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

Flowers for Mom

For Military Spouse Appreciation Day and Mother’s Day, flowers are almost a given – they’re a time-honored symbol of love and gratitude!

Luckily for all of you FTD Flowers has paired up with the USO to provide some unique (and patriotic!) ways to show you care while supporting our troops and their families! Just shop their USO Collection for beautiful arrangements and gifts and FTD will donate 15% of the sales to the USO!

And, in case you had a specific arrangement in mind, any purchase made through FTD.com/USO will result in a 15% discount and 5% donated to the USO!

But wait, there’s more! If you like or share this FTD World’s Greatest Mom picture on Facebook, they’ll also donate to the USO! For each of the first 5,000 shares and likes they’ll donate $1 and, then $500 for every 5,000 more.

The USO Dance That Changed His Life

Today we celebrate Military Spouse Appreciation Day.  And our guest blogger tells the kind of tale that we love at the USO, and it seems especially appropriate with Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday.

Earl Ladewig was a young soldier heading into World War II when a chance encounter at the USO changed his life.  This is his story…

Earl and Freda Ladewig on their wedding day, May 18, 1942.

I was drafted into service on Nov 7, 1941 from Harvey, IL.  I was sent to Cheyenne, Wyo for basic training.  On Jan 1, 1942 I was sent to Lowry AFB, Denver, Co.  The greatest impact that Denver had on me was this:  I rode into town on the Colfax streetcar, and as we passed the capitol building and headed downhill to Broadway there was the City & County building of Denver lit up in all its Holiday splendor.  I had never seen a sight like that before. (Never around Chicago, were I grew up)   About two weeks after my arrival in Denver I read a notice, on the bulletin board, that the USO was sponsoring a Square Dance at the University of Colorado campus near Colorado Blvd.  I had been a square dancer for several years and loved it, and I knew that people who square danced were friendly outgoing people.  The dance was scheduled for 17 January.  I decided to go, and go I did.  During the dance I met 3 sisters who were volunteers for the USO trying to do good for the lonely servicemen.  One sister, “Freda” was exceptionally friendly and I danced almost every dance in their square.

During our talking I learned that the girls were also scheduled to attend ballroom dancing at the old Rainbow ballroom (USO sponsored).  I indicated that I would try to be there also.  I went to the dance (18 January 1942, also my 23rd birthday).  Lo and behold two of the sisters were there but Freda was not.  I was disappointed, because it seemed we were very compatible.   However, Freda had told her sisters that if I was there they were to bring me home.  (The sisters didn’t tell me why Freda wasn’t there.)  When they told me Freda asked them to bring me home, I jumped at the chance.  Turns out Freda had a date and skipped the dance.  (Incidentally I had a girl back home whom I had asked to marry me, but she said we needed to wait until I got back from service.)

So to make a long story short, I started visiting with Freda and her family every night, always had supper with them.  Freda and I became very close friends.  After we became extra close while visiting Cheesman park in April 1942, I asked her to marry me.  She hesitated and so I told her I should think about it.  A week later I asked her again and she said yes. (At this point I did not feel I had a commitment to the girl back home, these were two different personalities and Freda’s by far was most compatible to me.)  At about this time I learned that our company, to which I was assigned at Lowry, was going to be shipped out, had no idea where. (Remember WWII started on December 7, 1941)  Freda set the date to be married on May 18, 1942. (Later I learned it was her mother’s birthday.)  It was such that “We would get married on he 18th if I was still here, otherwise we would wait.”  We did get married on the 18th of May 1942 and I shipped out on the 6th of June 1942. I had a 3-day pass and we spent our honeymoon in Colorado Springs. Our company was sent to Fairbanks Alaska.

Freda and I had nine children, seven of whom are still living.  Freda died in 1996. The 54 years we had together was a wonderful loving experience.  I wish every day that Freda was still with us.   And although I know I am forgetful these days, I can not remember Freda and I ever having an argument or saying cross words to one another.

Our children are grown now, and believe me, they are a true blessing to me at age 91. just as their mother was for 54 years.

I THANK THE USO FOR MAKING IT POSSIBLE FOR ME TO MEET FREDA. – Earl

Mother’s Day Across the Miles

The good folks at Baghdad USO have forged a great relationship with Operation Write Home, a volunteer organization that has approximately 2,500 talented crafters across the USA making unique greeting cards for the service members at Sather Air Base in Baghdad.  OWH supplies cards for every occasion, whether Birthday, Anniversary, Miss You – or holidays including Easter, Mother’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.  Sather AB has received over 600 Valentine’s Day cards and every single one was used!  They were also very fortunate to have one of their volunteers, who happens to be a master woodworker, make a beautiful card rack to display the cards in the reception area.

To commemorate Mother’s Day, Operation Write Home asked Baghdad USO to take pictures of our wonderful troops for their website.  They hope to ensure that all Mothers will receive a card from their service members who are passing through Sather AB.  USO Baghdad recently provided photos that are included in Operation Write Home’s video tribute to Moms everywhere, shown below.

Happy (early) Mother’s Day…we hope you enjoy!