Operation Petal Power – Push the Petal for Military Moms

by Michael Schindler, President of Operation Military Family

Print our this flyer to share "Petal Power" with friends and family!

“Push the petal” in your community! My friend Bruce McNichol, a nationally renowned author, came up with that clever saying as we approach May 7th, the official Military Spouse Appreciation Day when schools, businesses, churches and neighbors are encouraged to honor and appreciate military spouses across their communities – and perhaps the world.

Operation Military Family, headquartered in the Seattle area, teamed up with the USO, headquartered in Arlington, VA to bring “Operation Petal Power” to life. So, what exactly is “OPP?”

Simply put, it is a very simple and effective way for friends, families, neighbors, associates to say “thank you” to our military spouses on May 7th, by dropping a virtual flower on the door step of a military spouse – all in the tradition of May Day.

A little back story on May Day:  May Day dates WAY back, even before the time of Christ; it really is a centuries old tradition that was embraced by the Romans. See, the beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. As one website shared, “It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers.” (In Seattle, we embrace the month of May just because we see the sun!) It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles.

Throughout Europe children would celebrate the days by moving back and forth around the “May Pole” with colorful streamers, choosing a May queen, and hanging May baskets on the doorknobs of folks.

Have kids print out and color this for a Military Mom, or share it virtually for Mother's Day!

Here in the states, though this celebration wasn’t widely embraced, when I was a little trouble maker, I remember dropping flowers on the neighbor’s door step, banging on their door and running like mad – it made for good, clean fun. And so the USO and OMF are encouraging children and adults alike to embrace an old tradition in honor of our military spouses.

So help us honor and salute military spouses on May 7th by leaving a flower on a military spouse’s doorstep, mailing them a paper flower made by your children or school, or emailing them a virtual flower – you can download all the information and the “flowers” from both www.USO.org or www.OperationMilitaryFamily.org.

All of us who have served our country know that often it is the spouse at home that deserves just as much, if not more, recognition for their service and sacrifice – so, “Push the Petal” and bring a smile to a deserving military spouse on May 7th.

Michael is the president of Operation Military Family, a defense contractor that provides military relationship strengthening workshops, seminars and curricula, a Navy veteran, contributing writer to several national publications, and the author of the book “Operation Military Family” which is endorsed by Gen (ret) Tommy Franks, former C-I-C U.S. Central Command.  He also serves as the Director for Military Marriages and Healthy Relationships under the Foundation for Healthy Relationships, a non-profit started by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, nationally recognized relationship experts.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Michael Schindler and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

USO Girls and Their Volunteer Experience

Caroline (L) and Jamie (R) are the USO Girls. They pose here with a servicemember who's passing through the DFW USO.

Some of the most prolific military bloggers are volunteers with organizations that support the Troops.  We’re especially proud of “USO Girls,” two women who volunteer at the Dallas-Fort Worth USO (well, one now; the other gal recently moved) and share the stories of staff, other volunteers, and – most importantly, the Troops and their families who travel through the center.

As part of our continuing celebration of National Volunteer Week, we bringing this special guest blog from the USO Girls – we hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

We are Jamie and Caroline and we are just two of the hundreds of people who volunteer at the USO at the Dallas/Ft Worth airport. We have volunteered for over 4 years, on weekends, hosting active duty, retirees, and families of our service members.  We have loved every minute of it and it has become a very important part of our lives.  We both have great parents who raised us right and taught us the importance of loving our country and the men and women who protect and defend it. We both wanted to do something to show our appreciation but we weren’t sure how or where to start.

We did research and found the USO. We work in the USO center on Saturdays where service members have the opportunity to watch a movie, enjoy snacks, check email, take a nap, or just kick back and relax.

A servicemember is welcomed home by the USO and greeted by his family during R&R.

The DFW USO also has a unique opportunity to serve our troops through the R&R program. Each day volunteers welcome home a group of soldiers coming home for their two weeks of R&R from Iraq and Afghanistan. We also have a flight that leaves every day going back. They fly to DFW after they have finished up their two weeks of rest. There is a group of volunteers every day for each flight that hang out at the sendoff gate, handing out snacks and water.

We also have the United Through Reading program, it’s a great way for soldiers to keep in contact with their children. We record them reading a book and then we send the DVD and book to their kids so they can read along with the parent while they are deployed. We’ve had so many great experiences through the years and so many memories. From a five year old talking to us over an ice cream cone how excited he was to talk to his daddy on the phone who was overseas to meeting an Airman on his way to Iraq who talked about his wonderful girlfriend, hoping they would make it through his deployment and then seeing him a year after he returned home, telling us he is on his way to propose to her.

The USO and the volunteers has become our second family. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve had service members thank us for just being there. All it takes is a few hours of your time. It’s worth it, we promise!

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the USO Girls and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

Military Charities Complete Big Picture

Being in the military can come with a sense of uncertainty that other professions may not necessarily relate to. “When will I deploy? Will I be promoted? (This is an important question because so much rides on it – how you are seen among your peers, and will you be forced to leave the military earlier if not selected by a promotion board). Is moving my family beneficial for our quality of life?” We are committed to the government – and if we don’t put them first, it can cost us dearly.

Turns out, my sense of pride about the military was triggered not so much by joining, but by the organizations that support them.  Moving to Washington, D.C., gave me a great perspective on the services they provide us, since most of them are headquartered here.

One of my favorites, the USO is a household name. It got that way by the incredible means in which they reach out to the military through entertainment, locally and overseas. The amenities at their USO lounges in airports and on bases are always a nice perk when I’m on travel. Their overseas shows lift the spirits of the men and women who are visited by entertainers who also care about the sacrifices they make.

An understanding community support system is essential. It may be anything from emotional support during a deployment to understanding how your GI Bill benefits work for you after new legislation is enacted. Your military comrades will certainly guide you through many things, but service members and their families have a lot of outside resources to draw from. We also have many constraints politically, which make non-profit groups that lobby for military benefits on Capitol Hill an important advocate for us.

Working with such organizations as the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and Reserve Officers Association (ROA), have helped me communicate messages to Congress that service members in uniform are normally limited to. Because of their advocacy on Capitol Hill, reservists have received pay increases, voting reform, and education enhancement.

Not only have I been on the receiving end of enjoying incentives, but on the flip-side, I had the honor of going on a morale-boosting trip to Iraq and Kuwait two years ago (provided by another company, not the USO), to visit service members. I was with the Sweethearts for Soldiers, a group of fabulous ladies who are former NFL or NBA cheerleaders.  What makes them so unique is that one of their criteria, besides having been a professional cheerleader, is to have a strong passion or tie to the military. I saw firsthand what a difference we made by meeting the troops, hearing their stories, and just being a friendly face from home.

Whether you’re just curious about what’s out there, or interested in becoming more involved, I’d encourage you to check out my blog. The side rail lists extensive links to military charities, ones that I’ve either worked with, or written about. In my postings, I try to provide an inside glimpse of what they do. There is so much that organizations are doing behind the scenes, and I believe they enhance our overall experience in the military.

Jessica is a naval officer in the reserves. She attends military events, and is involved in many non-profit charities, blogging about them in her blog, G.I. Jess. She serves on the board of Veteran Tickets Foundation and is the Jr. Naval VP for the Reserve Officers Association DC branch. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Jessica and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

Military Community – All About Being Inclusive

Military Community – All About Being Inclusive
by Maja Stevanovich

I often get asked why I take such an avid interest in the military community considering I have no formal family ties and am not serving myself. Doing a few entertainment related projects was my first interaction with a community that most who are not directly involved in, typically try not to enter.

Growing up in an extremely patriotic household, I have always had an appreciation for the military but it was only when I started interacting with the various organizations such as the USO, the actual branches and other support groups that I realized how special this community truly is. I was truly inspired by the stories that I would hear or witness that I decided to start my blog and share stories that are happening in the military community that may not exactly be front-page news. There are so many interesting, inspiring, and worthwhile stories that should be a part of our conversations.

As an outsider, it would have been correct to assume that I would have continued to feel that way in my quest to connect with the military community. Instead, I was quickly able to connect with other supporters, military personnel, various support organizations and feel like I have been working with these people for ages.

Navy Facebook Page

U.S. Navy Chief Mass Communication Specialist Palmer Pinckney makes updates to the official U.S. 7th Fleet Facebook social media site Nov. 24, 2009, in Yokosuka, Japan. U.S. 7th Fleet began using social media in Spring 2009 to promote interaction with the people who have an interest in the U.S. Navy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gregory Mitchell/Released)

The fact that the military community truly embraces social media, makes it that much easier to connect, learn about their stories and be a part of the larger dialogue going on. If more individuals were exposed to various military blogs, official DoD Twitter or Facebook accounts, they would feel much closer to this community and gain a deeper understanding about who the men and women behind the front lines are and what they represent.

Supporting our troops does mean engaging and there are so many outlets that make that possible. Whether volunteering for a local USO chapter, or keeping up with what is going on through social media, supporting our troops is easier than ever and the satisfaction of giving back to those that give so much to us is unparalleled. With so many of us living busy lives, and struggling to find those precious extra hours, a second look into the military community and who these brave men and women and their families are, is well worth the time.

Maja Stevanovich is the Founder of First Touch Management.  Her blog, Not Your Average Brooklynette, discusses everything from military and marketing communications to social media and pop culture.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Maja Stevanovich and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

Letters Back Home, PLUS Our New Guest Blogger Series!

Today we’re announcing two new exciting changes to the blog.  First, our “Letters Back Home” series is moving to Wednesday mornings, from Friday.  We will no longer be listing job postings on the blog, but invite you to visit our USO Careers page any time to see what’s available.

Second, we are thrilled to announce a new guest blogger series for Fridays and we’re looking for YOUR contributions!  We kicked off the series last Friday with “Peace in the Heart,” the moving story behind Operation Proper Exit III.  Anyone with a military-related blog is encouraged to help us build this series with their original blog post.  Posts do not necessarily have to relate to the USO, but should relate to our mission of supporting the Troops.  Interested?  Email us today!

Peace in the Heart

Today we present the first of what we hope will be many guest blogs for the USO.  Our aim is to bring you compelling stories that might not otherwise be told and hope you’ll share them with others…

Peace in the Heart
by Tom Sileo, The Unknown Soldiers

Finally back home after a difficult combat tour in Iraq, 1st Lt. Jim Kirchner sat in a busy TGI Friday’s restaurant with his wife.  While the wounded veteran was happy to be spending time with his family, something was clearly bothering him.  Sissy Kirchner offered a penny for her husband’s thoughts.

“I have to get healed up so I can get back over there,” Jim responded.

Shocked by his answer, Sissy took a moment to regain composure.  Why would her husband want to return to the war-torn country that he barely escaped alive?  After all, Jim still carried a piece of Iraq with him, in the form of shrapnel embedded inside his heart.  1st Lt. Kirchner said that in order to be sure his ordeal had true meaning, he had to see it for himself.

“I wanted to leave the war back in Iraq and not bring it home with me,” he said, while explaining his post-deployment mindset.

A few months later, Sissy read an online article about Operation Proper Exit, the new program funded by the USO and executed by the Troops First Foundation.  The idea was both powerful and creative: give wounded heroes a chance at closure by taking them back to war zones that have left physical and emotional scars.  She immediately forwarded the story to Jim, knowing he would jump at the opportunity.  After speaking with Rick Kell, the program mastermind and Troops First Foundation president, Kirchner later found out he would be returning to Iraq in December 2009, with the third group of wounded veterans to make the emotional voyage.

A little over four years earlier, 1st Lt. Kirchner sat in a guard tower at Forward Operating Base St. Michael, during one of the most difficult periods of the Iraq war.  He was in Mahmudiyah, an area south of Baghdad commonly referred to by troops serving there as the “triangle of death.”  There was intelligence indicating an imminent attack by terrorists, and the soldier was ready for action.  Worried about his safety but driven by his sense of duty, Jim put his fears aside and manned his post.

“If it wasn’t me in that tower, it would have been somebody else,” Kirchner said.  “You serve for the men or women beside you.”

Jim was moderately surprised that there were no attacks, and retired to an Army tent to get some sleep before a patrol set to begin in a few hours.  As he tossed and turned while trying to shake off the adrenaline that built up in the guard tower, the soldier flipped over his pillow and reversed his position on the bed.  A few moments later, Kirchner heard a massive booming sound, then felt a strange numbness.  He knew he had been hit.

Shrapnel from a mortar had torn into Jim’s back, from his head all the way down to his knees.  A shoulder and elbow were blown out, and he later found out a lung had collapsed.  There was damage to his liver, pancreas, and heart, and prospects of survival seemed dim.  Due to incredibly dangerous conditions on the ground, flying the badly injured soldier out of FOB St. Michael would be next to impossible, so a risky ambulance ride to the nearest hospital was the only option.  Kirchner, knowing that terrorists would not hesitate to attack a medical caravan, thought he and everyone else in the ambulance would surely be killed.

When Jim miraculously arrived at Camp Anaconda, doctors told him he “probably wasn’t going to make it.”  Before losing consciousness, he remembers being asked if he would like to be read his last rites, while “surrounded by guys pumping blood” into his weakening body.  After pulling through in Iraq, Kirchner was flown to Germany, where he said the process was repeated all over again after his condition worsened.  After several surgeries at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and then Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the wounded veteran was told he would survive.  He was left with scars, no feeling in half an arm, constant pain, and a permanent reminder of his near-death experience whenever he saw an x-ray of his heart.

The way Rick Kell saw it, Kirchner was a perfect candidate for Operation Proper Exit.  While retired from the Army and still struggling with the demons of war, Jim had demonstrated that he wanted to move forward as a husband, father, and private American citizen.  Kell, his Troops First Foundation, the USO, and top military officials like Gen. Ray Odierno and Col. David Sutherland had worked tirelessly to give heroes like Jim this unique chance at closure.

“On these trips, I have seen 18 people change physically in front of my eyes,” Kell said.  “To simply tell you that does not do it justice.”

1st Lt. Kirchner on the base where he nearly died. A smile on his face shows what Operation Proper Exit is all about.

1st Lt. Kirchner travelled back to Iraq along with retired Master Sgt. Tom Carpenter, retired Sgt. Bill Congleton, Sgt. 1st Class Josh Olson, Sgt. 1st Class Mike Schlitz, and Capt. Sam Brown.  Meeting Brown was a unique experience for Kirchner, who had his first face-to-face conversation with a severe burn victim.  The two immediately developed a bond, and Capt. Brown, who was injured in Afghanistan in September 2008, would later get to spend time with his wife, Capt. Amy Brown, during the group’s visit to a Baghdad palace, where the military rolled out the red carpet for the returning heroes.

Despite the serious nature of their wounds and the grief associated with visiting areas where comrades had fallen, the five combat veterans developed a friendly rapport.  They joked around and even teased each other about their injuries.

“It may surprise people that wounded guys pick on each other,” Kirchner said.  “But it helps us all.”

Everywhere the group traveled, U.S. troops of all ranks and backgrounds saluted them and wanted to hear their war stories.  The conversations were positive not just for the participants of Operation Proper Exit, but for morale of the troops on the ground.

“It was phenomenal,” Kirchner explained.  “It didn’t matter where we were, every branch was supporting us.”

While the enthusiasm inside the military meant the world to Kirchner, seeing the changes to daily life in Iraq since he served there is what finally gave Jim’s aching heart peace.

“Going back and being able to talk to the Iraqis had made a difference,” Kirchner said.  “The Iraqi people are now reporting al Qaeda.  They don’t want them there.  That never would have happened back in 2005.”

With his vastly different second trip to Iraq complete, Jim relaxed at home during a wintry day in Douglasville, Georgia.  Now a health physicist for the CDC, Jim is helping Sissy raise their four children and watching his son, Pvt. Dustin Carney, finish training at Fort Gordon.  Carney has made his dad proud, but Kirchner’s real-life war experience has also left him concerned.

“I’m not sure if it’s harder to be deployed yourself or see a loved one get sent overseas,” Jim said.  “I now realize what my wife was going through.”

The chilly February weather makes Kirchner’s constant pain a bit worse, and the shrapnel in his heart isn’t going anywhere.  But unlike many of his fellow wounded warriors, he was able to confront his past so he could have a brighter future, thanks to the Troops First Foundation, USO, and the United States military.  Instead of dwelling on the past, Jim says he cannot wait to see what tomorrow brings.

“A lot of guys want to go back,” Kirchner said.  “I absolutely cherish that I got the chance.”

Tom Sileo is a former CNN journalist who now runs a blog, The Unknown Soldiers, dedicated to unsung heroes of the war on terrorism.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Tom Sileo and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.