Helping Out on Purple Heart Day

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you have a friend or family member who was awarded the Purple Heart, today isn’t necessarily the day to buy a drink for him or her in hopes of hearing a detailed story about why they received it. Often, the Purple Heart commemorates the most terrifying day of someone’s life, so there may be painful and tragic memories associated with it.

Instead, think about how you can be of service to the greater community of America’s combat wounded troops. There are countless ways to get involved. While the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs provide resources, a number of gaps have widened as the roster of wounded has swelled. In addition to volunteering at a local USO center, the USO and its best-in-class partners are always looking for help by facilitating programs for wounded, ill and injured troops and their families along with the families of the fallen. Here are just a few of those offerings:

The Fisher House: The Fisher House provides free housing to wounded troops on the grounds of major military hospitals. With several families often staying at these homes together, volunteer services are often needed.

Ride 2 Recovery: USO/Ride 2 Recovery Challenge Rides test recovering troops’ endurance while allowing them to build camraderie. Visit their site to find a ride near you, where you can ride with the wounded or volunteer.

Hire Heroes USA: The USO, in collaboration with Hire Heroes USA, offers Transition Workshops and Career Opportunity Days (CODs) for wounded, ill and injured troops, spouses and caregivers. If you are an employer, you can participate by helping conduct mock interviews and provide feedback, providing an additional level of support for transitioning service members to meet with employers offering jobs.

You can learn more about these programs by visiting uso.org.

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO staff writer

PTSD Resources: Where to Turn When You Need Help

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean troops and families trying to cope with the anguish of war memories or even mental and emotional trauma from traumatic brain injuries will be forgotten.

Here is a list of resources for both troops and families dealing with PTSD.

And as always, if you or someone you know needs to talk to someone immediately, call the Military Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact them online at militarycrisisline.net.

  • OEF Crisis Hotline: Hosted by the Army in Afghanistan for troops deployed downrange, personnel are fielding phone calls and answering email around the clock. Click here for contact information.
  • USO Caregivers Conferences: Held on or near different military installations around the United States, these USO conferences discuss caregivers’ issues like resiliency, communication, compassion fatigue and how to talk to children after a parent has been injured.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs: Not only do they host the Military Crisis Line, but they can also direct you to counseling options and a host of other resources. Visit them at mentalhealth.va.gov.
  • USO/Stronger Families Oxygen Seminars: This Bothell, Wash.-based nonprofit helps couples – especially military couples affected by injuries or long separations – open the lines of communication. Their Oxygen Seminars have become a key partner program of USO Warrior and Family Care.
  • USO/Ride 2 Recovery: Ride 2 Recovery – in partnership with the USO – holds challenge events for wounded, ill and injured troops to both boost camaraderie and build physical stamina and confidence.
  • Family readiness officers, family support groups and family support centers: While some may be more robust than others, every branch of the military has family support services. These officers and groups are huge information resources. Contact your command to find out what groups are available for your family.
  • Aggregate lists: Along the same lines as the VA site, the Washington Post has an easy-to-navigate rundown of warning signs, benefits and services and how to find help.
  • If in doubt: Call the Military Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact them online at militarycrisisline.net.

–Story by USO Story Development

Coca-Cola 600, Ride 2 Recovery Memorial Challenge Highlight Memorial Day Weekend

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Kat and Staff Sgt. Aaron Causey at the Coca-Cola 600. USO Photo by Katie Whitlow

Army Staff Sgt. Aaron Causey, his wife, Kat, and USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes represented the organization Sunday at the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

Causey – who was wounded in Afghanistan – served as the event’s grand marshal and, along with his wife and Reyes, got to yell “drivers: start your engines” at the beginning of the race.

It’s the third straight year Coke has invited the USO to be the race’s grand marshal. The two American institutions have been partners since 1941.

“At Coke, we’ve always supported the military through the USO,” said Erika Von Heiland Strader, Director-Community Marketing for Coca-Cola North America, in an interview last week. “That’s why we make sure the USO is an integral part of the Coke 600.”

Ride 2 Recovery Memorial Challenge

USO partner Ride 2 Recovery held its Memorial Challenge on Monday in Washington. The ride – which was 41 miles from Arlington to Manassas, Va. – was another avenue through which the organizations help our wounded, ill and injured troops retake control of their lives.

Part of the physical health and recreation initiatives sponsored by the USO Warrior and Family Care, Ride 2 Recovery helps improve the health and wellness of America’s healing troops through challenge races that test endurance as a way to build physical confidence.

Program partners since 2007, the USO provides funds for bikes for some Ride 2 Recovery participants (both traditional and adaptive) along with day-of-event support. In 2012, the USO supported seven Ride 2 Recovery events with snacks and rest areas. Throughout the year, USO centers will host events – including dinners and fun activities – for Ride 2 Recovery cyclists as they come ride through their geographic areas.

Ride 2 Recovery, Project HERO Hold Training Workshop

Thirty-three representatives from Warrior Transition Units, Wounded Warrior Battalions and Veteran Affairs (VA) medical clinics came to Bethesda, Md., recently to participate in a three-day training camp to build and improve their respective Ride 2 Recovery cycling rehabilitation programs.

Project HERO (Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunities) is designed as a train-the-trainer camp, where vital cycling skills such as organizing and leading rides, bike mechanics, maintenance, adaptations and safety and even bike building and fitting are taught to hospital and military representatives.

Project HERO National Director Barbara Springer said the camp aimed to empower local cycling representatives so they can promote a fuller, quicker rehabilitation for injured servicemen and women.

“These reps will go back to their locations and each will be qualified to start up a Project HERO program at their own hospital or unit,” Springer said. “Each will possess the knowledge and skills required not only to lead a ride, but also to help their unit’s healing heroes reach their highest level of function by using cycling as part of physical and psychological rehabilitation.”

Army veteran Marina Libro is developing a Project HERO cycling program with the McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va. For her, learning how to fit riders for a bike and seeing how a maintenance shop was set up was the most useful elements of the training.

“I’ve got the people at the VA behind me now supporting a cycling program, but I didn’t have the technical knowledge or mechanical skills to make it all happen,” she said. “Now I know what I need to set up a bike room and I have the confidence to make it successful.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Disabled Veterans Cycle From Sea to Shining Sea

Sea to Shining Sea riders embrace in the Atlantic Ocean, July 28, 2012, after cycling more than 3,800 miles from San Francisco to Virginia Beach. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

For the past two months, a group of 14 disabled veterans rode bicycles, hand cycles and recumbent cycles nearly 4,000 miles through 14 states—from Sea to Shining Sea.

They started May 28th dipping their rear tires in San Francisco Bay, before heading east on their cross country journey.   Through scenic Napa Valley and over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the World T.E.A.M. Sports cyclists rode through Lake Tahoe and endured 100-plus degree temperatures in the deserts of Nevada and Utah before pedaling up the steep inclines of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

They toured America at 10 miles per hour, through small towns and big cities, experiencing the sights and smells of the heartland—a pilgrimage through the country to help them understand exactly what it is they sacrificed their bodies and minds for. They rode through the Arkansas River valley into Kansas, arriving in St. Louis for the Fourth of July. In each town and city, Americans lined the streets to welcome them. They continued east through southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio  then south through Washington D.C. and Richmond before arriving at their final destination in Virginia Beach, today.

Following the cyclists for the entire trip has been a USO Mobile RV, on a mission to provide valuable field support such as water, food and shelter from inclement weather.

“The driver of the RV—Lou—was probably [one of] the most consistent and uplifting personalities we had with us along the way,” said Army Capt. Ivan Castro, an active duty Special Operations officer who was blinded and maimed by a mortar round in Iraq. Castro rides tandem with a sighted, civilian cyclist.

“We’ve had some tough climbs, some scary descents and some crazy hot weather,” he added.  “But every morning Lou is there to shake my hand, give me some kind words of support and hand me a cup of coffee just the way I like it. It’s the same USO I know and love, but it’s always here—traveling along with us. It’s amazing the way the USO can bring comfort to an otherwise uncomfortable situation.”

“We’re here to provide any level of support these riders might need at every moment along the route,” said Emily Flint, the Special Events coordinator for the USO who traveled in the RV for the entire ride. “One day that might mean handing out waters, sandwiches, or providing much-needed logistical support. At other times the USO Mobile is literally the only respite the cyclists have from the unforgiving weather. It’s been a grueling trip at some points—especially because of the weather—but we are proud to support the endeavors of men and women who have been injured while serving our country.”

World T.E.A.M. (which stands for The Exceptional Athlete Matters) Sports has organized all kinds of athletic events for disabled and able-bodied citizens, from mountain climbing to white water rafting, biking, and more. This is the second Sea to Shining Sea ride for wounded veterans, and the first which the USO has  co-sponsored.

“We’re honored that the USO chose to support our effort to recognize the riders for both their sacrifice and resiliency,” said World T.E.A.M. Sports CEO and President Paul Tyler. “Support from an organization like the USO means so much to this group of riders who dedicated two months of their lives to crossing the country they defended.”

To learn more about the day-to-day experiences of the ride and the riders, visit the Sea to Shining Sea website and read the daily blogs by S2SS Communications Manager Richard Rhinehart and ride director Mike Claver. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Ride 2 Recovery Great Lakes Challenge

A great ride around Lake Minnetonka

The riders, led by 10-year-old Nick from Wayzata, looped around Lake Minnetonka

A group of 120 injured war veterans and their supporters wrapped up a near 300 mile bike ride through the Great Lakes region this week. Ride 2 Recovery holds cycling events all over the nation to raise funds for mental and physical rehabilitation programs for our nation’s troops, and the rides themselves are a part of the participants’ healing process.

The Great Lakes Challenge started in Minneapolis, hit Red Wing, Rochester and Northfield, looped around Lake Minnetonka and back to Minneapolis! On the last day the group stopped by the Twins baseball game, with riders Joe Jackson and Patrick Zeigler throwing out the first pitch, and the riding home in the American Legion Parade.

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