Tell the Troops: You Rock!

Time and time again you have stepped up to show our troops you support them. Wherever they’re serving, our troops need to know we’ve got their backs. And the USO has just the way for you to get that message across.

Send a donation of $25 or more and get your limited 2012 edition of the USO’s “Our Troops Know I Have Their Backs” t-shirt in time for the 4th of July.

Our troops are deployed all over the world, from Afghanistan to Okinawa to bases across the United States, serving to protect us and our country. And no matter where they are, thanks to people like you, the USO is there to support them, providing care packages, helping them connect back home, supporting our healing heroes, and so much more.

Donate $25 or more to support our troops before the June 1st deadline. We’ll rush your 2012 “I Have Their Backs” t-shirt to you in time for the 4th of July.

I know you’ll be proud to wear this very special t-shirt everywhere you go on the
4th of July.

Thanks for all you do,
Joan Jett

P.S. — These shirts are a limited edition for 2012, so don’t wait for the deadline, make sure you get yours today!

A Positive Step Forward Helping our Veterans with PTSD

by Shad Meshad, National Veterans Foundation Founder & President

As someone who has been diagnosing and treating Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) for more than 30 years, I applaud VA for their recent decision to make it easier for veterans to receive PTSD disability benefits.

For years, Vets have been in the difficult position of having to prove the traumatic incident that was the genesis of their PTSD.  You’d think this would be easy, but it was a rule that discouraged and prevented many Veterans from seeking or receiving the benefits that they needed and deserved.

One of the issues was record keeping.  Many battlefield incidents are not properly documented, especially when they involve troops whose military jobs are not technically combat related.  But in Iraq and Afghanistan, a road-side bomb, a sniper or an RPG can come at any time, from almost anywhere and there are service members who aren’t infantry who are finding them themselves in combat.    This includes troops who witness the horrors of war in military hospitals, at checkpoints, and those that go in and clean up the bodies after a bomb blast or firefight.

Compounding this problem has been the antiquated record keeping systems at Department of Defense and VA.  Most records are still not computerized, and those that are stored electronically are not shared between the two agencies.  So veterans, already suffering from debilitating PTSD, were forced to chase down their military documents, often one a time, to submit to VA.   And too often those paper documents were lost in the system.

This new guideline, which makes a PTSD disability rating available to a veteran who served in a combat zone, without making him or her document the incident that caused their PTSD, is a great step forward by VA in getting men and women who have served the benefits and the treatment they have earned.    The National Veterans Foundation has received hundreds of calls from veterans who were declined for PTSD disability benefits or gave up in frustration, and we are now calling these men and women with the good news, encouraging them to reapply for their benefits.

There is still more progress to be made.  VA continues to require that PTSD diagnoses be made by a VA mental health professional, which can be one more obstacle to a veteran receiving the proper diagnosis.  Many veteran advocates argue that VA doctors are pressured to limit the number of PTSD diagnoses.  Some veterans are also more hesitant to see a government doctor, especially former soldiers who have had negative experiences with the military system, and don’t trust these institutions.   There are many qualified civilian physicians who specialize in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who are perfectly capable of diagnosing the condition, and those diagnoses should be honored by VA.

For information veterans can call the National Veterans Foundation Lifeline for Vets™ at 888-777-4443 or visit our website at www.nvf.org.

Floyd G. “Shad” Meshad is the Founder and President of the National Veterans Foundation and an Army veteran.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Meshad and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

The Story – and the Soldiers – Behind Restrepo

We know that many of you experienced the documentary Restrepo at AFI SilverDocs and other special screenings.  Having already won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this year, in addition to a host of other accolades, the film is continuing to open at more theaters across the country and we’re proud to help spread the word.   You can visit the official Facebook page for an updated theater schedule.

Today, we present an inside look into the work of the filmmakers, Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington, who traveled to the Korengal Valley to chronicle the deployment of the men of Battle Company, 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.  Hetherington – a contributing photographer at Vanity Fair – wrote this guest blog just for the USO, and he offers insight into the creative process, and how the film continues to touch both the audiences and filmmakers alike…

A few months ago, I received a phone call from Santana ‘Rudy’ Rueda, one of the soldiers from Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne. I was supposed to join him at a film festival in Missouri for a screening of the film Restrepo, but had not been able to make it there because of a snowstorm in New York. He sounded a little out of breath and stunned,

“Tim, man, you’re not going to believe this.”

“Why? What’s going on Rudy?”

“I – I’m standing across the street from the movie theatre, and they’ve got the name Restrepo in massive letters above it on the sign board. I can’t believe it.”

“That’s good huh?” I asked.

“Yeah – but I just never thought that I’d see my dead friend’s name written so large”, he replied.

From 2007-8, author Sebastian Junger and I followed a platoon of soldiers in the remote Korengal Valley. We wanted to make the most immersive and experiential war film we could. We felt that many in the US had no idea how soldiers actually live and fight, and our desire was to bridge that gap – to reconnect people in the country with what soldiers are doing out in places like Afghanistan. We purposely did not interview generals or politicians (the soldiers we were with didn’t) and avoided any voiceover commentary – we just wanted to show what the GI experience is like. We felt that the public needs to see, digest, understand and honor this regardless of political beliefs. We called the film Restrepo – named after the platoon medic who was killed early on in the deployment and the outpost that the men built and named in his honor. But we also felt that the name Restrepo signified the idea of every soldier and the loss that every soldier endures.

Since we have started showing the film across the country, we’ve had incredible responses. I’ve had wives come and tell me how the film has helped them understand what their husband go through and Vietnam veterans who say it spoke of their experience too. It also feels like the country wants to talk about the war in a way that is not divided along the usual partisan lines, and that people want to connect with those who fight on our behalf. Last week I traveled to Albany for a screening of Restrepo. Following a packed screening, the audience stayed on to listen to a Q+A with Brendan O’Bryne (one of the soldiers from Second Platoon), Troy Steward (a National Guardsman who now runs the military blog Bouhammer.com) and myself. What actually took place was something quite remarkable that more resembled a town hall meeting as people began to voice their thoughts about the war and the effects on soldiers. At one point Brendan declared,

“I learnt how to strip an M-4 in twenty seconds, and I can put one back together again in the same time. But I never learnt how to deal with seeing my friends killed. No one prepared me for that.”

At the end of the evening, people stayed on to talk to Brendan and Troy, each sharing experiences and insights. At one point I turned around to see Brendan hugging a woman who had lost her son in Iraq, and I thought to myself, if we can replicate what happened here tonight across the entire country – well, wouldn’t that be something.

*****

We want to extend a huge thank you to everyone involved with Restrepo and especially Tim Hetherington, for writing this blog.  And if you’re in the DC area tomorrow, you’re invited to come out to E Street Cinema for a Q&A with Sebastian Junger after the 3:00p show.  Hope to see you there!

Support the Troops with Just a Click!

Former US Marine and top mixologist Bryan Stowe demonstrates how to mix a cocktail the right way. Delicious but perfectly simple, each of the 60 Second Cocktails can be crafted in 60 seconds or less. Prep your mixers and garnishes in advance, and be ready to impress your guests.

With Independence Day just a week away, many Americans are looking forward to a long weekend full of quality time with their family and friends. While it’s great to unwind and celebrate, it’s also important not to lose sight of what the holiday stands for, and to remember the men and women who have fought for our country. If you’re planning to entertain your friends and family in style this 4th of July, an easy way to support the troops at home and abroad while having fun is through the “60 Second Cocktails” program, brought to you this summer by Bacardi USA to support the USO.

As a former Marine and a bartender, the charity partnership is very close to my heart. In support of the program, I’ve come up with some awesome and easy party tips and cocktail recipes that are sure to impress your guests this summer. There’s nothing worse than throwing a party and spending the entire time slaving away in the kitchen. Just because you’re the host, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun too! The ‘60 Second Cocktails’ – made with a number of brands including: Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, Bacardi Superior Rum, Bacardi Limon, Cazadores and Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky – are the perfect solution.

First things first, make sure to prepare in advance. For décor, a great tip is to select ripe, colorful foods and beverages, which bring a natural flavor to the table. Bright, fresh ingredients, such as vegetable crudités, lend a fresh, vibrant touch perfect for summer. When selecting music, a great time-saver is to set your satellite radio before your guests arrive, then you can let loose and let your favorite songs play throughout your party without even thinking about it!

When mixing drinks, the most important thing I can emphasize is to use fresh ingredients! They make all the difference in the taste of your cocktails, and your guests will definitely notice the extra effort and better taste! Also, remember to always pack the glass fully with ice. A stronger body of cold provides for a better drink, especially during the hot summer months. And, remember to have a good time. Above all else, a great attitude will help your party flourish.

Another great way to save time is by batching your cocktails in advance. A great batched recipe that I love is the Cazadores Margarita! Create this margarita in advance for an easy way to please an extra-large crowd. When you make drinks in advance, always wait until they’re served to add the ice to avoid dilution. Also, if a recipe calls for a sparkling ingredient such as club soda, be sure to add that at the very end once your guests arrive so it doesn’t go flat.

Tequila CAZADORES® Margarita
Serves 129

4 liters of Tequila CAZADORES® Reposado
2 liters of triple sec (40 proof)
10 bottles (750 mL) of sweet and sour ready-to-use (not concentrate)
1 gallon of orange juice
1/2 gallon fresh lime juice

Mix all ingredients in a large container and stir; serve over the rocks with salt on the rim. Garnish with a lime

Remember to visit the 60 Second Cocktails Facebook page, for many more recipes, updates and interactive cocktail videos! And, be sure to visit the donate tab and click on the link, as Bacardi USA will donate $1 to the USO for every click up to $100,000. What an easy way to make a difference! Enjoy the holiday with delicious cocktails brought to you by Bacardi USA to support the USO. Happy Independence Day!

Bryan Stowe is a former US marine and top mixologist who knows it only takes 60 seconds to show support for our Troops. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Stowe and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

Tutor.com Offers FREE Online Tutoring and Career Help for MIlitary Families!

Hi! I’m George Cigale, CEO and founder of Tutor.com. I’m guest blogging today at the USO to let you know about Tutor.com for Military Families, a program provided by the Department of Defense that provides one-to-one live online tutoring and career help for military families at no charge.

We understand the issues that military families face—the stress of deployments, children transferring schools mid-year, and needing help getting up to speed with local curriculumand we are proud to support military families with 24/7 immediate access to homework help and career help that can relieve some of the stress.

And, as a working dad of three school-age children, including one who is studying Algebra this year, I know how tough it is to juggle conflicting family schedules and making sure homework gets done! It’s so important for students to have access to help when they need it, so they can get their homework done and feel confident about their progress.

Tutor.com helps the whole military family in two important ways:

  1. Tutor.com offers K-12 and college academic help. Students connect to tutors for help with homework, projects, quizzes and essays in more than 20 subjects. Our college experts are great for military service members and spouses who are continuing their education, and because we are available 24/7, we fit into busy, hectic schedules.
  2. Tutor.com helps service members and spouses seeking jobs and entering career transition. We have career experts who assist with everything from crafting cover letters to help pulling together a resume.  We are experts in translating your valuable volunteer and service experience into the perfect resume for a competitive civilian workforce.

Every time you connect to one of our tutors or career experts, you get one-to-one attention.  We’re there for you when you need us, 24/7, conveniently accessible from your home computer, and, we’re open all summer.

Active duty Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy service members and their spouses and children can access the program. Go to www.tutor.com/military for more information and to get a tutor.

George Cigale is CEO and founder of Tutor.com. The USO is presenting this guest post from Mr. Cigale to introduce military families to this new Department of Defense benefit.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mr. Cigale and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

“Socks for Soldiers” Campaign at St. John University

There are lots of ways to support the troops, from volunteering at your local USO Center to donating basics items like toothbrushes, books, or soap.  One item we often get requests for is socks.  And – as frequent guest blogger Brian Price found out – a seemingly simple everyday item can make a big difference…

PR Students Collect 608 pairs and $1300 for Our Troops
By Brian Price

As the academic school year winds down for students across the country, St. John’s University students are recognizing the thousands of young Americans in the military, posted in combat zones and disaster areas. In appreciation, a St. Johns Public Relations Campaigns Seminar class created a semester-long campaign to collect socks and raise money to buy them.

It began with research, which revealed that our troops frequently run out of clean, dry socks. Some units are deployed where there is no running water, so they can’t even wash them. The students found this quite remarkable. “I can’t believe something we all take for granted is so critical to the comfort of the men and women who make so many sacrifices for us, “ commented Tanya Dainoski, a senior in the class. The students collected socks and donations by holding bake sales and selling refreshments at athletic events. “It was fun and people responded because it is such a good cause,” added Keeley Mangeno, another class member. One of the most successful fundraisers was a pie-throw organized by Jayson Castillo and his fraternity brothers. “We got a lot of cooperation from the faculty, who were willing to suffer the embarrassment of a face full of shaving cream because they knew the money would go to socks for the troops.” Their own professor, Jane Paley, was one of them. “It was fun, though custard would have tasted better!”

The fundraising events culminated in a “Dance Through the Decades” benefit featuring hit music from the fifties to the present. “Something for everyone to dance to,” commented Ashlea Irick, who spent most of the evening on the dance floor.

The University Commons, or UC as it is known on campus, was decorated with American flags and colorful balloons. An extravagant buffet was underwritten, so the students wouldn’t have to spend any of the proceeds. Josh Peters was especially adamant: “We wanted every cent we raised to go to our troops, not to the party.”

The dance attracted classmates, friends and faculty.

Vance Toure is a senior and PR major: “Socks are one of the overlooked necessities for the troops. Tonight’s fundraiser brings the community together in the name of a great cause.”

Clearly the plan worked; big boxes at the entrance to the dance were overflowing with sweat socks.

When 50 students lined up to do the electric slide at the urging of DJ Zeke, who volunteered to spin tunes at the dance, Prof. Mark Prendergast, a Vietnam veteran and former Army Sergeant watched from the sidelines. “St. John’s University is an institution built around the notion service; it’s energizing to see students come out and support the troops regardless of their feelings on the war.”

Dr. John DiMarco, Director of the Undergraduate Public Relations program added: “The lessons of the curriculum educate the students while simultaneously giving back to society.”

The students agree, including Maria Kirsch, a senior and P.R. major: “This class was a great opportunity to give back. I have several family members in active service, so this is event is meaningful on multiple levels.” Amanda Wilkinson, another student in the class, got support for the initiative from both her father and grandfather, both of whom served in the military.

The best part was the fun the students were having celebrating our troops. Student Sydney Cohn stopped dancing just long enough to sum it up:

“A Friday night dance gave students a chance to socialize with the greater result: hundreds of pairs of socks will be donated to the troops.”

If you’d like to find ways for your school or college group to fundraise or have a donation drive for items like socks, please contact your local USO or send us an email. Brian Price is a writer for SNY, the online home for all things NY sports. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Brian Price and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.