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.

Operation Basic Boot Camp

It’s not very often that military children get a chance to see what their parents do on a day-to-day basis. The USO of Metropolitan Washington gave more than 75 children that opportunity and then some. On July 20, 2011 at Fort Belvoir’s Castle Park, USO Metropolitan Washington hosted the first-ever “Operation Basic Boot Camp.” After checking in, the kids had 30 seconds to change into their new t-shirts and meet their drill instructors for a day of fun and challenging activities.

Their  instructors were no joke and the kids gained valuable insight and appreciation into their parents’ lives: “I learned that my parents have been working really hard and what they do is no joke,” says Bryce Hairston, 12.

Both of Bryce’s parents served in the Air Force for more than 20 years and his mother is still active duty.

Once the children were finished with PT, they welcomed Elaine Rogers, president of USO-Metro; and Col. John Strycula, Fort Belvoir garrison commander; for a few words of advice.

Strycula emphasized teamwork and wanted the youth to learn what their parents go through on a day-to-day basis. He also reminded them to stay hydrated because safety always comes first.


Military Children Go Through Boot Camp at Fort Belvoir: MyFoxDC.com

After lunch, the children separated into groups for some team-building activities, face painting to help them blend in with their surroundings, and ended the day with a competitive game of Capture the Flag.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Bryce Hairston said, “At first, I didn’t think I could do it. But, once the drill instructors started yelling at me, it really motivated me to believe I could do it.”

All participants received certificates stating their completion of the first USO-Metro Operation Basic Boot Camp. With the incredible success of the 2011 program, event plans are currently underway to expand. – Joseph P. Scannell, New Media Intern

Princess Tea Party

Daughters of local metropolitan Washington D.C. service members became “princesses for a day” at a Princess Tea Party while their moms received some fashion and makeover tips, April 21, at USO-Metro‘s 2nd Annual Project Cinderella at Fort Meade, Maryland.

The girls learned how to be a lady and accessorized with tiaras, beads and rings before enjoying strawberries and apple juice while getting their nails done. — USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

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Supporting Military Families at USO Ft. Hood

Families gather to enjoy USO Fort Hood’s “Movies on the Lawn.”

There is a good reason the staff at USO Fort Hood know how important a sense of community is for our troops and their families.

Many of them are military wives.

They know firsthand what it is like to be away from their husbands and see their children coping with long deployments.

Their experiences have inspired the passionate crew to create two programs that help foster a stronger sense of community for the 46,000 service members and families at Fort Hood.

Their signature event for families, “Movies on the Lawn,” gives parents and their children the opportunity to enjoy a monthly movie on the big screen without the cost of tickets, food, and refreshments.

Director of USO Fort Hood, Robin Crouse, knows going to the movies is a luxury many military families cannot afford, and that was one of these reasons Crouse and her team were inspired to create the program last year.

Thanks to Crouse’s efforts, sponsors, and generous in-kind donations, USO Fort Hood is able to provide families a complete outdoor movie experience with popcorn, candy, nachos, sidewalk chalk, drinks, and more.

With so many components to this program, Crouse said it took some trial and error at first to work out the logistics of “Movies on the Lawn.”

But from the beginning, it was a treasure enjoyed by military families throughout Fort Hood.

It did not take long for news about the USO’s amazing program to spread. When the final movie aired last year, over 750 parents and children gathered to watch.

USO Fort Hood is excited to kick off their movie extravaganza this April, and they will continue playing movies into the fall.

Military children at USO Fort Hood enjoy “StoryTime”

While “Movies on the Lawn” has been a wonderful success for military families, Crouse says there is one program that is the favorite of moms with preschool-age children – “Story Time.”

Held twice a month in the 1st Cavalry Soldier, Family Readiness Center, this program serves 50 families each session and has become so popular that USO Fort Hood has to keep a waiting list.

Created for pre-school children up to four years old, “Story Time” begins with a small breakfast of muffins and cheerios for everyone.

Then, a special guest reads the story out loud to the mothers and children, who have books in-hand to follow along.

Once the story is finished children have an activity or time to socialize together.

Crouse knows from her own experience as a military wife, that mothers and children need an outlet, and time away from their homes to socialize.

For military families at Fort Hood, “Story Time” is more than just a way to promote early reading.

It’s a time for military children and mothers to connect with each other and establish relationships with people who are going through the same struggles that come with the military lifestyle.

Like the many amazing USO programs around the world, USO Fort Hood’s “Movies on the Lawn” and “Story Time” are a prime example of the USO’s commitment to supporting our nation’s troops and their families.

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For more pictures, visit USO Fort Hood’s Facebook page.

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

A Military Family’s Day Trip to Paris

The Conley family (Ashley, Andrew and Shane) at the Eiffel Tower while on a day tour to Paris, arranged by USO Stuttgart in Germany.

Every month it was a different adventure—Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and France. To Normandy, where nearly 5,000 Americans gave their lives for European freedom. To Belleau Wood, where the Marines earned the nickname “Devil Dogs” during World War II.

High school teacher Ashley Conley and her 4-year-old son, Shayne, made a veritable history lesson out of Europe over the past two years.

As each new Saturday trip approached, her son’s anticipation for the next trip would become palpable.

“Are you ready to see Paris?” Ashley playfully asked her son before a day-trip they took last year.

“Is daddy coming?”

“Yes, baby, he is.”

Shayne’s smile nearly breached his cheeks. His dad, Andrew, is a Sergeant First Class in the Army stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. Occasionally he was home long enough to join Ashley and Shayne on their tours of Europe booked through the USO.

“All I had to do is come prepared with my son, get on the bus at the designated time, sit back and relax,” said Ashley, ”and then ride back on the bus to Stuttgart. The USO takes care of everything.”

The USO “Express Tour” to Paris leaves Germany about midnight and arrives in the French capital around eight the next morning. As the bus pulls into the city, tour guide Jiri begins pointing out places of interest.

“Military Academy is there, Hotel des Invalides is there,” he announced — volume increased — as if to wake his guests gently.

When the bus finally came to a stop, the Conley’s grabbed their subway passes and hit the streets.

Overall, the city was clean but extremely busy, reported Ashley, for both car and pedestrian traffic.

“There weren’t any of the tall buildings that are typical in American cities or even other European cities,” she said. “Really it seemed like the tallest buildings we saw were the landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame.”

After walking half way to their first landmark, little Shayne complained he was already tired. His parents knew it would happen, and his dad capitulated early this time.

“C’mon and hop on,” he said, boosting Shayne up to his shoulders. “Where are we going first?”

Shayne pointed to a spot on the map, and the Conley’s headed to the subway, a fairly new experience for Ashley and her son. For Shayne it was like being on a train, the stuff of dreams for a 4-year-old boy.

After grabbing a souvenir for Shayne and taking a family photo at the Eiffel Tower, it was already time to head back to the bus.

“I always have a feeling of disbelief after getting back from one of the USO trips, especially the express trips to another country,” said Ashley. “I just can’t believe that in the course of 24 hours I traveled to another city, in another country, that I previously had only dreamed about.”

It was just what the Conley’s needed right before a seven month deployment.

“We love the USO for helping us capitalize on what liitle family time we get,” said Andrew. “It literally means the world to us.” – By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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