OEF Crisis Hotline Gives Stressed Troops an Outlet Downrange

More than 1,000 runners came out for the OEF Crisis Hotline 5K, hosted May 24 at six USO Centers in Afghanistan. USO photos by Eric Raum

More than 1,000 runners came out for the OEF Crisis Hotline 5K, hosted May 24 at six USO Centers across Afghanistan. USO photos by Eric Raum

It was a run for those who feel trapped.

Six USO centers in Afghanistan hosted more than 1,000 total runners for a 5K on May 24 to promote the OEF Crisis Hotline, a downrange-based call center troops can contact if they are dealing with stress or other mental health issues. The hotline has two mental health professionals on duty 24 hours a day.

The USO – which has been advertising the hotline to troops via posters at downrange centers – provided prizes for the top three male and female finishers.

Sgt. Kristian Patino of the Army’s 254th Medical Detachment said the hotline fills a void downrange and is modeled off a similar system the Department of Veterans Affairs operates stateside.

“It is peer support in its purest form,” Patino said. “You have service members here in Afghanistan going through the same struggles and dealing with the same issues as whoever would be calling in, so they are able to connect with the caller and relate to them.”

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The hotline – which was originally run by the 254th Medical Detachment in Kandahar – is now operated by the Army’s 85th Combat Operational Stress Control Detachment out of Bagram.

Patino believes the hotline makes a difference.

“One instance, a woman called in and was very frantic, in a complete panic and crying,” Patino said. “When we were done, it was a day and night shift. We worked through relaxation techniques and talked through what was troubling her.”

Troops downrange can reach the OEF Crisis Hotline the following ways:

Stateside troops and veterans can reach the VA’s Military Crisis Line by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and then pressing 1. Europe-based troops can reach the Military Crisis Line by dialing 00800 1273 8255 on regular phones or 118 on DSN lines.

–Story by Eric Raum and Eric Brandner, USO

Are You A Rugged Maniac? Series of Obstacle Races Support Team USO

How far are you willing to go to support our troops?

Would you leap over burning coals? Low-crawl through the mud under barbed wire? Traverse cargo netting, hop through a series of tires and navigate a balance beam over a pit?

The USO was well-represented at the May 4 Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race in Richmond, Va. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

The USO was well-represented at the May 4 Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race in Richmond, Va. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

If you want an opportunity to challenge your endurance and reach physical goals you never thought possible in support of troops and their families, then you should join Team USO this year in the Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race.

“We’re very excited about the good things we can accomplish together,” said Rugged Races CEO Bradford Scudder. “The USO’s mission aligns with that of Rugged Maniac by recognizing and supporting our troops and their families.”

Rugged Maniac – which has announced 22 events in 2013 and expects more than 200,000 participants – hopes to raise $1 million in support of the USO.

“It’s a realistic goal,” Scudder said. “If each of our participants donates $5, we’ll get there. And this is a wonderful cause, so of course there will be individuals who’ll go above and beyond that $5 donation.”

As an official Team USO fundraiser, each participant’s goal is to raise $300 for troops and their families. In turn, the USO will deliver free training designed to fit each runner’s lifestyle, a fully customizable personal fundraising webpage, coaching, mentoring, registration to the event of your choice and a Team USO T-shirt to wear at the event.

From boot camp to battlefield back home again, the USO is the only organization that always stands by the side of troops and their families.

“Being able to stop in just about any airport in the United States and around the world … in every country I’ve ever been deployed to, there’s always a USO there that’s set up,” said Fort Lee NCO Academy 1st Sgt. Charles Badgley after the Rugged Maniac 5K in Richmond, Va. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a trailer, or if it’s a tent, or whatever the case may be, it gives us that touch of home, and we know that it’s almost 100 percent volunteer effort to give back to the soldiers so, it’s a really great thing.”

Team USO will enter teams in Rugged Maniac races around the country from now through December.

Team USO will enter teams in Rugged Maniac races around the country from now through December.

Team USO members are crucial to supporting that cause. On race day, they get VIP treatment including free parking and race photos from the official photographer. All the money raised by Team USO participants goes directly to their local USO.

“We’ve run in a couple of these and for us, because fitness is such a big deal, you know, and you have to make it exciting for yourself, this is one of the best ways to do it,” Badgley said. “It’s good to get out here and bang your knees up a little bit but also get a good run in at the same time.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Retired Marine Running Across the U.S. to Raise Money for Veterans

This Veterans Day, in honor of the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Sergeant Brendan O’Toole (Ret.) will begin a 3,600-mile run in Oceanside, Calif.

Averaging 15 miles a day, O’Toole is pounding the pavement across 21 states in the hopes of raising $2 million to support the United States armed forces veterans, combat veterans, disabled veterans and their families.

Inspired by the classic movie “Forrest Gump”, O’Toole said he has always wanted to travel across the United States. But serving in the Marines forced him to put that dream on hold.

“When I retired from the Marines this year, I knew I still wanted to run across the country, but I wanted to dedicate [my run] to a cause higher than just myself and give back to the community,” he said.

During his service, O’Toole saw many of his Marine brothers struggle to reintegrate back into society after they served. One of O’Toole’s close friends had a difficult transition from the battlefield to home life and struggled with post traumatic stress.

Ultimately, this friend took his own life. O’Toole said that The Run for Veterans is for friends like his and other troops around the nation who need a support system and guidance during their transition.

All of the money raised by the Run for Veterans will be donated to the USO, Team Red White and Blue and Give An Hour. Each organization was chosen for the physical, mental and social support it provides to our troops. The USO is proud to be a part of the Run for Veterans’ inspiring mission.

The Run for Veterans welcomes all warriors, veterans, and civilians to run alongside O’Toole throughout the route, as a show of support for our servicemen and women.

The Run for Veterans may be coming to a city near you! Here are some of the main stops along O’Toole’s route:

  • Start: Oceanside, Calif.
  • Twentynine Palms, Calif.
  • Parker, Ariz.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Shreveport, La.
  • Jackson, Miss.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Columbia, G.a
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Wilmington, Del.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Princeton, N.J.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • End: Portland, Maine

To learn more about The Run for Veterans and O’Toole’s route, check out their Facebook page or visit their website at http://www.therunforveterans.org/. If you would like to support The Run for Veterans, donate here.

Good luck to Sgt. O’Toole and all who join The Run for Veterans! Your dedication to supporting our nation’s veterans is truly an inspiration.

Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Run for Our Troops!

The Marine Corps Marathon and New York City Marathon may be sold out, but you can still run in the nation’s biggest marathons with Team USO! As part of Team USO, you have the opportunity to fundraise and make your miles count for our troops and their families.

When you run with Team USO, the money you raise helps the USO provide our service members with a taste of home when they are thousands of miles away from loved ones. With so many deployed and far from home, it’s important to show our troops and their families how thankful we are for their service and sacrifice. The money Team USO raises goes to support USO programs like USO Warrior and Family Care, USO Operation Phone Home and Operation USO Care Package.

In return for your commitment, you will receive a guaranteed spot in the race, fundraising toolkits and support from a fundraising professional to help meet your fundraising goal, personalized training support and an invitation to an exclusive Team USO pasta dinner.

In addition, with the money you raise for Team USO, you get exclusive USO race gear as a reward for your efforts!

When You Make Your Miles Count for the Troops, You Get:

Amt Raised

Incentive

Included Team USO Singlet
$300 TEAM USO t-shirt
$750 TEAM USO Water Bottle
$1,000 TEAM USO MP3 armband
$1,500 TEAM USO performance running hat
$2,000 TEAM USO fleece
$3,000 USO canvas backpack
$5,000. American Flag flown over Afghanistan

Spots are limited for the Marine Corps Marathon and the New York City Marathon, so register now on the Team USO website by Friday, August 3! If you have any questions, please call 703-740-4939.

Join Team USO today to show your support and make your miles count for our troops! – Sarah Camille Hipp, USO Communications Specialist

Meet Team USO’s Tracey Holtshirley

Tracey Holtshirley runs in the Marine Corps Marathon "shadow race" on Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, October 2009. (Courtesy photo)

Who are you? I am Tracey Holtshirley, a reserve Marine Corps Major and civilian lawyer.  I have served in the Corps for 14 years and deployed to Iraq twice in support of our nation’s efforts to assist the Iraqi people. I live in Chicago with my wife of eight years.

Why do you run? Running has been a tremendous source of solace and recommitment to succeed in the face of life’s challenges. Running keeps me healthy, fit and sharp. Though my running has not always been fun or easy, but the rewards are inexhaustible.

Why do you support the USO? The USO has been a wonderful friend to me as I have served in the Marine Corps, whether I was deployed or at home.

For those on the fence about joining the team and running the MCM, what encouragement/advice would you give? I would encourage those who are on the fence to join the team because of the double blessing they will receive and the untold blessing the servicemembers and their families will receive from that effort.  As a Team USO runner, you will be helping to support a proven organization as they support our nation’s brave men and women in uniform; you will also reap the benefit of healthy living and help to inspire others to live healthy as well; and don’t forget that you will strengthen your inner resolve to tackle life’s multitude of challenges with the confidence that you can prevail.

Holtshirley is all smiles after completing the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon. (Courtesy photo)

You have run the Marine Corps Marathon before. What advice would you give to those running it for the first time? Don’t underestimate the challenge, but don’t shy away from it. Like anything in life you must prepare…TRAIN! The MCM course is a beautiful course, steeped with history. The more trained you are, the less time you’ll spend with your eyes glued to the pavement. You can look around and enjoy the scenery and the awesome crowds that have come out to support you.

What is your favorite post-run snack/meal? Hmmmm, that’s a tough one. I’ve run many a long race and can get by post-race with some Gatorade, bananas, and something salty! I’m never too hungry initially, but a few hours later it hits me. I definitely try to grab a protein shake as soon as possible and then chow down that evening on the traditional meat and potatoes (and veggies)!!

What is your most memorable race experience and why? Topping the list has to be the MCM in 2009. I was deployed to Iraq and had the “pleasure” to coordinate a shadow race on Al Asad Airbase. I have a new found appreciation for those that put these great events together. I had a great group of volunteers and colleagues to make this happen. Then I had to race and then I got to support and recognize the participants and volunteers. Amazing time!

If you could send one message to our men and women in uniform serving around the world, what would it be? Stay true to your corps values at all costs. Challenge yourselves daily and challenge those around you to be better than they were yesterday!

Keeping Fit, Far from Home

Troops from across the branches recieve instruction before the Strong Man Competition begins. (Photo courtesy mitstephens' Flickr; all rights reserved)

Bagram, Afghanistan: Never a dull moment for the Pat Tillman USO.  Between Hail and Farewells, Cross Fit Challenges, Strong Man Competitions and United Through Reading we are always on the go.  This was not a week for the weak.

With two fitness events happening on the same day you might would think you were at muscle beach!  Service Members on BAF competed in either a Strong Man Contest or the Cross Fit Challenge. With representatives from all the Branches of Service competing it was a sight to behold.

The gym at Pat Tillman USO. (Photo courtesy of mitstephens' Flickr; all rights reserved)

For those who don’t know what Cross Fit is, it’s a strength and conditioning fitness methodology that promotes broad and general overall physical fitness. CrossFit combines weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics.  CrossFit is used in nearly 1,700 gyms worldwide and by many fire departments, law enforcement agencies and military organizations.  It was an exciting challenge, for sure.

The Strong Man Contest consisted of a bench press and dead lift, with both men and women competing for prizes from the USO.  The Service Members on Camp Alpha set out to show who was the true strong man/woman.  Congrats to all of the winners!

The runners were off to a fast start as soon as they heard the starter pistol. (USO photo courtesy of USO Baghdad Facebook page)

Baghdad, Iraq: On a beautiful Saturday morning, USO Baghdad teamed up with Sather Air Base MWR in sponsoring the end-of-summer “Fahrenheit 10K.”  This morning’s run was the second tune-up run for the upcoming US Air Force Marathon which will take place in Dayton, Ohio on 18 September, 2010.

The runners stretched in between jokes with MWR and USO staff as the remaining competitors signed in for the race.  Other USO staff and volunteers were on hand to cheer on the runners.  Despite the less-than-ideal running conditions, the fastest men and women finished the 10K in remarkable time and with enough energy to smile!

Thanks to all who participated ~ it was a great morning!  And good luck at the upcoming Sather Air Base Marathon on 12 September, 2010….we’ll see you there!

The top three male and top three female runners each received a certificate to commemorate their achievement. (USO photo courtesy of USO Baghdad Facebook page)