Support Our Troops: Home or Away

 

A special message from USO President Sloan Gibson:

As the holiday season approaches, I hope you’ll take a moment to remember the brave men and women who are doing so much to keep our country and our families safe.  Many of our troops won’t be able to make it home for the holidays this year, so the USO is launching a special campaign to honor their service called Support Our Troops: Home or Away.

Your generous donation of $25 or more will provide a touch of home for troops serving around the world. And if you donate $25 or more to support our troops and get your limited edition “Home or Away” t-shirt in time for the holidays! It’s the perfect way to show your support at a sporting event, at the neighborhood barbecue, or while volunteering at your local USO center.

Thanks to the generosity of supporters like you, the USO stands with our troops in forward operating bases in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world. But we’re also there for troops stationed all over the USA and our heroic wounded warriors who have returned from the front lines.

The USO makes sure that everywhere our troops are, there is a touch of home and a friendly smile to welcome them. We provide free phone calls to loved ones back home, entertainment tours with today’s best entertainers and care packages full of all the things that remind them that they are loved and appreciated.  Your gift will make sure these great initiatives continue to let our troops know we will always be there for them!

P.S. — The final deadline to make a donation to the USO’s Supporting Our Troops: Home or Away campaign and receive your jersey-style t-shirt is midnight on October 31.  Spread the word…

Happy 4th of July!

Troops enjoy a BBQ at the grand re-opening of the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center in Bagram, Afghanistan on July 8, 2009. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Wherever you are this Independence Day, know that our USO Family wishes you a happy and healthy holiday!  The USO lifts the spirits of troops and their families millions of times a year at thousands of places worldwide, and we want to extend a special THANK YOU to all of those serving and all who have served.

In celebration, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite summertime and patriotic photos from the past seven decades – we hope you enjoy!

And as you gather around the grill or pull out the lawn chairs for fireworks, take a moment to remember the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform…Until Every One Comes Home.

A serviceman and USO volunteer enjoy the perfect snack on a hot day! (USO archives, date unknown)

A military spouse and her child enjoy ice cream at a USO event in the 1950s. (USO archives)

"I want to be just like you when I grow up." (USO archives)

Grilling out at a USO Center in China Beach. (USO archives)

Take our Independence Day Poll!

A view of the South Lawn of the White House as military families enjoyed the holiday on July 4, 2009, with a special USO picnic and concert. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

One of our favorite holidays – the 4th of July – is almost here.  We’ll be honoring our Troops and celebrating our independence…and we want to hear what YOU will be doing, too!

Take our poll below and add your own ideas in the comments section.  And click on the “Share This” button to post to your favorite social networking sites.

Four lucky commenters will receive USO prize packs!  Sorry, USO employees and their families are not eligible.

Christmas in June

Here’s one of our favorite photos from the archives:

What can you tell us about this photo?

Unfortunately, we don’t have any record of where or when this was captured. It’s such a beautiful moment, and we would love to have more information about it. Please join the USO in a search for clues that might reveal something about who these men are and what brought them together to decorate an evergreen on this beach.

It’s Flag Day…and the Army’s 235th Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Army!  Celebrations around the world are commemorating the 235th year of the US Army and we here at the USO are proud to be a part of that tradition.  The Army has set up a special website and they’ve created a place where you can submit a video with your birthday wishes!  And if you’re on Twitter, be sure to join in the celebration: @USArmy will be hosting an #ArmyBirthday Twitter Party on Mon, June 14 from 1-2:30 EST. Send your birthday wishes & Shout-outs to the Army via Twitter

Today is also Flag Day, the day when we commemorate the official adoption of the “Stars and Stripes” in 1777 by the Second Continental Congress.  The National Flag Day Foundation has information on the history and observance of this holiday and the American Legion’s Flag Advocacy site has a wealth information on the Flag Code and more.  We hope you’ll join us in saluting the American Flag today – and every day – and remember all that it stands for!

Audience members proudly display the Stars and Striped during a Toby Keith USO Tour at Camp Victory in 2007. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

News & Notes from Around the World: Memorial Day Edition

Sather Air Base is a memorial itself, named for Scott Sather who was the first Airman to be killed in action in OIF. The Scott Sather memorial was dedicated last year and this was the first Memorial Day to further honor him and everyone else who has served with the same distinction as Scott Sather.

Baghdad, Iraq – While millions of Americans take a day of from work to reflect and enjoy each others company, the aerial port of Baghdad and the USO, that serves the 1000 passengers a day, were working at full speed. “Mission Critical” is when important work takes priority above all else, but the meaning of this day is too important to over look.

USO Duty Manager, Courtney Haueter, lead the National Moment of Remembrance and the entire aerial port staff, passengers and visitors paused for a full minute at 3:00pm local time. USO customers ceased all calls, IMs, games and movies while the military crew of Sather Air Base paused operations during that time.

Commanding Officer of the 447th, Col Bruce Taylor USAF, led the Memorial Day ceremony and spoke of heroes gone and not forgotten.  Honor Guard for both the Air Force and Army took part in the remembrance and did outstanding work in saluting their brothers in arms.

An essay by Theater of War‘s Bryan Doerries in today’s Washington Post – After a reading of Sophocles’ “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” for members of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Stewart, Ga., a soldier approached me. His hands were trembling and he was fighting back tears.

“For a while now, I have been separated from my unit, the guys I fought alongside downrange. Being separated from your unit is like being stripped of your humanity. I think Sophocles wrote these plays to bring soldiers together to restore their humanity.” He leaned closer, his eyes locking with mine. “Without our humanity, none of this means anything.”

I held the soldier’s gaze and shook his hand, thanking him for his comment, which I promised to share with military audiences at performances throughout the United States…

Watching the soldier at Fort Stewart exit the auditorium last month, it suddenly seemed un-coincidental to me that the ancient plays that we were performing for the U.S. military during the ninth year of the war in Afghanistan and so many years into Iraq depicted what happened to the Greek armed forces during the ninth year of the Trojan War. Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the visionary leader who made our project possible, has said repeatedly of today’s armed forces: “Never has so great a burden been placed upon the shoulders of so few on behalf of so many for so long.”

We are not a nation at war. We are a nation with a volunteer army at war… Click here to read the full essay.

From Snag Film’s Rick Allen – “For 99% of Americans, Memorial Day is a chance to circle a barbeque grill; for us, it’s about gathering together in a cemetery.” Probably nothing captures the enormous gulf between how veterans and civilians treat Monday’s national holiday than that quick but pointed reminder I heard Wednesday from Paul Rieckhoff.  Paul is the charismatic founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and author of the acclaimed book Chasing Ghosts, about his tour of duty in Iraq.  As most of us celebrate the “official” start of summer this weekend, hopefully the words of Paul Rieckhoff, or the roar of Rolling Thunder, or the quiet comfort that the USO brings every day to service families, will break through our routine.

My generation was the first beneficiary of our modern volunteer armed service, in the sense that no longer would all able-bodied men be expected to spend time in uniform.  The ability to outsource our service keeps us personally untouched by combat, but raises societal issues and comes with countervailing personal trade-offs. Sebastian Junger’s new book War and his companion film Restrepo vividly detail the depth of camaraderie that come from absolute commitment to the safety of your fellow squad members.  Those of us around our family barbeques can instinctively appreciate how common mortal danger binds brothers and sisters-in-arms; our challenge now is to find better ways to hold our veterans close to the whole community and to demonstrate our appreciation for what they’ve given for our freedoms.

IAVA joins many other governmental and non-profit organizations in working on the full range of issues facing today’s returning warriors. At a time when our economy struggles to produce new jobs, an estimated 30% of veterans of our current conflicts are out of work.  The Veterans Administration is more invigorated under Secretary Shinseki than it has been in many decades – but a huge number of vets, particularly the young ones, will never willingly walk into a VA hospital or ask for government help, despite what may be significant need.

Many organizations are hard at work to bridge these gaps. The USO assists service members and their families around the world. IAVA has created an incredible online community of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations, and advocates for federal action on jobs, health, education and other pressing vet issues. There are various levels of government that deliver services as well as recreational opportunities to active duty warriors and their families, and veterans.  But more is needed, from our society collectively and each of us individually.

Leon Cooper will be on CNN Monday morning. Leon is 90, a WWII vet living in Los Angeles and working with a consistency and energy of someone in his 20s. That’s how old he was at Tarawa, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Leon returned to that atoll when he learned that the beach that held the bones of his fallen comrades was now a garbage dump for islanders without arable land for alternatives.  His final campaign is captured in the film Return to Tarawa, which you can watch here.  Thanks to Leon’s indomitability, the power of the film, and the tools of SnagFilms, Congress last year directed the Department of Defense to identify the remains on Red Beach and bring them home.  In two months, the DOD teams will wing west to begin a task of memory and responsibility we have deferred for nearly 7 decades.

Kyle Maynard spends significant time working with wounded warriors.  An exceptional athlete honored with an ESPY and a shelf of other awards, best-selling author and motivational speaker, Kyle was born without complete limbs.  His motto, “No Excuses”, completely encapsulates how he lives his life. (A new film about Kyle will air on ESPN in November and you can learn more here.) Not long ago, I spent an afternoon at Ft. Myer, Virginia, with Kyle and a group of Iraq and Afghanistan vets with serious physical injuries resulting from their service.  We gathered around an exercise mat, and Kyle put the six men and one woman through a daunting workout – but from my fly-on-the-wall vantage point, the greatest outcome of the day came from the conversation among the participants.  The service members joining Kyle knew he only had a civilian’s perspective … but they also knew that his physical challenges had been life-long. They had in common much more than what they lacked; each was working every minute to turn loss into motivation, not cause for withdrawal.

We too need to make an effort, each in our own way. Memorial Day provides many such opportunities.  At the very least, it provides the chance for reflection and appreciation. Our founder, Ted Leonsis, coined the term “filmanthropy” to combine the communication power of film with the interactivity of the web, and allow an engaged audience new ways to start a conversation or take an action. We’ve pulled 11 films together from different conflicts and perspectives for Memorial Day – you can watch them from the widget below, or at http://bit.ly/SnagMemorialDay .  Enjoy them alone or with others. And make your Memorial Day into something to remember.