33 states and 12 countries – lifting the spirits of 222,000+ military families. Tour dates, character bios and tour information can be found at www.uso.org/sesame

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A New Site for Wounded, Ill and Injured Soldiers

The USO Warrior and Family Center is missing its final beam!

Last week I had the honor of joining servicemen and women, donors, construction representatives, and USO staff to enjoy the topping out ceremony for the new USO Warrior and Family Center in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

Most topping out ceremonies celebrate the completion of the building’s structure, a milestone for the construction team. Our ceremony was more than that. We weren’t just celebrating the halfway mark of the building’s construction. We were celebrating what the new center will be for wounded, ill and injured (WII) troops, their families, caregivers and families of the fallen.

Come January, the large skeleton of the USO Warrior and Family Center will be transformed into a place where our country’s WII troops can go to escape the hospital, relax, and have fun during their journey to recovery.

The USO Warrior and Family Center will offer a caring environment where the healing that has begun, can accelerate. It will be a focal point for support; a place of respite and recreation; a place of normalcy to bring family together; and a place to prepare for a happy and fulfilling life ahead.

The final beam is placed into the USO Warrior and Family Center.

As I saw the final beam lifted into the sky and lowered into place atop the center, I couldn’t help but smile as I envisioned the center being utilized by WII troops every day. Many of the proud faces around me were delighted, too, and I thought they must be thinking the same thing.

Did you know?

  • Since the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 40,000 troops have been visibly wounded began, and more than 300,000 troops suffer from invisible wounds.
  • Only 12-14% of WII patients are injured in combat.
  • Many WII patients are injured during training.

The Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Center:

  • Inside: communal kitchen, dining area, game room, theater, classroom, business center, study areas, community room, therapeutic enrichment room, respite lounge, and more.
  • Outside: grill area, terrace, and healing gardens
  • This center is designed for warriors to have easy access and mobility throughout these spaces.
  • The USO Warrior and Family Center in Ft. Belvoir is the first of two centers specifically for our nation’s WII troops. The second center will be built near the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

To join the USO in supporting these heroes please visit www.uso.org/oec

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Cinco de Mayo in Style!

The USO Center at Fort Belvoir celebrated Cinco De Mayo in style, hosting a lunchtime Cinco De Mayo party. Active duty soldiers, Marines and family members living at Fort Belvoir came by for the festivities. USO staff served up tacos, chips and salsa, and Pina Colada flavored Cotton Candy! The fiesta was complete with piñatas and sombreros!

USO Fort Belvoir Center coordinator, EmilyJane McLoughlin, readies a military child for her shot at the piñata. (USO Photo by Lauren Ross)

Soldiers and marines came out to USO’s Cinco De Mayo party on Fort Belvoir. The food was terrific! (USO Photo by Lauren Ross)

Washington Nationals Show They Care

As their 2010 Winter Caravan rolled into Fort Belvoir, the Washington Nationals faced a daunting task: getting hundreds and hundreds of Operation USO Care Packages stuffed and ready to send to deploying troops. Luckily they had support in the form of Wounded Warriors, a JROTC group, USO Metro staff and volunteers and – of course – Screech, their mascot.

Prospects Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen, current player Ryan Speier, manager Jim Riggleman, Nationals Senior VP & General Manager Mike Rizzo, and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network Analyst Rob Dibble got the job done, dropping toiletries, snacks, games, and other items into the USO’s signature Care Package bags and showing their fans and new friends a great time along the way.

Here’s a photo essay recapping this great event.  Look for video soon!

The USO warehouse at Fort Belvoir is home to Operation USO Care Package. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Nats' players and prospects lined up next to Troops as they stuffed the care packages. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Screech and members of the Hayfield Secondary School JROTC get the job done. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

A view from the top as players and volunteers work the assembly line. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Screech takes a stretch while Espinosa keeps on going. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman is interviewed for On Patrol magazine. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

It didn't matter if you were wearing a baseball jersey or fatigues: teamwork was the spirit of the day! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

The Care Packages were flying fast and furious as volunteers whisked them down the line. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Colonel Jerry L. Blixt, the Garrison Commander at Fort Belvoir greets a JROTC volunteer. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Boots vs. Cleats: who would win? We go with boots! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

New Family Centers at Bethesda and Fort Belvoir

The Sesame Street/USO Experience visits Fort Belvoir and (l-r) Sloan Gibson, CEO and President of the USO; service member and his daughter; and Gary Knell, President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, enjoyed the show

As Samantha L. Quigley of American Forces Press Service is reporting, the USO will build new Family Centers at both the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, MD, and at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.  We are proud to support our wounded troops and their families in this way.  Below is an excerpt from the report.  Click here to read the full story.

“USO officials plan to build family centers at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., and Fort Belvoir, Va., to continue the USO’s tradition of bringing troops a piece of home.

The project was inspired by the Army Community Services center at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, said Sloan Gibson, USO Inc. president, who toured the facility in March. He said he got to thinking about construction under way at Bethesda and Fort Belvoir for new military medical facilities and decided the new facilities needed similar centers.

The 25,000 square-foot facility at Bethesda will feature phone banks and computer banks where people can stay in touch with home, as well as places to get together and watch movies and football games and for troops and their families to play video games.

“We want to have a huge kitchen, because we’ve learned from [Brooke] in particular … that that winds up being a real gathering place,” Gibson said. “It’s a very important part of creating that environment that makes people feel very much like they’re at home.”

USO officials also want to include a major training facility, as many of the wounded warriors and their families end up spending months — and sometimes years — at the medical facilities…”