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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What’s in a Name?

NATHANS PIC

James Nathaniel Richards

A name is something that you get from your Mom and Dad.

It is something you hear when your teacher calls on you. You hear it when your brothers or sister want help with a chore or they want you to do something. You definitely hear it when you did something that was not good.

“James Nathaniel Richards!!”

You don’t realize how important it is till you miss hearing someone call it. My Dad has been deployed for almost a month. I would really like to hear him.

My sister, Bella, and I take turns getting the mail.

You are thinking, “no big deal,” but we live almost a mile from our mailbox. It is up and down a big hill, so when I went to the mail box and opened it up I was really excited.

There it was: My name!

It was on a big package letter. My excitement went up to Jupiter. Bella and I opened it up.

Wow, it was a book! I love to read. It was a birthday book which was good because it was Bella’s birthday and my Mom’s. The best part was inside the package was a disk with my Dad reading the book. Well, actually a couple of books.

He said my name!!

It sounded really good. You don’t know how important your name is till someone you miss says it! He read the stories before he left and United Through Reading® sent them to us. I think I am going to ask Ms. Diane [from the USO] if I can read my Dad some stories. It is a program they have for parents and kids so you can stay n touch and hear your name!

You can get the info at your USO or online.  I can’t believe we didn’t do this all the other times he was on deployment. Maybe I can read him the newspaper with all the Super Bowl news, or a book.

My mom got me the one about the boy whose Dad died in 9/11, where he left his kid a message. Or maybe I could read him an easy book so Bella could help. I don’t think it will matter what I read to him. I think that he probably be happy to hear me say his name.

So what is in a name? I guess it depends on who says it and how much you hear them say it.

So go say my name Dad!

Story written by Nate-the-Great—A Military Brat
a 9-year-old blogger whose father is in the Navy.  Follow, like and share Nate’s blog about life as a military brat by navigating to http://natethegreatamilitarybrat.wordpress.com. United Through Reading’s Military Program can be found at more than 130 Command locations worldwide and more than 70 USO host locations. — Edited by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer.

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Nine-year-old USO volunteer Nathan Richards gets an autograph from Joe Townsend, a British Royal Marine after a track and field medal ceremony where Townsend took Gold in the 100m. Richards' mother, Lorraine, is one of dozens of volunteers from USO San Diego who supported the 2012 Marine Corps Trials in February.

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families 2012

New character Katie tells her friends she is moving during the 2011 Joining Forces: Sesame Street/USO Special Event. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families – a free, traveling USO tour based on Sesame Workshop’s award winning Talk, Listen, Connect initiative – made its debut in July 2008 to help families deal with the unique challenges children of military parents face. For almost four years the tour has visited multiple states and countries, spreading their messages to troops and their families.

The tour is heading back out to the United States this April with some new wheels! The half-hour show focuses on the challenges of deployments and their impact on military kids. During the performance, Elmo and his Sesame pals will help Katie – a military friend relocating to a new place – open up about her fears and excitement in dealing with change and making new friends.  Created exclusively for this tour, Katie was first introduced last April by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Biden at a Joining Forces rally in Ohio.

But before these fuzzy, furry monsters get on their way, Sesame Street and the USO are reaching out to their fans via Facebook for help naming their new tour bus! Visit Facebook.com/SesameStreetForMilitaryFamilies to submit ideas for bus names and be sure to stay tuned to Facebook.com/theUSO for voting on the top picks!

Stop by USO.org/Sesame to learn more and see where the tour is heading next!