Father’s Day is Almost Here – Is Your Dad “Tied to a Cause”?

Still searching for that last-minute gift for Dad this Father’s Day?  Look no further than a limited-edition vineyard vines® tie, with 100% of the proceeds going to the USO!  The retailer’s “Tied to a Cause” campaign is running now through the 4th of July, so there’s still plenty of time to show your support in style.

Express and Next Day Business shipping options are still available, and there are eight retail locations on the east coast.  And if you can’t make Sunday’s deadline, then let Dad know his tie is on the way by printing out one of the great posters at right and at the bottom of the post!
In addition, we’ll be holding in-store events at the following times and locations:

June 22: Washington, DC, 6pm – 6pm
1225 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20007
Click here to RSVP

June 23: Greenwich, CT, 5pm – 7pm
145 Greenwich Avenue
Greenwich, CT 06830
Click here to RSVP

At both locations you’ll have the opportunity to purchase ties and totes.  And the first 150 purchases at each event will receive an exclusive USO gift bag!

Even if you’re not in the DC or NYC areas, you can RT to show your support: RT @the_USO and @vineyard_vines have the perfect #FathersDay gift – get “Tied to a Cause” http://bit.ly/auhPvk or grab one of the posters below and share with friends and family!

Take Time to Honor the Living, As Well

Center Managers across the Southwest Asia (SWA) region were tasked to come up with unique way of saying thank you to USO Sponsors as part of Operation Thank You. Joe Bowman, Camp LSA Duty Manager, had the idea to create an American flag made of uniforms, soldiers’ patches, and flak jacket material that represents all the service men and women stationed in the SWA region. USO staff, volunteers, and Troops proudly stand with the finished product in December 2009.

by Sloan Gibson, President and CEO of the USO:

Each Memorial Day, American flags around the world are lowered to half-staff. It’s a quiet gesture that reminds us of those former defenders who are no longer with us.

At noon, though, the flags are returned to the top of their poles, symbolizing the continuity of this nation. That gesture is an affirmation that the nation lives on, and is not in mourning.

Symbolism aside, the last Monday in May is the most solemn holiday for most American veterans. The day is celebrated at cemeteries and town squares – at barbecues and baseball games. It is an opportunity to pause for a moment to reflect on the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans who risked their lives to ensure our freedoms. It’s a time for us to issue one more “Thank You” to those who cannot celebrate with us.
Since the last quarter of the 19th Century, that has been the case. Graves are made tidy, and veterans tell their stories to their grandchildren, and the cycle continues in times of war and peace.

For nearly nine years this generation’s service men and women have been going into combat, with predictable costs — many deaths and an astonishing number of life altering injuries that would likely have been fatal just a generation ago. So, I propose that this year as we remember those who have died, we pay additional attention to those who return changed forever.

Of course, I mean no disrespect to those, like my father, we honor on Memorial Day, but each day, I am reminded about the other casualties of combat. When I visit a military hospital, I see young men and women who are facing a life they could not anticipate. I see their wounds and witness their limitless spirit as they work to recover. And, I wonder.

I wonder what will happen when the sergeant leaves the service and security of his surroundings wherever he is recovering, and goes back to a town he left years before. It is very likely that the people in his community haven’t been thinking about Iraq or Afghanistan or the men and women who serve there. How will he be welcomed back?

I wonder about the former helicopter pilot who was shot down and has been learning how to walk again. Does the community she left remember her? Will she be welcomed home not only as a hero, but also as a productive citizen?

This nation has gone through radical changes since the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in how it responds to its troops. For whatever reason, our troops today are accorded the respect they have earned, and do not face the antipathy many Vietnam veterans experienced. That’s a good thing, and it reflects well on Americans.

But one thing is apparent to those of us who deal with our service men and women nearly everywhere they serve. This nation has not come to grips with the fact that hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens are serving in harm’s way, and sometimes they become a casualty of war.

Those who serve ask little of us. A simple expression of thanks and to be accepted and given the chance to prove their worth is often more than enough. They want to continue to contribute.

So, on this Memorial Day, we honor those no longer with us. But, let’s also take a moment and thank those who do return and offer them our gratitude and the opportunity to have full and productive lives.

This essay is also available online from The Hill.

C-SPAN to Air USO Forum from the Bush Library on Memorial Day Weekend

MG Jeff Hammond, film maker Jonathan Flora, actor Gary Sinise, George H. W. Bush, singer Mayra Veronica and USO President and CEO Sloan Gibson gathered for the Bush Library's USO Forum on April 26, 2010. (Photo by Chandler Arden)

This Memorial Day weekend, we hope you’ll join us in watching the Bush Library-USO Forum on C-SPAN.  Gary Sinise and Mayra Veronica joined President George H.W. Bush, Army Major General Jeff Hammond and USO President Sloan Gibson for a special forum on the USO.

The program will air this Sunday, May 30 on  C-SPAN 3’s History Block and Monday May 31 on C-SPAN airing several times throughout Memorial Day.  Be sure to check local listings for exact times.

George Bush, 41st president of the United States, and Mrs. Barbara Bush hosted a special event celebrating the USO and its role in lifting the spirits of America’s men and women in uniform and their families on Monday, April 26 at the George Bush Presidential Library Center.  The event included remarks from the panelists about the ongoing mission of the USO and an audience question-and-answer session.

President Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, served President Franklin Roosevelt as the second chairman of the USO, and as a young Navy pilot, President Bush spent time at USOs during World War II.  The USO also played a significant role in maintaining the morale of American Forces during Operation Desert Storm when President Bush was commander-in-chief. The USO continues to carry out that mission with a particular focus on wounded warriors, military families, and the families of the fallen through Operation Enduring Care.

We thank President and Mrs. Bush for taking the time to host this impressive panel and invite you to take a moment to view the message below.  And don’t forget to tune in to C-SPAN this weekend!

Announcing This Year’s GI Film Festival!

USO CEO & President Sloan Gibson greets actor Faizon Love at the ON PATROL launch party screening of Taking Chance at 2009's GI Film Festival.

The GI Film Festival (GIFF) is back in DC for this fourth annual event designed specifically to “celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the American military through the medium of film.”

Last year saw the premiere of Taking Chance, a film starring Kevin Bacon that is inspired by the true events surrounding one Marine’s death and the military escort officer who returns him home.  That screening kicked off the official launch of ON PATROL – The Magazine of the USO.  The film Valkyrie also received a special screening just for wounded warriors courtesy of USO of Metropolitan Washington.

This year’s festival includes an equally fantastic lineup, including USO favorite Gary Sinise’s “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good,” which chronicles his band’s journey around the globe in support of our Troops.  The documentary screens on Thursday, May 15th and is part of an entire evening dedicated to honoring wounded warriors.  Tickets are still available.

The entire festival runs from Tuesday, May 11 through Sunday, May 16 and includes feature films, documentaries, shorts’ series, and discussion panels from actors, directors, and producers.  There’s even a bootcamp for aspiring filmmakers.

Can’t make it to DC for the festivities?  Be sure to check out the website for film trailers, the GIFF blog, and much more!  And be sure to enjoy the official GIFF trailer below…

Duty, Honor, Country: West Point Ideals Guide Today’s USO

by Kevin Wensing, VP of Executive Office at the USO, for ASSEMBLY and the West Point Association of Graduates:

Duty, Honor and Country. Those words are the guiding principles for every member of the Long Gray Line. They also ring true for the USO, an organization established by President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress on the eve of America’s entry into World War II. These principles continue to guide the 22nd president of the USO, Sloan Gibson ’75. For Gibson, when duty, honor, country are combined they translate into trust, which is the foundation of effective leadership in any situation.

For the USO, an organization that is an American icon, trust is the key element that draws troops and their families to the 140 USO Centers around the world. In 2011, the USO will mark 70 years of service to America, and, since its founding in 1941, nearly every man or woman who has worn a military uniform has been helped or entertained by the USO and its thousands of volunteers in some way. Since coming aboard in 2008, Gibson and the USO have been working hard to adapt to meet the needs of today’s military and the “new normal” of repeated deployments to combat zones and to humanitar- ian missions around the world.

The USO was chartered by Congress to “lift the spirits” of America’s men and women in uniform. That prime directive still applies as the USO asks, “What, if we could do it, would be truly special for our troops and their families?” In the past year the USO has done a number of truly special things for our warriors and military families, from the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq to places like Ft. Hood, TX, where the USO Center commenced 24-hour operations after the tragic shootings in November 2009. The USO is also with the families of America’s fallen every day at Dover Air Force Base, where a beautiful new center was built for families who come to witness the dignified transfer of their loved one when they return home for the final time.

Army Cheerleaders are joined by Steve Hodges of ATT (far left) and USO president Sloan Gibson ’75 (far right, 2nd row) at the 2009 Army-Navy game. (Photo courtesy of ASSEMBLY)

Last year the USO recorded more than seven million visits and produced hundreds of celebrity performances, bringing smiles to the faces of our troops and their families. Recently new centers opened in Landstuhl and Grafenwoehr, Germany, Osan and Daegu, South Korea, Camp Sather and Basrah, Iraq, Ft. Carson, Ft. Drum, Ft. Bragg, Ft. Benning, Columbia, and Dover, and others, in places like Kuwait, Dubai, St. Louis and Houston, were renovated.

Staying in touch with family is the number one morale issue, and that’s why the USO provided more than one million free phone calls home from its new private telephone network in Afghanistan and Iraq, while continuing to distribute hundreds of thousands of free calling cards. Connecting deployed troops with their children is a high priority, and last year the USO sent some 50,000 United Through Reading recordings and books to military kids. Last year, 400,000 USO Care Packages and 300 USO2GO bundles, that in- clude entertainment and gaming systems, were sent to forward de- ployed troops, enabling them to set up their own entertainment areas.

The USO has focused on serving those who need help the most. At the very top of the list are those serving in harm’s way; our wound- ed, ill and injured, their families, and the families of the fallen. Today’s USO has delivered an unprecedented level of support towounded warriors and families through its own programs and by building strong partnerships with other organizations. In 2010, the USO will break ground on its most ambitious undertaking as con- struction begins on two new USO Centers, one at the new Army Hospital at Ft. Belvoir, VA, and at the other at the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. They will be dedicated to serving our wounded, their families and those who care for them. These centers were inspired by the success of the USO Cen- ter at the Army’s regional medical facility in Landstuhl, which has won high praise from its users and from the Pentagon. The Army’s Warrior and Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, built with donations from the local community and gifted to the Army, was another model that guided the USO.

Gibson describes these centers as, “Gifts from the American peo- ple. Our wounded warriors and their families deserve our best.” Rick Cantwell ’75, President of Odell International and a classmate of Gibson, said, “Sloan is a close and trusted friend who has taken up the challenge of serving the men and women of our armed forces and their families at one of the most critical times in our nation’s history. The USO has made a remarkable difference in the lives of our troops and has adapted to meet the needs of our wounded, ill and injured and their families with the two new USO Centers at Bethesda and Ft. Belvoir. These centers will help those who need USO support the most, and at a critical time in their lives.” Cantwell added, “This ability to adapt to the ever changing needs of those who serve our country is what has made the USO a trusted friend.”

As an additional 30,000 troops surge to Afghanistan, the USO continues to find ways to do even more for those serving in harm’s way and for their families at home.

New USO Centers will soon open in Kandahar, Ft. Campbell, Ft. Riley, Ft. Bliss, Ft. Hood, Richmond, Phoenix and Las Vegas, with renovations planned for centers in Japan, Qatar, San Antonio and McChord AFB. The USO also will continue to send hundreds of performers and celebrities to let our troops know that the American people appreciate their service and sacrifice. The USO has always relied upon the goodness and generosity of the American people to accomplish its mission, and for seven decades it has had their steady support. The ongoing requirements of two wars and the pressing needs of our wounded and their families will require the USO to find additional resources to build, operate and sustain the new centers at Ft. Belvoir and Walter Reed hospitals and support other programs for our wounded and their families.

These are challenging times, and the support of the American people is more important than ever. Gibson says, “People often ask why we need a USO. Shouldn’t the government be doing all this for our troops? Well, the government does a lot, but this is different. This is the American people saying thank you and doing something special for our troops and their families.” With trust in the American people, and the trust of the brave men and women who serve, the USO remains committed to continuing the mission that began al- most 70 years ago. For more information on the USO and its programs please visit their website.

Family Care Packages Will Keep Military Families Connected

Sloan Gibson - President and CEO of the USO - enjoys a light moment with employees of the Family Readiness Center at the DC Armory, Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Members of the DC National Guard prepare items for the Family Care Package stuffing party at the US Army National Guard Armory in Washington, DC, February 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Volunteers preparing for the stuffing party enjoy the antics of hoops&yoyo, Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Dr. Jill Biden spoke in support of the program, then joined volunteers in assembling the care packages, which will be sent to National Guard families in Florida whose loved ones are deploying this month. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

A completed Family Care Package includes items to facilitate communication and make the time go faster during deployment. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

All hands were on deck to accomplish the goal of stuffing 3,000 Family Care Packages on Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Every Family Care Package included a journal for the family, with a special note on the inside cover from their loved one who's deployed. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Hallmark stars hoops&yoyo were on hand to entertain this military family while Dad is deployed. They're shown with Jodi Schade, the VP of Hallmark Properties (back left) and USO's Sloan Gibson. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)