WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Joe Wilson was all smiles at last Wednesday’s Operation USO Care Package Service Project on Capitol Hill. But his reason for being there was serious.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) jokes around with photographers at the Operation USO Care Package Service Project on May 22 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler
Wilson, who served 31 years in the South Carolina National Guard before retiring as a colonel in 2003, has deep family roots in America’s armed forces.
“I’m particularly grateful to be here, not just as a member of Congress, but as a military family,” Wilson said at the event, which took place in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. “I have four sons currently serving in the military. One is [in Afghanistan] today. So one of these packages could easily end up with him.”
The seventh-term Republican from South Carolina’s 2nd District praised the work he’s seen the USO do for troops and families not only overseas, but also in his home state. USO of South Carolina opened a new center in the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in 2010, and will be unveiling updates to that center on Friday.
“I’m just such a fan of USO,” he said. “As I travel the country, as I travel the world – beginning in my home community in Columbia, South Carolina – we have a USO canteen at the airport. It’s the most prominent location in the airport and we are very grateful, particularly with the trainees coming into Fort Jackson, [that] they are welcomed by USO right away.
“It shows the appreciation of the warriors who maintain our freedom.”
–Story by Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) goes through the line at the Operation USO Care Package assembly event on Sept. 11 in Washington, D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler
Seventy members of Congress turned out for an Operation USO Care Package (OUCP) assembly event on September 11 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. But putting together the much-appreciated bags of goodness for troops downrange wasn’t the only thing on their minds.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and with the staggering rise in military suicides in recent years—as of July the Army was on pace for a 200 suicides this year alone—there appears to be an even greater drive to address the issue than ever before. The USO spoke to a few Congressmen who attended the OUCP event about the rising rates of suicide in America’s military ranks. Here are their thoughts:
Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), founding co-chair of the USO Congressional Caucus
“I am proud that Fort Bliss is leading the way through mental health screening and counseling in the Army. It’s something we want to keep supporting and pushing forward so that not a single military person feels the desperation to have to contemplate committing suicide. Only then can we as a nation say that we’ve done everything we can to support our men and women in uniform and their families, because the solution is going to be to involve the families so they can have that support system.”
Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), member of the USO Congressional Caucus
“The main thing is getting them together with their loved ones. A lot of the suicides are over personal relationships that may have deteriorated while [a service member] is overseas. … There’s a whole host of things. Some of it is a direct result of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I think we have a responsibility to deal with it. They suffer enough and risk enough when they’re in a combat position, that suffering and risk [should] not continue when they get home. They need to be embraced by their families, their loved ones, their communities and this country.”
If you are a service member or veteran dealing with tough times—or are concerned about a member of the military family in this type of situation—visit the Veterans Crisis Line at veterancrisisline.net or call 1-800-273-8255.
— Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development
USO Baghdad Duty Manager Robin Symes (l) hands out USO Care Packages and Girl Scout cookies to smiling Troops. Enjoy a Trefoil for us!
Operation USO Care Package is one of our most popular programs here at the USO. In the past few months we’ve created exclusive care packages for female Troops, and introduced a new program of care packages just for families. For those of us who pack these goodies into the bags and boxes, it’s great to know that what we’re sending off is received and greatly appreciated on the other end. (Not that there was any doubt!)
We were thrilled to receive word this weekend that the Female Care Packages, in particular, are being utilized as part of a larger program of support in Baghdad. Here’s a great note from our center there…
Care packages designed just for female Troops were packed last November on Capital Hill and are still making their way overseas!
USO Baghdad Duty Managers Megan Lynch and Robin Symes took Operation Cookie Drop and the USO’s Operation Care Package to Camp Victory’s Hope Chapel to support the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault. SASA is a unique program to combat Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the military. It is focused on Senior Female Leadership providing mentorship to our future generations of military female leaders.
During monthly meetings, women and men come together to share experiences and build the skills necessary to combat alarming statistics of harassment and assault during deployment. This month, CSM Williams spoke to the group addressing the theme “Your Best You.” Afterward, everyone had a chance to mingle and walk away with a USO care package!
A standard USO Care Package contains items like pre-paid international phone cards, toiletries, periodicals, and a deck of cards, among other oft-requested items.
For more information on the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault please visit their Facebook page.
A $25 donation sponsors one USO care package and allows you to include a personal message of support and appreciation. Click here to request a care package for a member of our troops.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, participates in a USO Care Package Stuffing party at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Virginia, July 2, 2010. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)
“Thanks for doing this,” Admiral Mullen told the volunteers. “I’ve been in the field with the troops a lot, and I know what a difference this makes.”
USO of Metropolitan Washington hosted military leaders, staff aides, and USO and Pentagon volunteers for a morning devoted to assembling 2,000 packages to be distributed to US military forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife, Deborah, were among the volunteers.
“[USO’s support of military members] gives us strength, it gives us inspiration, and it helps us in what are very, very difficult times,” the chairman told Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden of American Forces Press Service.
We’d like to thank everyone who came out to show their support - and care package stuffing skills! – for this perfectly patriotic event. Check out more pictures below…
Active duty service members take time to assemble USO care packages that will be sent to deployed troops, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, during a care package event at the Pentagon on July 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)
Sandee Cartwright, wife of Gen. James Cartwright Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, joins Elaine Rogers and Cheryl Laaker Hall, of USO of Metropolitan Washington, during a Pentagon care package event on July 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)
The USO Liberty Bells take time to assemble care packages at an Operation USO Care Package party at the Pentagon on July 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)
More than 100 Pentagon employees and friends assembled 2,000 care packages during an Operation USO Care Package party on July 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)
You probably already know all about Operation USO Care Package, and that we’ve donated over 1.5 million packages to Troops serving around the world. You can always make a donation to the program, or – if you’re in the DC Metro area – volunteer at a USO Care Package stuffing party. Our care packages are handed out at airports, in USO Centers, and other places to whomever wants one.
Other groups give you the opportunity to send a care box to specific individuals. Additionally, a service member can register directly with these groups and the receive one or many boxes. All of these care packages augment Operation USO Care Package and ensure that Troops have a variety of the comforts of home to choose from. Our USO staff in Iraq just wanted to let you know, “Yep, your care packages made it to Iraq,” and to thank all those who contributed! Read more…
Baghdad, Iraq – Three separate patriotic organizations have made their mark out here in Iraq with donated care packages that directly benefit the Servicemen downrange. Small, easy-to-carry hygiene products along with practical sundries can go along way to those people in the middle of a week long transit or in the middle of a cross country convoy. Trips to the base store are infrequent for these servicemen and the gesture of kindness that comes with these donated items lets these guys and gals folks back home are looking out for them.
The Raleigh Regional Association of Realtors put together a drive to send these care packages directly to Sather Air Base and the driving force with this fine organization is Terry Benson, the former Center Manager of the USO here in Baghdad. Terry has the first hand knowledge of what items are the most useful and put together very thoughtful items for the traveler in need.
Adopt a Platoon strives to provide a better deployment quality of life by sending cards, letters and care packages to lift the morale of Troops as they serve far from home and assist military families. These members of the 702d Brigade Support Battalion loaded up their MRAPs with the boxes for the next mission.
The fine folks at Operation Gratitude send care packages that contain food, hygiene products, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation, all wrapped with good wishes of love and support. Through collection drives, letter writing campaigns and donations of funds for shipping expenses, Operation Gratitude provides civilians anywhere in America a way to express their respect and appreciation to the men and women of the U.S. Military in an active, hands-on manner.
Regular blog readers often hear about our USO Care Package stuffing parties. Just within the last few months we’ve had the kid’s one, the one just for families, the Female Care Package, and the one that engaged celebrities. And those don’t even include the almost-weekly “regular” care package stuffing parties that happen without any fanfare and with the support of hundreds of volunteers.
The story we don’t often tell – simply because we often don’t know – is what happens with the care packages after we bag and box them up, and send them off to airports and centers around the world. How do Troops react when they receive their care packages? We’ve worked hard to create a program that fulfills the requests of things we’ve been told that Troops want to see in the care package. But are we right? Are they getting what they want and need?
Imagine our excitement when we received this story from USO Pat Tillman Programs Manager Charlotte Del Vecchio:
“These Marines were stranded at the Airfield with all of their bags stuck on a pallet elsewhere. They were headed down range and the Squad Leader came into the center and wanted to know if we had any toiletries to hold them over. We did better than that, and distributed the care packages to them, within 30 minutes of the request. The Marines were so grateful – and they loved the calling cards and gummy lifesavers too!”
Awesome! Thanks, Marines, for your service. We’re glad to make the trip a little better for you. Have YOU received a USO Care Package? What did you like about? What can we improve? Let us know!