The Little Champs’ Visit to Manor View ES

We stood among 321 Champs at Manor View ES of Fort Meade to talk about The Little Champs  – Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel.  Thanks to the USO’s commitment to our Nation’s littlest heroes, each student was given his/her very own copy of the book; to have and to hold, to read and to reread.  Meanwhile, the students had read The Little Champs in their classrooms with their teachers before we arrived.  Their minds, hearts and souls were full.  There was a wellspring of energy and emotion: the school’s guidance counselor noted, finally, this is a book that is about them and for them – and honors them.

The Little Champs accomplished its mission through literature and music, reaching and teaching to multiple learning styles.  The story intertwines their stories, with characters to whom they could relate.   As one parent commented, “the characters are ‘real time.’  My kid takes it wherever she goes.’”   Its characters walk the walk, talk the talk, and ‘feel the feel’ ­– they experience the multitude of emotions that our Champs experience.   Its characters acknowledge their feelings, and deal constructively and proactively with their situation, learning more about their inner strengths in the process.  I like to call it building resiliency by building character.

 Among the feedback from teachers, parents, and the guidance counselor, the story   evoked “Aha!” moments, proud smiles, cathartic tears, grateful giggles, and sighs of relief.

One 5th grade teacher said:  “I want to thank you very much for writing such a wonderful book for our military children.   Fifth graders have a lot of emotions as military children, and they’re not always open with their feelings.  They’re not always able to express what it is that they’re feeling.  They may be angry or upset or sad.

“During the time we were reading the book, they were making so many connections, and having these ‘A-ha’ moments, and just really related to what they were reading.  I had one student who, when the book talked about the Champ whose stomach dropped when the dad was moving the family back to the East Coast – he had experienced the exact same thing.  The student teared up and said, ‘Ms. Ricker, I have that connection.  The same thing happened to me and my family, and my stomach dropped.’  It was an opening to talk about it.

“I really appreciate that there’s a book to help them express their emotions, and lets them know they’re not alone.  These feelings are okay.  It’s okay to be angry.  It’s okay to be sad.  It’s just part of what comes with having a parent deployed or having to move a lot.  It’s a great book, and was a great experience, and one that I really appreciate.

“My favorite part was that we sat cuddled up together on the carpet; the kids were sooo into the book; each kid had his/her own book that s/he could go through; they didn’t want to stop reading until we’d finished . . . it was such a special, warm experience for all of us.”

In addition, each child had created a personalized “I Am Me” card, that they’d then placed in a Champ Chest.  The Champ Chests were decorated by University of MD’s college students, covered with motivational comments, through Operation Champs.   It was quite special to see them place their “I Am Me” cards in the Champ Chests as they headed to feast upon the ice cream treats that awaited . . . another sweet USO touch to make this a most memorable, multi-sensory experience for all!

We walked away with full hearts, full Champ Chests, and the knowledge that we’d reached out and touched the hearts and souls and minds of 321 of our Nation’s littlest heroes. – Debbie Fink, MA, Author 

P&G Gives Makeovers to Military Honorees Before USO Gala

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Jessica Perkins, wife of USO Soldier of the Year Staff Sgt. Jacob Perkins, gets her hair done at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon at the Washington Hilton before Friday’s USO Gala. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

Every year, the USO selects a service member from each branch and a military volunteer to honor at its gala in Washington, D.C. — a star-studded event with more than 1,000 attendees, including the nation’s top military brass.

With a roomful of guests to impress, they — and their families — needed to look good. That’s where the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon stepped in to help.

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Marianne Gaylor, wife of USO Sailor of the Year Greg Gaylor, gets her hair done Friday at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon.

One of the perks of having great partners like P&G is that they bring their own party supplies. Cover Girl cosmetics, Gillette razors and a whole line of hair and beauty products filled a private space just steps from the Washington Hilton’s ballroom on Friday afternoon. P&G-provided stylists spent the afternoon making the USO’s honorees — and a few other special military invitees — look sharp for the big event.

“I’ve never been shaved before,” said Army Master Sgt. Mike Martinez (Ret.). “That said, it was the best shave I’ve ever had. It’s nice to see P&G and the USO coming through for us, to help my wife and I get prepared for this.”

Five fully stocked stations for hair, make-up and shaving were in action for six hours on Friday to help spouses and family members feel comfortable and confident for their big night. More than 15 makeovers were performed by the end of the day.

—By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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USO Airman of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher Beversdorf gets a shave before Friday’s USO Gala at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon.

Breathe Some Oxygen Into Your Marriage for a Stronger Family

Noel Meador with Ed and Karen Matayka at the USO Caregivers Conference

USO/Stronger Families Oxygen Seminars are one- or two-day relationship workshops for wounded, ill and injured service members and their significant others. The seminars focus on helping the couple ease common relationship challenges, such as how the dynamics of relationships often change after an injury or illness. Through a non-threatening environment and interactive exercises, couples learn how to respond to and relate to each other, to express appreciation, to increase and improve communication, and to create a relationship plan for the future.

“The Oxygen Seminar… has given me hope that things will work out where I had lost hope and patience. Most of all, it has given me a fresh set of ideas to change things that were stagnant,” said a military spouse who attended an Oxygen Seminar near Fort Drum.

Stronger Families Executive Director Noel Meador recently spoke with the USO about our partnership at the recent 2012 USO Caregivers Conference. “The greatest asset our military has to sustain the past decade of war and the future battle is a strong family. This starts by offering hope and help to couples who are struggling in their relationship. This is what Stronger Families has developed through its Oxygen For Your Relationships program. “

Together The USO & Stronger Families plan to host 30 workshops in 2013, to include the general active duty population as well. We are happy to report that results from a recent surveys showed that 100% of attendees felt that after participation their relationship would be more resilient! Visit StrongerFamilies.org for more info. – Vyque White, USO Director of New Media

Trevor Romain Addresses Bullying with Military Children

For some children, “back to school” can mean back to bullies.

Bullying is especially common for military children who, according to the Military Child Education Coalition, move about six to nine times from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

So where’s the good news? Trevor Romain is setting out to help military children in Europe identify and change bullying behavior! During his USO tour, Trevor will also discuss how to recognize the signs that your child is being bullied (or is bullying others), how to talk to your kids about bullying and ways families can cope with this important issue together.

You can hear Trevor’s thoughts about bullying behavior and how to handle it and how Trevor discusses these problems with military children in his interview with the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Bullying Statistics

  • About 71 percent of students report bullying as an on-going problem they face at school.
  • Over half of all students have witnessed a bullying crime take place while at school.
  • A reported 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school.
  • About one out of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
  • About 282,000 students are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month.

As a nationally-recognized children’s motivational speaker and author, Trevor will also share the USO’s With You All the Way program with military children. Through a partnership between the USO and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids and the Trevor Romain Company, this program focuses on helping children and families cope with deployment, reintegration, and what happens when a parent returns from combat with wounds, both seen and unseen.

People often forget about the sacrifices and hardships that are unique for military children. At the USO, we understand the difficulties military children endure and we are so proud to partner with Trevor in our mission to support and connect with our military children around the world.

Thank you Trevor!

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

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.

With Parents Deployed, Military Toddlers Confront Monsters

He’s the baby on the block, but he already knows his A, B, C’s; his 1, 2, 3’s; and his Do-re-mi’s. He’s perpetually turned 3-and-a-half for nearly 20 years, but he’s still “got new shoes.”

For toddlers, he’s an A-List celebrity. For parents, he’s nothing short of a red felt superhero.

Elmo is back with the Sesame Street gang in the USO’s longest-running traveling show and the first-ever designed specifically for military families.

The Rood family and the Mowry family got a chance to meet the whole gang back stage, May 16, at the Wallace Theater on Ft. Belvoir. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Families like the Roods, who saw the Sesame Street/USO Experience at Fort Belvoir just three weeks before moving to a new duty station. Their 2-year-old son Deyvian may be too young to absorb what’s happening, but his older brother, 4-year-old Marques, will have to make new friends for the first time.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they incorporated a new character to talk about relocation,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Rood, who came with his two sons and his wife, Kimberly, to see the show May 14 at the Wallace Theater.

Make no mistake—Marques and Deyvian are both diehard Elmo fans. But they might find they have a lot in common with the new kid on Sesame Street.  Her name is Katie, and she’s a 6-year-old military child moving to a new place. She is confronted with the same concerns of today’s real life military families like the Roods—the separation and anxiety of a deployment, and the stress of packing up every few years and relocating to a new base, a new city or a new country.

Ella Terry, 5-year-old daughter of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry, connects with Sesame Street character Katie, a 6-year-old girl who understands what it’s like to move to a new duty station. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Ella Terry is just 5 years old, and she likes that “Katie had a daddy in the military too.”

“I am a military child and you are a military spout (spouse),” she said, pointing to her mom, Beth, wife of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry.

“Ella has already moved from Maine to San Diego to Washington D.C. in just her first 15 months of life,” said Beth Terry. “And though the transitions were great and she had no idea it was happening, in a couple years we will move again, and I appreciate being able to remind her of Katie.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Mowry is currently deployed to Afghanistan. His 2-year-old daughter, Keirah, attended the show with her mom, Crystal. At night, Keirah dances with her Rock and Roll Elmo doll and spins around giggling every time she hears him laugh. Her mom recalls doing the same thing when she was young.

“I remember learning so much from Sesame Street,” Crystal said. “Now, being able to watch her enjoy and grow up with the same characters, it is just incredible.”

Before the show, the Mowrys and the Roods had the chance to actually meet Elmo, Katie and the whole gang face to face. After her one-on-one with the not-so little red monster, Keirah was elated.

When asked what her deployed daddy would think about her meeting Elmo, her jubilation quickly subsided and her brows began knitting. She responded quietly, staring down at her feet.

“Daddy’s far, far away for work,” she said. ~ Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has performed more than 371 shows on 115 installations in 33 states and 12 countries – lifting the spirits of 222,000+ military families. Tour dates, character bios and tour information can be found at www.uso.org/sesame

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