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.

Sesame Street Puppeteers Take ‘Elmo’ and ‘Rosita’ to Germany on a USO Adventure

Celebrated puppeteers Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Carmen Osbahr (Rosita) bring their Sesame Street characters to life during a performance at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany October 14, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. In a show of appreciation, €˜Elmo€™ and €˜Rosita€™ sang, danced, and interacted with military kids throughout their performance. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

“I am so proud to be a part of Sesame Workshop’s Talk, Listen, Connect Initiative and to have the opportunity to go on a USO tour to Germany and uplift the spirits of today’s military schoolchildren.  They, unlike most of today’s youth, often face an array of changes on a routine basis and it is nice to know they aren’t being ignored or forgotten.” – Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo

Elmo and Rosita and the celebrated puppeteers who bring them to life, Baltimore native Kevin Clash and Mexico City native Carmen Osbahr, lifted the spirits of nearly 1,000 troops and military schoolchildren stationed at four military school in Germany!  It’s the first tour for both Clash and Osbahr, whose performances are an extension of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families in collaboration with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street, and the USO.

As part of the ten performances they put on, Elmo and Rosita sang songs and interacted with military school kids.  They also danced and expressed their thanks to schoolchildren, in addition to helping the young children in the audience – most ages 2 to 8 –  cope with challenging transitions in their lives, such as deployments and when a parent comes home with a combat-related injury.

It was a fantastic, family friendly tour that won’t soon be forgotten. Check out more pictures below!

A student at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany hugs Sesame Streetâ€'s Rosita€ after a USO-sponsored performance October 14, 2010. Osbahr, who performs €Rosita,€™ began her relationship with Sesame Street as a teenager in 1985. Part of Sesame Workshop'€™s Talk Listen Connect program for military families, her other credits include Kiki€™ in The Puzzle Place, a role in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland and as Lily€™ in Johnny and The Sprites for the Disney Channel. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Celebrated puppeteers Kevin Clash (Elmo) and Carmen Osbahr (Rosita) bring their Sesame Street characters to life during a performance at Ramstein Elementary School in Germany October 14, 2010. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Sesame Street's €˜Rosita€™ (right) and Elmo pose for a photo after a performance at Vogelweh Elementary School in Germany October 13, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Kevin Clash head out into the crowd to let the children get up and close and personal with on of their favorite Sesame Street characters - Elmo, of course! - during a performance at Kaiserslautern Elementary School in Germany October 13, 2010, as part of a USO educational tour. (USO photo by Jackie Zettles)

Wilmer Valderrama Lends Star Power to Support The USO through LullaPets!

Banjo the Bear is just one of many colorful LullaPets available to record a message from your loved one!

Actor and producer Wilmer Valderrama and his network of celebrity friends are working together to launch “LullaPets” The Musical Companions. LullaPets is a child’s companion product, equipped with its own name and biographical profile, removable wireless remote controlled MP3 player and a built-in voice recorder, allowing parents to record voice messages and lullabies for their children. It includes ten pre-loaded lullabies and two audio books.

Each celebrity “ambassador” has the opportunity to donate a set percentage of proceeds to a charity of their choice.  Valderrama a USO tour veteran and avid supporter of troops and their families, has chosen the USO as his charity of choice!  For families with loved ones overseas, LullaPets can be a great companion and provide children with the sound of a parent’s voice in their absence.  And with a variety of characters to choose from, every kid can find a favorite.

For Valderrama, supporting the troops has been a priority for years.  The Dry Land had this to say in a recent interview with Movieline: “So I got on this plane and the first trip [with the USO] I went to was Germany, and I brought my comedy show there, and the audience was just the most amazing audience to perform for, man. They were just hungry for entertainment and humor. I got hooked right after that first visit. I went to nine countries back-to-back, and then I went to Iraq and Afghanistan, and now I’m a longtime member of the USO.”

As you know, the USO is a private, nonprofit organization, and relies on the generosity of individuals like Valderrama and corporations to support its activities.  To help Valderrama in his efforts to support the USO, consumers can simply provide the promotion code “Wilmer” on the LullaPets website, www.lullapets.com, or by calling the LullaPets hotline at 888.298.6507.  We thank Valderrama for his support!

Phase IV of the Sesame Street/USO Experience Ends on a High Note

Kids giggled and parents snapped photos of the costumed characters during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show at Ft. Knox, KY, on April 18, 2010. (USO photo by Pat McDonogh)

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all of the military families who came out to join us for the Sesame Street/USO Experience this year!  From April to September, from North Carolina to North Dakota, this tour extended its run as the longest-running entertainment tour in USO history.  We couldn’t do it without the support of Sesame Workshop and VEE Corporation, and all of you who attend the performances.  Some fun facts from Phase IV:

  • 43 Bases visited
  • 139 Shows performed
  • 15,700 Miles traveled
  • 552,956 Giveaways received
  • 72,054 Service members and families attended

Altogether – since the beginning of Phase I on July 8, 2008 – the tour has visited 90 bases; performed 315 shows; traveled through 9 countries; logged 61,242 miles; given away 1,455,029 goodies; and entertained 192,650 service members and their families – way to go!

Help Support USO Hawaii’s Back-To-School Program

USO Hawaii is happy to announce that they’ll be making the back-to-school process a little better for military kids this year. Director Eva Laird Smith explained the importance of providing free backpacks and school supplies for military families to Hawaii News Now earlier this week. “This is a great opportunity for our community to show their aloha support for our military and their families with their children’s back-to-school needs. It will be one headache less, one challenge less on the homefront for our deployed troops,” said Laird Smith.

Click here to watch her video interview!

The community is encouraged to get involved: now through July 25, donations of new backpacks and school supplies appropriate for any age may be dropped off at the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange Aloha Desk, ground floor, as well as the USO Honolulu Airport Center.  Click on the poster above for more information or to spread the word.

Online donations are also being accepted online or you can call William Johnson at (808) 836-3351 for information on making a donation via PayPal.

And if you’d like to be one of the families that receives these great back-to-school basics, contact USO Hawaii’s Programs & Marketing Manager Barb Troegner at (808) 256-7744 or via email.  Items will be available for distribution this Sunday from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. at the Hickam Air Force Base Officers’ Club area.

Check out the flyer at left for more info on how to participate.  Aloha!