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.

Stockings in Southwest Asia

By John Hanson, Senior Vice President, USO

Every year, the USO’s direct mail campaign includes an appeal that carries the message, “There are no stockings in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Well, of course, there probably ARE stockings there. I can report to you that there are inflatable Santa-in-a-Sleigh yard decorations there. Today’s troops do what American troops at war have always done. They do their best to make their situations as home like as possible.

But, they aren’t home.

These brave men and women are anywhere BUT home, working over every holiday to keep us safe and to secure a nation half way around the world. And, Americans send them things to let them know we honor that sacrifice. They’ll get cakes and candy and the kinds of things we put in stockings, even if the troops don’t have a stocking handy.

Several years ago, I was on a USO holiday tour hosted by the Sergeant Major of the Army. The tour lasted ten days or so, and we were going to arrive home on Christmas Eve. The tour was exhausting. We stopped at Balad, Iraq, and when we walked backstage during the sound check, we noticed that there were small stockings on the wall. Nurses at the military hospital there bought the stockings, wrote the performers’ names in glue and glitter and put a single candy cane in each one. I will never forget the looks on the faces of each person, nor will I forget the glee and wonder each expressed at the thought of someone taking the time to say, “Merry Christmas” in that way. Stockings have power.

Offer “Thanks From Everywhere”

As we approach Veterans Day, November 11, it is important to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans of the past, present and tomorrow—those men and women who, upon their return home, become living, breathing testaments to duty, honor and selfless service and sacrifice.

To offer your thanks and support, the USO has a new program for Americans to send thanks from across the United States to our troops and their families for their service and sacrifice. Visit the newly redesigned USO.org to send your personal messages of appreciation to those who so deserve it, and the USO will place a pin on the US map, displaying these messages based on geography . Our goal is to COLOR THE MAP between now and Thanksgiving with thousands of notes, as Americans send THANKS FROM EVERYWHERE. Go to USO.org/thanks now to send your note today.

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.