Honoring Military Mothers

Whether they’re deployed, supporting a child who is serving or holding down the fort while dad’s away- there is one thing our nation’s military moms can count on this Mother’s Day- the support of the USO. While people across the country are thinking of ways to make this Mother’s Day special for their moms, the USO has made it possible for everyone to show we have not forgotten the moms who won’t get to see their children, husbands or possibly even hear their voices this May 13th because they are making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.  There are five ways you can show a military mom your appreciation:

1. A Phone Call Home and give a mom serving the gift of hearing her child’s voice this Mother’s Day or a mom or wife at home, the gift of hearing the voice of their child or spouse

2. A Military Spouse Appreciation Event and treat a mom serving to a day of pampering

3. Bedtime Stories and allow a deployed mom to record herself reading a bedtime story to her child and have that DVD recording and the book mailed back home

4. A Mother’s Day Box filled with gifts, pampering products and a personalized note for the wife, girlfriend or mother of a deployed service member

5. Recovery Along the River and help send wounded, ill or injured female service members on a positive, recreational trip that will provide them with a temporary sanctuary free of stress and uncertainty.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Her 12 Kids Learn There’s Always Time to Give

Laurie, Tim, and nine of their twelve children!

When raising 12 children, there’s no such thing as extra time.

Laurie Leder will be the first to tell you.  She’s the busy, busy spouse of Army Staff Sergeant Tim Leder, stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va.  While she may not have a lot of spare time, she values community service so much that she and her whole family make time to volunteer with the USO.

Laurie started volunteering after she received a video in the mail from United Through Reading, a USO partner. When she put the disk in the player she saw her husband in his camouflage uniform, alone in a chair, reading bedtime stories to her kids from a base in Iraq. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Every single night the kids could put the disk in and listen to him read a story to them,” she said. “A lot of times people don’t realize how big something that small is, especially when you have little ones who wouldn’t otherwise remember him after being gone for a year.”

Her oldest is 20—too old for bedtime stories—but her youngest is only nine months. All of her kids are home schooled, and Lori encourages every one of them to join her in volunteering  at the USO as soon as they’re old enough.

“I feel like my family has gotten way more from the USO than I can ever hope to give back, so when it comes time to teach my children about community involvement and volunteering, the USO is at the top of my list.”

With so many USO programs and activities on and off base, every member of the Leder clan finds something to do. Laurie herself assists with stuffing care packages and hosts weekly coffee meetings for military spouses on base.

Her older teenagers help lift heavy crates of food at the farmers market, the 10- and 11-year-olds watch younger children during the morning coffees, and even her 8-year-old enjoys handing out popcorn and drinks to soldiers watching movies on the lawn.

“When you’re reaching out to other people, you realize that you have more than you think you do,” she said. “So it’s not extra time—it’s time well spent.” – Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer

Get Some Oxygen—Don’t Let Your Marriage Become a Casualty of War

In an interview with Army SGT Philip Romero about the invisible wounds of war, he told the USO that it’s difficult to explain complex wartime emotions to his wife.

Romero suffers from post-traumatic stress.  “My wife asks me … ‘Why don’t you talk to me about it?” he says.  “How am I supposed to tell my wife that I’m sorry I didn’t die and two younger guys could have made it home? How do you explain that?”

Romero’s silence and bouts of anger are not uncommon in military marriages, particularly those where a spouse is dealing with PTSD.

“There is a level of stress on wounded warrior couples that seems ten-fold what a normal marriage bears,” said Noel Meador, Executive Director of Stronger Families, creator of a marriage training program called Oxygen.

A military couple learn to communicate more effectively at a recent Oxygen Seminar

The USO recently teamed up with Stronger Families to provide the workshops free to wounded, ill or injured troops.  It’s a way to tackle tough issues in a non-threatening environment.

Stronger Families coaches work with groups of about 25 couples, teaching them practical skills for improving communication, resolving conflict, rekindling romance and finding new hope.

“The ability for a spouse to empathize is tremendous,” said Meador, “and that’s really what we’re trying to reinforce… If we can help give couples the tools they need to communicate how they are feeling, we can help them attain a mutual understanding of the problem and work together to diffuse the anger safely.  Eventually couples can come up with an action plan to move forward in their relationships.”

In partnership with Stronger Families, the USO hosted three Oxygen seminars last year and plans to host six more this year.  The workshops are held near military hospitals, warrior transition units and wounded warrior battalions. –  Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

“Military Wives (And Moms) Are Heroes, Too”


Military wife and mom Kelly Walker gets ready for the gala. (Photo by Kelly Wallace)


There was a special pre-party event that occurred before the 2010 USO Gala this year: P&G (our newest Worldwide Strategic Partner) set up a beauty suite for the wives of the Service Member Honorees of the Year!

iVillage’s Kelly Wallace was there to capture the moment, and spent time with Kelly Walker, the wife of Sgt. Eric Walker, the USO’s Marine of the Year.  “I very much enjoyed it,” Walker, a mother or two, told Wallace after her beauty sessions. “I don’t get pampering, I guess, very much, so it was quite enjoyable to have someone do my hair and my makeup.”

But, as Wallace points out, none of these women do what they do for attention or awards.  Walker concluded, “I’m just very proud of (my husband) and what he does, and so I’m honored for what I get to do for him.”

We’re proud of all of these military wives and moms (and their Service Member Honoree spouses!) and hope you’ll take a minute to watch the video below, then say “Thank You” to the military wife or mom in your life…