9 Times the USO Came Through for Military Moms

Moms are the backbone of military families. Here are nine moments where the USO has come through for them:

1. Beamed in to the delivery room: Marine Capt. Nick Whitefield went downrange during the run-up to his wife, Laura Whitefield, delivering their second child. Thanks to USO technology, the couple got to see each other during that special moment.

2. USO/What To Expect Special Delivery Baby Showers: The USO works with The What To Expect Foundation and best-selling author Heidi Murkoff to deliver baby showers to military families around the world.

3. A juice and a snooze: How the USO gave a much-needed respite to one military mom and her young daughter when they got stranded while traveling to a funeral.

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

4. Cute overload: USO Arizona quickly rolled out the red carpet for an Air Force couple that moved across the country right before giving birth to quintuplets.

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5. Staying connected with her kids around the world: When Amy DeRosa’s children started deploying, she wasn’t sure how often she’d get to talk to them. Then she found out about the USO.

Dickinson_md6. A mother’s quiet moment at the USO: How the mom of a fallen soldier honored his memory – and felt a little closer to him – during an impromptu USO visit after his death.

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7. Creative mom gets an assist on military daughter’s birthday: Jeanne McConnell had a history of surprising her daughter — Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur — on her birthday. Thanks to the USO, she was able to keep up the tradition even though Arthur was deployed to Afghanistan.

8. A twist on a birthday celebration: Air Force couple James and Cherrie Bell had a bunch of USO experiences over the years. So when their daughter turned 1, they wanted to set an example of giving back. Their efforts may have made her our youngest donor ever.

9. Giving a mom peace of mind: When Marlene Chapman’s daughter was stranded alone in the Denver airport overnight, their family knew exactly where to send her.

USO Steps in to Help Stranded Military Teen and Give Worried Mom Piece Of Mind

Marlene Kenney and her family. Photo courtesy Marlene Kenney

Marlene Chapman and her family. Photo courtesy Marlene Chapman

Marlene Chapman never thought her kids would need the USO.

But after her 19-year-old daughter, Mareena Brown, found herself alone, upset and stranded overnight in the Denver airport, Chapman, who’s married to Air Force 1st Lt. Joseph Chapman, was relieved the USO was there to lend a hand.

“I can’t explain it, except to say, I am crying (again) thinking how relieved I was knowing she felt safe. Knowing she was safe,” Chapman wrote in an email. “I always thought it was for the ones serving, not their families.”

Chapman and Brown’s USO story began long before any plane tickets were booked.

A few years back, Chapman and her children lived in Colorado. That’s where Brown met her friend Cali Lurvey, whose father was in the Army. But military families rarely stay in one place for long. Eventually, Brown moved to Salt Lake City with her mother, and Cali relocated to Minot, South Dakota, with her family. The girls remained close and continued to grow their friendship, particularly when Brown struggled with health issues and Graves’ disease during high school.

Brown eventually graduated high school and started to regain her health. She resumed everyday activities, too, including getting a job at a local call center. After earning her first paycheck, Brown decided to spend the money to visit Cali. So she booked a flight to Minot, packed her bag and had Chapman drop her off at the airport.

“She was very nervous about traveling alone,” Chapman wrote. “I was even more nervous.”

When Brown landed in Denver, she received a series of flight delay texts, and later, a notification that her connecting flight to Minot was cancelled. Alone, and facing a night in the airport without her luggage, Brown called her mother, who suggested she head to Denver International Airport’s USO center.

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After signing in with a volunteer, calming herself down and fueling up on a sandwich and juice, Brown called her mother to let her know that everything was going to be alright.

“She told me to thank Joe (my husband) for being awesome and in the Air Force,” Chapman wrote. “She said the USO felt safe.”

Even though the center closed 10 p.m., Brown said the USO volunteers gave her plenty of snacks and books to keep her happy in the main terminal until the center re-opened at 6 a.m. The next day, Brown went back to the USO and spent her morning relaxing at the center before catching her flight to Minot.

After her experience with the USO, Brown told her mother that she’d like to look into volunteering at her local USO.

“I told her that we will all look into it as a family,” Chapman wrote. “I am grateful to the USO for helping me find peace of mind while she was traveling. We definitely want to be part of the USO community, family, organization.”

Juice And A Snooze: How The USO Helped Ease One Military Mom’s Travel Woes

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The McClanahan family. Photo courtesy of Michelle McClanahan

When Michelle McClanahan headed to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on her way to Pennsylvania, she didn’t anticipate spending the rest of the day in the Atlanta airport.

But since she and her daughter, Sophia, were flying on a non-reservation status to her grandfather’s funeral — thanks to a perk Michelle’s husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob McClanahan, had in an earlier job —  they had to wait until seats became available on a plane from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

It was a long wait.

After several hours of boredom mixed with the sadness and stress of losing her grandfather, Michelle spoke to her husband, who suggested she head to the airport’s USO center.

Not expecting much, Michelle decided to take his advice and went to the USO Jean Amos Center at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

When she arrived, a volunteer helped her sign in and gave she and her daughter some food. A USO volunteer even went out to purchase some juice for Sophia, since the center only had water and soda at the time.

“I was blown away at how welcoming they were to my family,” McClanahan wrote in an email. “They even comforted me when I started crying over my grandfathers passing!”

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After enjoying the refreshments and a much-needed nap, Michelle says a few volunteers even offered to play with Sophia and walk around the center with her.

“I will definitely be using the USO again,” she said. “It represents to me a safe place to go when you feel like you don’t have any options. It represents a family environment.”

Moms Find Another Way to Give Back at USO

We’ll all be thinking of, calling and thanking our mothers Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean they’re taking the day off.

Hundreds of moms will be clocking in volunteer hours at USO centers across the globe this Mother’s Day. Some do it as a hobby. Others out of a sense of duty. And some give countless hours at USO centers to repay the treatment given to their families.

Here are the stories of two such volunteers – Pam Horton and Michelle Bajakian – in their own words:

Pam Horton, USO of North Carolina volunteer

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USO of North Carolina volunteer Pam Horton

My dad was career Army. I was raised to be patriotic, to have a strong sense of pride and love for our country. I still get choked up when I hear the national anthem! My dad retired when I was 16. Thirty-five years later, my youngest son enlisted in the Army.

We moved to Apex, N.C., just as our son finished up his training. He had been assigned to a unit that was already deployed!  We were at [Raleigh Durham International Airport] putting him on the plane, knowing we wouldn’t see him again until he returned home from Afghanistan, when we were approached by a woman from the USO. She thanked him for his service, thanked us for our sacrifice, told us about the USO center, asked if she could give him any snacks to take on the plane, thanked us again and went on her way. After my eyes stopped dripping, I thought, ‘I can do THAT!’ and went in search of her.

I enjoy talking with the people that come through the center, to find out where they’ve been, or where they’re headed. I try to be upbeat and chatty, to help pass the time for them. I’ve even learned to play a mean game of Crazy Eights! Sometimes, they don’t want to talk, so I respectfully give them their privacy. It’s all about making them comfortable and happy while they are in the center.

I thoroughly love that I can help ease the minds of moms who come into the Center with their children who are about to go to basic [training] or deploy. …

It sure sounds like I volunteer for me, doesn’t it?  It helps that I enjoy it, but it really is all about our military and their families. They sacrifice for us and we should show our appreciation for that.

Michele Bajakian, USO Fort Drum volunteer

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USO Fort Drum volunteer Michele Bajakian

“There are a lot of good reasons to volunteer with an organization like the USO, but I am a volunteer today because four years ago, the USO was there for my family when we needed them the most.

My husband was deployed to Afghanistan while we were living in Germany. I took my two children, who were 9 and 11 years old at the time, to visit their grandparents in Texas. I received a phone call from my husband, saying that he was being medically evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, because a mass was discovered in his neck.

Needless to say, I was very concerned and needed to get back to Germany fast. One of the flights from Texas was to New Jersey and we spent a sleepless night in their terminal. The next morning, we caught an early flight to Boston and had to wait several hours before our flight to Germany.

The kids and I were exhausted from a sleepless and stressful night. I saw the USO sign in the terminal and I felt so relieved. This was the first time that I had ever entered a USO. The people working at the center were so kind and thoughtful. There was a quiet room there and comfy couches to sleep on. My children and I were able to get some much needed rest and felt ready to continue on our trip after spending time with Boston’s USO.

The two years that followed were pretty tough, but my husband is now in remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He is doing so much better now and we have a lot to be thankful for.

Every time I see the USO sign, I think about that trip that my children and I made and who was there waiting for us in Boston four years ago. I completed my training at Fort Drum to become a volunteer [in March] and I am so happy every time I walk into the center. I volunteer for the USO because I want to be there waiting for some other soldier or their family who needs a little extra TLC, a cup of coffee, or a smile.

–Story by USO Story Development

Visit USO Wishbook to give troops a gift for Mother’s Day like a phone call home or a program experience for a family of a wounded, ill or injured service member.

Say It With Flowers

Search for "USO" on the FTD Flowers site to find some extra patriotic gifts!

Search for “USO” on the FTD Flowers site to find some extra patriotic gifts!

This time of year, the most popular USO partner promotion is with FTD Flowers! You’re probably not surprised, but no less delighted to learn of the details: for all of 2013, FTD will be offering customers who visit ftd.com/uso a 20% discount on flowers, plants and gifts AND will donate 5% of the purchase price to the USO.

“We are proud to forge a strong partnership with a wonderful, well-respected organization like the USO,” said Rob Apatoff, president of FTD. “The men and women of the U.S. Military perform an invaluable service to this country and we are proud to support an organization that provides them with so many important services and programs.”

In addition, FTD is delivering 10,000 flowers to USO centers about the country next Friday! The centers will be handing them out to service men and women to keep or give to their own mothers for Mother’s Day.

Baby Shower for 125 Military Moms

A volunteer carries a new car seat for Amanda Avant as she leaves the Bundles and Boots Baby Shower hosted by the USO of Missouri and Operation Homefront.             Army photo by Brittany Carlson.

It’s been a year of big changes and long separations for Amanda and Michael Avant.

After getting married, 19-year-old Amanda stayed home with her family in Arkansas while her husband, Army Cpl. Michael Avant, lived in the singles barracks at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.

Two weeks before Michael deployed to Afghanistan, they found out Amanda was pregnant.  They decided she should move into family housing on the base so she could prepare for her husband’s return in June and the baby’s arrival in August.  She made the move, all by herself, earlier this year.

“It’s going to be different– my husband coming home and me being eight months pregnant.  Last time he saw me I had no belly, and now I have this huge belly, and also I’m emotional, so he’s going to come home to an emotional wife!”

Avant says her husband is upset that he’s missing so many milestones.

“He’s never been in our house before.  He’s never seen it.  He’s never been to a doctor’s visit. He’s really nervous about it, but he’s excited.  He says that he’s proud of me, just being a regular Army girlfriend to being an Army wife and a mommy and moving on post all by myself.”

Lisa Yenter, wife of the commanding general at Fort Leonard Wood, thinks it’s important for young soldiers’ wives to make friendships and connections as soon as they arrive on post.

“Plug into the community,” she says, “Get them plugged in so they can navigate through the military system.”

That’s why she wholeheartedly supports events like last weekend’s Bundles and Boots Baby Shower.

The USO of Missouri and Operation Homefront hosted the all-day party, where 125 new or expecting moms mingled over displays with parenting information, baby supplies, books and food. There was even a “craving” table loaded with pickles, ice cream and other goodies for the pregnant palate.

“Every pregnant woman got four packages of diapers, and everybody got a free car seat—brand new, still in the box,” says Avant, “It was really neat.”

Soldiers helped the moms carry out their boxes and bags, and certified experts were available to install the car seats.

“When you’re far from home and you don’t know many people and you’re going to have a baby, maybe you just don’t have that baby shower,” says Yenter.  “But every baby should be showered.”

Meantime, Avant is storing all her baby items in the nursery, but she’s waiting for Michael to come home before she sets anything up.

“I’m not putting up the crib because I figure my husband would want to do that,” she says.  “I don’t want to set it all up without him being there.  Because he’s so sad that he’s missing out on everything.”

 Today is Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  Join us in wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to all our military moms and families with loved ones far from home. – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development