Op Thanksgiving Eagle – “Brings A Beat To Our Military Children’s Hearts”

‎”Mrs. Fink–I loved your songs. Your beat is in my heart.” - Sammy, Kindergarten, Wetzel Elementary School, Baumholder. Father is currently deployed and in danger’s way. (The Assistant Principal led Sammy to me after the show so he could share his powerful words with me.)

Operation Thanksgiving Eagle at the USO Warrior Center in Germany

Be still my heart. Sammy and I then hugged, and had a priceless conversation about the power of music. Yes, with a five-year-old. I told him his words were the highlight of my day, and were worth traveling to Germany to hear.

The 450 students at this morning’s two performances at Wetzel ES were stellar. The principal, Ms. Simmons, and her assistant principal lead and educate these children lovingly and enduringly. Their students are 100% Army (so of course we wove the Army anthem into the script!), and over 90% currently have a parent deployed and in harm’s way.

Debbie Fink plays during the Operation Thanksgiving Eagle Tour at Vogelweh

As Ms. Simmons said (I am paraphrasing), “there’s a specialness to these kids. What they are dealing with is beyond the call of duty. They do their best, and are simply–special.” The assistant principal shared how she feels so privileged to work with them, and to help them with all their individual and collective needs. Looking at the upside, she shared that these are happier times right now, because the majority of their deployed parents are coming home before the New Year.

Yet, I wonder, how does it feel inside a child’s heart to see “all” the other parents come trickling home, when yours does not? Don’t we all remember a time when our parent was the very last to pick us up from school, or didn’t pick us up that time at all? Multiply that by a million, and that’s my civilian guess for how it feels. Add to this the possibilities that such a child might feel jealousy, anger, or resentment for the classmates whose parents DO come home. And top that off with those kids who then may feel badly or ashamed or embarrassed that this is how they feel, when they “should” feel happy for their peers’ long-awaited-for family reunions.

It’s comforting to know that these brave Wexler students are in a school environment that understands them, supports them, comforts them, and stands by them. It’s comforting to know that as Sammy holds the beat of our OTE performance’s music and message in his gentle heart, that he is in a space which will one day soon place drumsticks in his hands. May Sammy’s heart continue to sing; may his soul continue to dance; and may his father soon return home safely to swoop Sammy up and swing his son in his strong, heroic arms. – Debbie Fink, Acclaimed Author, Educator, Speaker & Performer

See more updates from the tour at Debbie Fink’s Facebook Page. Note: the child’s real name was changed to Sammy for reasons of confidentiality.

Trevor Romain Visits Germany!

The USO and Trevor Romain are “With You All the Way”! (All photos courtesy of the Trevor Romain Foundation)

The USO’s “With You All the Way” tour is off to an exciting start! After returning home from the tour’s kick-off in Germany, Trevor Romain traveled to his first U.S. Army Post in Fort Riley, Kansas to present to elementary school children on difficult topics related to deployment, bullying, and making healthy emotional choices. Trevor will be presenting to thousands of military children and families over the next few years, and Fort Riley was a great place to begin the tour! The USO center, schools, and families were welcoming and informative. Trevor even got to experience real Kansas barbecue in Aggieville between presentations! Luckily, he and his team were in good company as they explored Fort Riley’s enormous base, and the surrounding areas.

Five elementary schools were able to participate in Trevor’s presentations, touching at least 800 students. Fort Riley has a great group of kids! It was obvious the children were supportive of one another and worked together as a team; true heroes indeed. The laughs echoed throughout each presentation as Trevor mixed in jokes with serious discussions about some pretty challenging situations these brave children are facing. Jack and Skye, Trevor’s animated characters, were also a main part of his act. Although Jack may have been a bit focused on his obsession with eating nachos, he made it clear to the kids how important it was for them to be a good friend and help each other during deployments.

Not everything was fun and games. Children offered personal stories of how their lives have been impacted by deployment and bullying. A few children even mentioned changes they plan on making to stop bullying from happening so their friends no longer have to experience the hurt that comes along with it. Tears, hugs, and laughter were present as children’s concerns were brought to light. Any special circumstances were documented in order for those kids to receive the appropriate support. Each child will receive their own personal kit with Trevor’s animated DVD’s, a journal, and “The Art of Caring” for the parents, with many thanks to the USO’s generous donations. Children were jumping for joy at the mention of this gift.

USO Fort Riley Center Director April Blackmon had this to say about the tour: “We were fortunate to have Trevor visit our USO and help distribute the comfort kits to our families while he was here to speak with the schoolchildren. His presentations were wonderful, and the kids/families really enjoyed it. He spreads such a positive message about expressing your feelings and it being okay to be upset with deployments – I think every military child would benefit from hearing his messages.

Personally, as an Army brat, it was difficult growing up in the Army world and dealing with my father’s deployments and especially his injuries. I didn’t know how to express my feelings, or that it was okay to feel the way I did, so I just distanced myself and turned off my emotions. I wasn’t sure how to talk to my parents about it, or how to ask for help when I was feeling down and worried and angry. I wish I had someone like Trevor to visit with back then, because I think it would’ve made a big difference. I hope that what Trevor teaches these children helps them tackle emotions head-on and results in positive outcomes for them. And I truly think it will…

And it was interesting, after his presentations to the schoolkids (which were great) they were drawn to children who needed some extra care. I watched as these kids cried and started to vent about their problems – which was good. And I thought it was good that they took the kids contact information and made sure each kid in extra need got a kit of some sort.”

Thanks, Trevor, for being with us all the way!  More pictures below…

Before leaving for volleyball practice, this 3rd grader takes a peak at Trevor’s journal. He keeps this book of meaningful doodles with him at all times.

The smiles and laughs were endless while Trevor interacted with military children. Afterward, kids line up for high-fives and a free deployment kit, sponsored by the USO.

Cuzzie - an integral part of the Dealing with Deployment kit - is all geared-up and ready to fly. He’s named Cuzzie… ‘cuz he cares’!

Cuzzies in hand, siblings give their biggest smiles. Each child also received a personal journal to write down their thoughts and feelings throughout their parent’s deployment.

A Special Shout Out from American Idol’s Kris Allen!

Kris Allen energized hundreds of fans Oct. 1 at Vogelweh’s Kazabra Club during his recent USO tour. (Photos by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison, Kaiserslautern)

American Idol winner Kris Allen recently completed a weeklong USO tour through Europe, entertaining and signing autographs for hundreds of fans along the way.  One special stop was at the USO Warrior Center, where USO staff and volunteers hosted a lunch for Allen and 25 wounded warriors.

The wounded warriors enjoyed great food and a post-meal acoustic set of some of Allen’s most popular songs.  One wounded warrior commented, “I watch American Idol every season, so it was pretty cool meeting the winner.” Check out and share this special shout out he taped there:

The tour took on special meaning for Allen, whose wife shares a special connection with the Kaiserslautern area.   “My wife lived in Ramstein. When she was a kid, her dad was in the Air Force,” Allen said to reporter Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern.

When the USO recently asked Allen and his band to take on an overseas tour to play for service members and their families in Europe, he said it was a “no-brainer.”

“We were like, absolutely, we’ll do it,” Allen said. “It’s just an honor for us to come over here and hopefully offer some entertainment. These guys give a lot for our country and this is the least we can do.”

“You’re away from family and I know that’s really hard. So, I’d like to thank you so much for what you do,” Allen said. “Just keeping working hard, it means a lot to people in America.”

AFN Europe also caught him on camera.  Enjoy this interview  by TSgt Colleen Jones, as she takes us to this Idol’s show to support the troops…

Raheem DeVaughn Brings the Neo-Soul on his USO Tour in Europe

Celebrated R&B vocalist Raheem DeVaughn performs a USO show for troops and their families at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, September 19, 2010. Fresh off the Budweiser Superfest Tour with singers Anthony Hamilton, Jaheim, Hal Linton and Kem, DeVaughn is on a mission to bring a touch of home to service members and their families stationed in Europe. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

“Whether you have served in America’s armed forces personally, or have a friend or family member who has served – virtually everyone has been touched by the sacrifice of today’s troops, including myself.  I am honored to have participated in an entertainment tour to Europe as well as to have been part of the USO’s longest-running and most celebrated tradition.  Joining the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. in boosting troop morale and bringing military families a touch of home has truly been a life-changing experience.” -Raheem DeVaughn

Maryland-based R&B vocalist Raheem DeVaughn recently wrapped up his first USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour to Europe.  DeVaughn brought neo-soul to hundreds of U.S. troops and their families stationed in Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

During his 8-day, 4-country tour, DeVaughn visited five military bases, including Royal Air Force Menwith Hill, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Joint Force Command Brunssum, Spangdahlem Air Base and Ramstein Air Base.  The star also signed autographs, posed for photos and shared personal stories of life behind the mic, in addition to visiting hospital staff and wounded warriors.

DeVaughn is one of modern soul’s most beloved artists.  Known for such hits as “Guess Who Knows You More,” “Woman” and “Customer,” he has earned two Grammy nods and two BET J Awards for “Best Male R&B Artist” and “Album of the Year.”

We hope he enjoyed his first tour as much as the Troops and their families in the audience did!  Check out more pictures below…

R&B singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn poses for a photo with a group of airmen stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, September 19, 2010. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn flashes a smile as he performs a USO concert for troops and their families stationed at Joint Forces Command Headquarters in Brunssum, The Netherlands, September 18, 2010. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn smiles for a photo with Army 2nd Lieutenant Aminat Lawal from Plano, Texas, during a USO visit to Landstuhl Regional Army Medical Center, September 20, 2010. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

A painting by Demont Pinder celebrates a USO tour performance by R&B singer/songwriter Raheem DeVaughn at Royal Air Force Base Menwith Hill in England, September 15, 2010. Pinder created the artwork while DeVaughn performed onstage, then digitally projected the image on to a big screen for the audience to enjoy. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

News & Notes From Around the World

Baghdad, Iraq – The USO in Baghdad sponsored a “235th Birthday for the Army Jag” 5K run.  For those of you familiar with the terrain, the runners started at Signal Hill on Camp Victory.  Over 450 people show up for this early morning weekend run. The USO had T-shirts for all the runners and plaques for the top 3 fastest male and female participants.  Congrats to all!

Runners stretched in preparation of a 5K run sponsored by the USO. (Photo by USO Baghdad)

Landstuhl, Germany - On July 30, 2010 the USO Warrior Center hosted an event with Heidelberg Sports and Fitness.  A group came down to cook out for the wounded warriors and give away some T-shirts designed especially for the event.  Menu choices included ribs, pork steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, bratwurst, baked beans, potato salad, corn on the cob, vegetarian chili, watermelon, and garlic bread.  Yummy!

The event also fell on their Flashback Friday tradition, so a couple of older sports-themed movies were shown during the dinner, including “Bull Durham” and “Hoosiers.”  The turnout for the event was great, with 100 wounded warriors in attendance.  Nearly every wounded warrior echoed this warrior’s feelings, “this is the best food I have had in a long time.”

The wounded warriors were grateful to the Heidelberg crew for grilling for them and to the USO for hosting another successful event. (Photo by USO Warrior Center)

Basrah, Iraq - Texas Hold’em has quickly become a base favorite at USO Basrah. Every seat in the house was full once again as soldiers competed to make it to the final table. The addition of new trophies for the top card sharks had everyone playing their hands tight and bringing their best game face to the table.  Though not everyone walked away a champion, everyone had the chance to hone their skills and prepare…for next month’s tournament.  For more pictures, visit USO Basrah on Facebook by clicking here.

The poker tables were packed as Troops anted up for a tournament. (Photo by USO Basrah)

Papa Roach Breaks Away From European Tour to Perform Two USO Concerts!

Rock band Papa Roach extends their thanks to our nation's heroes and their families at the conclusion of their USO concert in Wiesbaden, Germany, July 27, 2010. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

“The band is extremely happy to be back in Europe touring and is honored to break away from our European tour to visit troops and deliver a USO concert. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do everyday if it weren’t for our men and women in uniform and their families, who sacrifice a lot for us to live out our dreams.” – Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix

Papa Roach and Dear Superstar broke away from their European Tour last week to perform USO Concerts at Aviano Air Base and U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden.  Over 1,400 Airmen, Soldiers and military families enjoyed the USO/Armed Forces Entertainment concerts; the Germany performance was broadcast by AFN-Europe to 56 countries including the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa.

Currently the bands are continuing their tour throughout Europe, and are scheduled to perform 21 concerts between mid-July and Aug. 15 in 11 European countries.  Check out more photos below!

Papa Roach frontman Jacoby Shaddix gets front and center for troops at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, July 27, 2010. The band recently participated in their first USO tour, including a second concert for troops at Aviano Air Base in Italy. (USO Photo by Jaime Goloyugo)

On break from their European tour, Papa Roach hits the stage to performs for thousands of military families at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, July 27, 2010. USO Photo by Jaime Goloyugo

Papa Roach huddled up just before hitting the stage for their USO concert at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, July 27, 2010. (USO Photo by Jaime Goloyugo)

Rock band Papa Roach gives an interview on the importance of supporting troops and military families for AFN in Germany, July 27, 2010, just before their concert aired in over 50 countries worldwide. (USO Photo by Jaime Goloyugo)