Heartwarming Stories From the Troops

One of the greatest comforts you can give our troops is letting them know their families are taken care of while they spend months serving their country far from home.

These words from one military wife offer a glimpse of that special feeling our troops get:

“The night before my husband left for deployment he was reading the children their bedtime story, but in the middle of it, he broke down. He hugged them and told them he was just going to miss bedtime stories with them. Our son put his arm around his dad’s shoulders to comfort him and said, ‘It’s okay, Daddy. Remember? You can still read to us on the DVDs that you send…just like last time!’”

Through your support for the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program, you can help deliver powerful moments like this to tens of thousands of our troops. It would mean so much to them.

Help make more special moments possible for our troops by donating $10 or more to support the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program, hosted at over 70 USO locations worldwide.

Your support will allow our troops to read a bedtime story to their children and then send a personalized DVD recording of it back home. I asked one troop to describe what this program means to him, and his response nearly brought me to tears:

“The USO and United Through Reading® filled a communication void with my two-year old son. He interacted with the video of me reading, and my wife reported back on the parts of the story that he responded to and what he said. I felt like I was having a dialogue with him that I couldn’t have had by any other means.”

There’s nothing more powerful than a parent’s love for their child. And nothing more touching than knowing you’ve helped a parent in the military play an important part in the life of their son or daughter.

Make a donation to connect more troops with the children they’re missing back home through the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading®.

It’s the least we can do for these selfless and brave individuals who sacrifice so much to serve our nation and protect our way of life.

Thanks for making this amazing program possible - Kelli Seely, Senior Vice President, Chief Development Officer, USO

P.S. — Thanks to people like you, the USO has been able to join forces with United Through Reading® and deliver over 240,000 bedtime videos and storybooks over the last five years. Please help us keep reaching more troops and their families.

USO Houston Presents Essay Contest Winner

How has military service made your family unique?

That is the question that USO Houston asked military children to answer in their recent essay contest.

On Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 19th, tenth grader Cheyenne Cavazos was named the winner. Cheyenne’s mother, Pamela Cavazos, said, “Cheyenne was very surprised and happy that she won the contest.”

With a father who serves in the Texas Army National Guard 551st Multi-Role Bridge Company, Cheyenne felt compelled to write about his deployments and how their family changes when he is away.

Like her father, Cheyenne is a leader for the military community. She is the Region 5 Representative for Southeast Texas in the Texas Army National Guard’s Youth Program.

Cheyenne’s essay illustrates what makes her family special and different from non-military families. She explains how everyone in a military family makes a sacrifice, not just the person serving.

That sacrifice is something Pamela Cavazos agrees with fully. “I wish more people would understand that family members of a soldier also sacrifice for this country,” she said. “Family members need support while the soldiers are away. But, regardless we all serve as one and we are very proud of our soldiers and our country.”

When they found out Cheyenne’s expressive essay had won USO Houston’s contest, Pamela Cavazos said she and her husband were very emotional and proud of their daughter’s accomplishment.

Here is Cheyenne’s winning essay:

I consider my family a unique, one of a kind family because we all serve, not just the “Green Suitor” all of us have our ups and downs, but find a way to get through it no matter how far apart we are from each other.

Family means a group consisting of parents and children living together in the same household. As a military family it’s not as simple. Growing up in a “military family” you learn there is much more than just being together, you learn respect, communication, sacrifice, and strength while your loved one risks their life to keep you as well as their country safe.

As a military family, making sacrifices is something you grow into, not always do we as a military family get to live together in the same household. Many times one has to leave for a period of time living somewhere different. A military family sticks together; it’s a family closer than most. It’s a wife without her spouse; it’s a daughter without her dad to watch her go on her first date because he is sacrificing his life.

No family is the same but a military family is a one of a kind family. In our military family as a child I knew what it meant when my dad goes to work, for most families it’s a 9-5 job, when my dad goes to work it’s a 24 hour job. Not a suit and tie but his ACU’s with his tan scuffed up boots. Not a suitcase in hand but a gun when in combat. After a long day of work most dads would come home eat dinner as they talk about their day and then spend time with his wife and kids. After a long day at work our soldier would open and heat up and MRE for dinner after walking a mile to the nearest phone to call home to hear his wife’s voice as she gets on to the kids for running in the house. Then go back to his room to play a game of Sudoku while munching on Girl Scout cookies and jalapeño chips his daughter mailed out two weeks prior. For my family this is a normal life when my dad’s deployed.

A family that sticks together through ups and downs and always tries to find a way to stay positive when duty calls; it’s a family where everyone serves, it’s a unique family, my family.

Cheyenne Cavazos

Cheyenne’s grand prize is an all-inclusive two night stay at Benchmark Hospitality International’s The Woodlands Resort for a family of four. This wonderful prize was made possible through the USO’s partnership with Benchmark Hospitality International.

USO Houston hopes to present Cheyenne and her family with the grand prize on-air at their Memorial Day phone bank on Monday. Congratulations Cheyenne on your beautifully written essay! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

With You All the Way Hits Germany

We recently completed our spring portion of the With You All the Way tour. We spoke to about 15,000 kids, all of them overseas. This portion of the tour had somewhat of a bittersweet ending. The good news is that we get to rest a little bit over the summer. The bad news is that we are going to miss being around this brave group of kids for a while. Plus, a number of bases we visited are closing or consolidating, which means big changes for the military and many of the families.

Trevor RomainWe were in three cities in central Germany, Weisbaden, Heidelberg, and Stuttgart. The Heidelberg area is home to two elementary schools, Manheim Elementary school and Patrick Henry Elementary school. Manheim Elementary is closing its doors this year. Due to the army drawdown and plans for realignment in Europe, schools and bases are closing down. It has been open since 1946, and in the early nineties it had about 2,000 students. Today, there are only about 200, and those kids will be moving somewhere else next year. In fact, many are having to move now, back to the states. Many more know they are moving soon, but don’t know where they are going.

We spoke to one little girl, who towards the end of the presentation, finally had the courage to say something. Her dad was currently deployed, and she  and her mom were having to move to Colorado in the next couple of days. She was petrified, and rightfully so. I can’t imagine have my family be uprooted to a somewhere far away while I was deployed to Afghanistan and not able to offer any help. However, because the little girl had the courage to speak up, we were able to offer some assistance and expedite shipping of her USO family empowerment pack so she could have it for her travels.

Patrick Henry Elementary school is also going to close soon. These families are really in a state of flux because they know they are going to have to move but don’t know when and don’t know where. Living in this state of uncertainty is causing much stress on a lot of families. We had two great presentations at Patrick Henry. The kids were so engaged and had plenty to say. One thing that stood out in particular for me though, was a shy little girl in the back who had the courage to raise her hand.  We ask the kids what they learned during the video portion of our presentation. So she felt the need to say something. I asked, what she learned and very quietly but confidently said, “You don’t have to be in a special group to be special.” Wow, I hope everyone can learn from that.

Trever Romain consoles a young girl during his With You All The Way tour in Vicenza, Italy, recently.

We spent our last couple of days in Stuttgart. We had no idea how big Stuttgart was. There is about 5 million people in the city and surrounding area. Stuttgart is a beautiful city. It is where old meets new. Buildings that are 700 years old living happily with very modern buildings. We went to a school called Patch Elementary, on the Patch military base, which is a large army base. We had some really good presentations again. But we want to leave you with one email we received from a mom. It really makes us feel good about what we are doing and how important the work the USO is doing for military families:

 Dear Mr. Romain.  Thank you for coming to Patch Elementary School in Stuttgart.  My son did not stop talking about your visit all the way home in the car.  Then something happened when we got to the house.  You see my husband was hurt and he lost part of his leg and my son seems ashamed and angry about what happened. He always wanted to take his anger out by himself and stay locked in his room alone and did not want to deal with his dad.  And it was so hard for my husband.  He said that kind of pain was worse than his injury. Today when he came home my son wrote a letter to his dad and said he loved him and wanted to help him get better. I’m not sure what you said to him but thank you and Mr. Woody and the USO for your presentation and for helping our kids on the bases.  You just don’t know how much it means to us. I cannot thank you enough for your help.

Trevor Romain, Performer, Author & USO Supporter

Pennsylvania AFSCME Members Support Military Families Through USO

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13’s Next Wave committee, made up of AFSCME leaders under the age of 35, held a book and donation drive at the AFSCME Council 13 convention in Hershey, PA in April to support the USO and United Through Reading’s Military Program. No one knew what to expect, but support came out in full force –  the event raised $5,000 and 400 children’s’ books were donated to help connect military families!

The USO partnership with United Through Reading allows our deployed troops the ability to read their kids a bedtime book and virtually be there, even when they can’t be there in-person. Whether troops are stationed at a forward operating base in Afghanistan or deploying overseas, they can visit their participating USO center to read a story aloud to their child. Mom or Dad’s special storytime is recorded on camera, and the USO mails this priceless DVD and book home. Children can watch and listen to their parent at bedtime, naptime or anytime.

“You can always count on Council 13 members to do all they can for our military. Our delegation in April was truly moved to hear about the overwhelming success of the USO’s United Through Reading program, and I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts put forth by our membership to bring deployed troops and their families just a little bit closer,” said David Fillman, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 13.  With the aid of many members and locals from across the state, AFSCME Council 13’s donation will help 900 military children “see” their deployed mom or dad and help to lift the spirits of our nation’s youngest heroes.

What’s your favorite bedtime story?

Children Illustrate their Support for Troops

A young girl shows her winning artwork at Ft. Lee.

The patriotic pictures on the walls of Ft. Lee and the Richmond International Airport are no ordinary images. Drawn by children, the artwork illustrates their support and respect for the troops that keep them safe.

In honor of April’s ‘Month of the Military Child,’ the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia (USO HRCV) has created a unique contest to engage local children and raise awareness of the USO’s mission.

For the second year, the USO HRCV called on all school-age children in the area to compete in an art contest that uses the winning artworks to decorate the walls of USO HRCV’s two local USO centers, Richmond International Airport and Ft. Lee.

The children, ages 5 to 18, were instructed to create a patriotic artwork that incorporated the USO HRCV logo and a branch of service or military families.

Once the winning artwork was selected, USO HRCV turned the patriotic images into wallpaper for their two locations.

USO HRCV and the winning artists gather for an unveiling at Richmond International Airport.

Last week USO HRCV held unveilings for the winners at their two locations, where their patriotic art work was on display.

Surrounded by support from proud family members and even art teachers, the winners enjoyed a light meal and cake to celebrate. USO HRCV also presented the children with certificates of appreciation.

USO Director of the Richmond International Airport Center, Tricia Riggs, said the children were very excited and appreciative of the opportunity to have their artwork on display.  Riggs also received numerous calls from parents telling her how meaningful this opportunity has been for both them and their child.

One girl’s grandfather, a Navy Vet, had recently passed away. Riggs said the girl and her family were very thankful and humbled to have her artwork on display and sending a lasting message of thanks to the troops who will visit the center.

Since children are our future military members and volunteers, Riggs stressed how important it is for USO HRCV to work them. Before this event, many of the children had not heard about USO HRCV.

Now, these children know how they can help our nation’s troops, and they have an exciting experience to share with their family and friends.

“Each child left not only with a better understanding of the USO, but a new sense of pride and patriotism for their country and those who serve,” said Riggs.

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Check out USO HRCV’s Snapfish album to see more pictures of the children’s winning artwork. – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

USO Wishbook Gifts for the Military Child

Today is the last day of the Month of the Military Child. Here at the USO, we do our best to provide programs and services that ease the unique burdens military children face daily – to provide ways to stay connected to parents when gone for long periods of time. Help us continue to provide these important services by purchasing one of these gifts for a loved one in your life today!

Growing Up Brave
Deployment can be a challenging and confusing time for a child. This $25 kit gives them the tools they need to help cope with this challenge and keep them happy and healthy. It includes a coloring book, a specially-made DVD to answer the questions they often have and a journal.

Family Fun Day
Our military families go through lots of hardships during their service. But at USO centers, they have a chance to relax and have some fun together. For $50 you can make a Family Fun Day at a center possible and give a little something back for all their sacrifice.

Bedtime Stories
The hardest hit members of a military family are often the youngest. For $50 you can help by giving our service men and women the chance to read them a bedtime story through United Through Reading’s Military Program, record it on DVD and send it back home.