USO Pacific VP Harris Marks 25 Years of Serving Troops

USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes presents USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris a 25-year service coin Friday at USO Arlington in Virginia. Photo by Samantha Quigley

USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes presents USO Pacific Regional Vice President Carly Harris a 25-year service coin Friday at USO Arlington in Virginia. Photo by Samantha Quigley

Carly Harris is an ever-present supporter of America’s troops. On Friday, she got a little recognition of her own.

Harris, USO Pacific regional vice president, was honored for her 25 years of service to the organization during a ceremony Friday afternoon at the USO offices in Arlington, Va.

Harris’ USO career includes stints as director of operations for USO Europe, a leading role in the development of the USO’s presence in Southwest Asia, and the director’s post at USO Wiesbaden/Mainz.

Congratulations Carly!

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2013 Warrior Games Highlights

The fourth annual Warrior Games has come to a close in Colorado Springs, and though it was close competition with the Army in every event, the Marines brought home the Chairman’s Cup once again.

“Congratulations to all of the 2013 Warrior Games competitors,” said Charlie Huebner, chief of Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee, during the closing ceremony. “While we celebrate medals, this competition is really an example of how sport can change lives. We hope these service members and veterans don’t stop here. The goal is for them to return home and get involved in sport programs in their communities.”

The competition formally ended Thursday night at the U.S. Air Force Academy in a ceremony honoring the nearly 200 wounded troops and disabled veterans who represented their services in the inaugural Warrior Games.

Troops and veterans from the U.S. and Britain competed in a week-long series of paralympic-type events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and at the academy. They were challenged as individuals and as teams in shooting, swimming, archery, sitting volleyball, cycling, wheelchair basketball and track and field events.

The USO and all of the volunteers from Colorado were proud to stand by the side of these elite athletes throughout the week of Paralympic competition. Please enjoy this montage of footage from the past week of Warrior Games competition.

–Video and story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO staff writer

A Dog Tag’s Tale: USO Las Vegas Volunteer Reunites Vet with Dad’s Lost Tags from World War II

My name is Gene Dannan, and I volunteer at the USO Center at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas each Tuesday.

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After an exhaustive search, USO Las Vegas volunteer Gene Dannan was able to ship the decades-old dog tags – which had huge sentimental value – to their rightful owner on the other side of the country. Photo courtesy of Gene Dannan

On June 12, fellow volunteer Denny Schaan and I were handed some military ID cards to copy and then shred for security reasons. Along with these ID cards were three sets of dog tags that had been turned into the airport’s lost-and-found office and then handed off to the USO. Denny handed me a metal ring that had two sets of dog tags on it, both from Marines. The older of the two tags was from World War II and dated June 1944. The name on the tag was Ferdinand Forst. The second tag did not have a date, but had the name Bruce J. Forst.

Schaan did a routine search of ancestry.com and found that Ferdinand Forst had died in 1986, but there was no additional information available.

From the moment that I received these tags, I felt there had to be a story connected to them. Before I left the USO Center, I got the go ahead from USO Las Vegas Programs Manager Marianne Wojciechowicz to take the tags home and try to find their owner.

First, I tried to locate Ferdinand Forst, but I didn’t have much luck other than the date of his death. Next, I started doing Internet searches on Bruce J. Forst. I immediately found entries for someone with the same name who lived in Huntington, N.Y., which is on Long Island.

The assessor’s office in Huntington gave me information about the property. Unfortunately, the Forsts’ home phone number was unlisted. I tried other routes to get the number, but kept coming up empty.

I tried calling the veterans’ cemetery in Huntington, looking for information on Ferdinand that would lead to Bruce. No luck there, either.

Running short on options, I called the Veterans Affairs office in Huntington. I explained who I was to the woman who answered the phone – Carol Rocco – and told her what I was trying to do. She was really helpful, making a few quick checks to confirm my information was accurate.

Rocco couldn’t believe I’d been able to locate the owner of the dog tags by just doing a few hours of work. She suggested I try sending a letter to Bruce at his listed address telling him about the dog tags. That idea had already crossed my mind, but I’d been hoping to speak with Bruce personally to let him know exactly who I was and what I was trying to do.

I asked Rocco if she would be kind enough to take my contact information and deliver it to the address. Realizing I was imposing on her time, I was surprised when she said she’d be happy to help me out.

Rocco’s office is about a mile from Bruce’s listed address. On the afternoon of June 14, she rang the doorbell, but no one was home. She left my contact information and a brief explanation of what I was trying to do in the mailbox. As it turns out, Bruce has been divorced from his wife for about a decade, but on Sunday, June 17 – at an annual Fathers Day get together – Bruce received my name, phone number and the rest of my story from his ex-wife. Around 12:30 p.m. Las Vegas time, I got a very excited voicemail from him.  I called him back a few minutes later, got his home phone number, home address and a brief history of how and when the dog tags had been lost.

Bruce said he had been in McCarran Airport on April 20, 2011, heading back to his home in New York when he lost the dog tags. He thought he’d never see them again. Bruce said his tags dated to when he served in the Marine Corps on their championship baseball team in 1960 and 1961.

After talking to him for a few minutes, I found out that his father, Ferdinand, was a Marine who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima. Ferdinand continued to serve until December 1945. He died on Super Bowl Sunday, January 26, 1986.

Bruce – also known as Scott R. Forst – has had an interesting life. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers Rookies and then joined the Marine Corps in 1957 and played on the All-Marine Corps baseball team at Camp LeJeune, N.C. In 1961 he played as a minor league catcher and outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ system as well as the San Francisco Giants’ winter team. Unfortunately, an injury ended his professional baseball career that year.

He became a detective with Suffolk County, N.Y., Police Department and was awarded several medals. Along with his sports and police service background he has also worked as a sports artist. 

In the end, the dog tags ended up in his grateful hands. I feel very lucky that I was able to reunite him with a piece of family history.

–Gene Dannan, USO Las Vegas Volunteer

Retired Marine Running Across the U.S. to Raise Money for Veterans

This Veterans Day, in honor of the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Sergeant Brendan O’Toole (Ret.) will begin a 3,600-mile run in Oceanside, Calif.

Averaging 15 miles a day, O’Toole is pounding the pavement across 21 states in the hopes of raising $2 million to support the United States armed forces veterans, combat veterans, disabled veterans and their families.

Inspired by the classic movie “Forrest Gump”, O’Toole said he has always wanted to travel across the United States. But serving in the Marines forced him to put that dream on hold.

“When I retired from the Marines this year, I knew I still wanted to run across the country, but I wanted to dedicate [my run] to a cause higher than just myself and give back to the community,” he said.

During his service, O’Toole saw many of his Marine brothers struggle to reintegrate back into society after they served. One of O’Toole’s close friends had a difficult transition from the battlefield to home life and struggled with post traumatic stress.

Ultimately, this friend took his own life. O’Toole said that The Run for Veterans is for friends like his and other troops around the nation who need a support system and guidance during their transition.

All of the money raised by the Run for Veterans will be donated to the USO, Team Red White and Blue and Give An Hour. Each organization was chosen for the physical, mental and social support it provides to our troops. The USO is proud to be a part of the Run for Veterans’ inspiring mission.

The Run for Veterans welcomes all warriors, veterans, and civilians to run alongside O’Toole throughout the route, as a show of support for our servicemen and women.

The Run for Veterans may be coming to a city near you! Here are some of the main stops along O’Toole’s route:

  • Start: Oceanside, Calif.
  • Twentynine Palms, Calif.
  • Parker, Ariz.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Shreveport, La.
  • Jackson, Miss.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Columbia, G.a
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Wilmington, Del.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Princeton, N.J.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • End: Portland, Maine

To learn more about The Run for Veterans and O’Toole’s route, check out their Facebook page or visit their website at http://www.therunforveterans.org/. If you would like to support The Run for Veterans, donate here.

Good luck to Sgt. O’Toole and all who join The Run for Veterans! Your dedication to supporting our nation’s veterans is truly an inspiration.

Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Marine Corps Trials Build More than Just a Team

More than 300 wounded, ill and injured Marines are currently competing in seven Paralympic sports at the 2nd Annual Marine Corps Trials in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Marines are hunting for 50 of their best to represent them at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs later this year.

Travis Greene, a Marine veteran, serves the ball during a semi-finals seated volleyball match at the Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Feb. 19, 2012. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

The Corps won the Games for the last two years, beating out all other branches of the service.

“This year it’ll be no different,” said Col. Jay Krail, Executive Officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment. “The first year we didn’t even bring a complete team and we won. Now there’s more interest, and with more interest comes better athletes.

Krail realized right away the benefit of holding trials, and participation doubled this year.

“With trials we’re not only able to build our best team possible,” he said, “We’re also able to provide eight days of clinic where athletes get instruction from world-class coaches.”

The Marines even invited veteran athletes from seven allied countries to challenge them even more.

“We fight together and we recover together,” said Michael Wieger, Germany team coach.  “It’s good to get the experience from other countries, because things they are doing to recover are things we can do back home in Germany.”

Wieger was also impressed by the presence of USO San Diego, with more than 50 hard-working volunteers handing out protein bars, water, energy drinks and other snacks at each competition venue.

“Americans do it right. Troops are finding support by their families, by the communities, and volunteers who are doing this mostly on their own expense. That is a real good morale-booster. There are other countries who sure can learn from it.”

The trials conclude tomorrow, and the All-Marine team should be finalized and announced within a week. For results, information and photos, follow the Wounded Warrior Regiment on Facebook. - Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Retroactive Stop Loss Pay: The Marines Perspective

by Gary Gresham, Former Marine

Gresham encourages other Marines to claim the retroactive pay he did. (Photo courtesy of Gary Gresham)

After serving as a tactical network specialist for six and a half years in the Marines, I left the Corps in 2003. While speaking to a friend, another prior Marine, I found out about the Stop Loss Retroactive Payments that were being given to Armed Forces personnel. He told me that Marines who were held beyond their contract from 2001-2003 could apply for the payment. He gave me the link to the Stop Loss website so I could begin the process.

Once I had the link and was confident that I met the eligibility criteria, I was ready to go ahead and submit. I knew that if my friend had told me about it, it was legitimate. I was not hesitant and I didn’t have any doubts about the integrity of the Stop Loss payment Program.

First, I attempted to submit my claim online and found that I couldn’t proceed without my case ID. I called the Marine Corps Stop Loss Program office (1-877-242-2830) to see about getting my case ID to complete the submission. Instead, Staff Sgt. Lodovico took the time to walk me through the process. The best thing for my case was to fax the form and my DD214 over to the office. I had to battle with the fax machine, but finally my forms got through.

The next day, I received a call from the Stop Loss Program office to verify a few things on my form. My role in the process was complete. The office provided me with my case ID so that I could track it online and three weeks later my claim was completed and the money was deposited into my account.

For Marines who have not yet submitted a claim, I would suggest faxing it directly to the office in order to speed up the process and avoid the confusion online. For a six month period, I received more than $2,000. Going through the process of submitting a claim was definitely well worth the effort.

Gresham works for HP Enterprise Services, as a Navy Marine Corps Intranet Lead Site Engineer.  His comments are his own, and do not represent the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.