Pennsylvania AFSCME Members Support Military Families Through USO

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13’s Next Wave committee, made up of AFSCME leaders under the age of 35, held a book and donation drive at the AFSCME Council 13 convention in Hershey, PA in April to support the USO and United Through Reading’s Military Program. No one knew what to expect, but support came out in full force –  the event raised $5,000 and 400 children’s’ books were donated to help connect military families!

The USO partnership with United Through Reading allows our deployed troops the ability to read their kids a bedtime book and virtually be there, even when they can’t be there in-person. Whether troops are stationed at a forward operating base in Afghanistan or deploying overseas, they can visit their participating USO center to read a story aloud to their child. Mom or Dad’s special storytime is recorded on camera, and the USO mails this priceless DVD and book home. Children can watch and listen to their parent at bedtime, naptime or anytime.

“You can always count on Council 13 members to do all they can for our military. Our delegation in April was truly moved to hear about the overwhelming success of the USO’s United Through Reading program, and I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts put forth by our membership to bring deployed troops and their families just a little bit closer,” said David Fillman, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 13.  With the aid of many members and locals from across the state, AFSCME Council 13’s donation will help 900 military children “see” their deployed mom or dad and help to lift the spirits of our nation’s youngest heroes.

What’s your favorite bedtime story?

USO Wishbook Gifts for the Military Child

Today is the last day of the Month of the Military Child. Here at the USO, we do our best to provide programs and services that ease the unique burdens military children face daily – to provide ways to stay connected to parents when gone for long periods of time. Help us continue to provide these important services by purchasing one of these gifts for a loved one in your life today!

Growing Up Brave
Deployment can be a challenging and confusing time for a child. This $25 kit gives them the tools they need to help cope with this challenge and keep them happy and healthy. It includes a coloring book, a specially-made DVD to answer the questions they often have and a journal.

Family Fun Day
Our military families go through lots of hardships during their service. But at USO centers, they have a chance to relax and have some fun together. For $50 you can make a Family Fun Day at a center possible and give a little something back for all their sacrifice.

Bedtime Stories
The hardest hit members of a military family are often the youngest. For $50 you can help by giving our service men and women the chance to read them a bedtime story through United Through Reading’s Military Program, record it on DVD and send it back home.

Never Missing a Moment: USO Programs Help Military Family Connect During Birth of First Child

Chuck and Mel Hubbell. Courtesy photo.

Their first child was just one month out, and everything was going according to plan for Air Force Staff Sergeant Charles (Chuck) Hubbell and his young wife, Melissa (Mel).

They were decorating the nursery in pastels at their home in Rapid City, South Dakota. They knew a little girl was on the way. Her name would be Madelynn Rae Hubbell—Maddy for short—and she was already a daddy’s girl. At night Chuck would read her stories and press gently on Mel’s belly. Maddy would push right back. It was their goodnight exchange.

Then the phone rang. It was the 28th Munitions Squadron—Chuck’s command. He was ordered to drop everything and deploy to the Middle East in just three weeks.

The news was a blow to the young family.  In the four years the Hubbells had known each other, they’d only spent one Christmas together.

“This would be our third deployment as a couple,” said Mel, “so we were used to it. But this time it was different. Our family would be starting off without him.”

Less than a week before the baby was due, Chuck kissed his wife and pressed a soft goodbye on her tummy as he boarded a plane.

While on a layover at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he stopped at the USO Center and recorded a message to his unborn child using United Through Reading’s Military Program.

The USO’s partnership with United Through Reading® gives active duty troops the opportunity to stay connected with their children. Troops read a book aloud while being recorded on DVD, then send the DVD and book to the child and family back home.

“In the last week before Maddy came along, I missed him so much,” said Mel. “When I couldn’t hear Chuck’s voice, I would play the recording. Maddy recognized his voice too.”

Thanks to a Skype connection, Chuck was there in the delivery room on the day his daughter came into the world last August.  Doctors and nurses passed Chuck’s floating head around the room so the camera on Mel’s laptop could pick up the action.

But that wasn’t the only way Mel planned to share the memory with Chuck. She didn’t tell her husband, but when she received the United Through Reading® DVD in the mail, there was also a coupon inside for a free photo album.

Through a partnership with RocketLife, LLC, the USO Photo Book program gives military families a chance to build and send their loved one a free, soft-cover photo album, small enough to fit in a uniform cargo pocket.

Mel took pictures of everything—from Maddy’s short stay in the Intensive Care Unit to her first bath, first meal and first outfit—all with the USO Photo Book in mind.

“What seems like every day things to us—your child rolling over or trying a new food—aren’t so mundane to a new dad 5,000 miles away from his first born,” said Mel. “Every event is a huge deal. They want to know about these things. They want to be in the loop and show their buddies pictures.”

Mel created the book online in less than an hour. Two weeks later, Chuck was flipping through pictures of the newborn daughter he’d never seen.  He took it with him everywhere. He showed everyone at his base in Qatar.

“Having pictures of my baby girl that I could look at any time… made my time apart from her so much easier to take,” said Chuck. “Technology is great, and while I was excited to be there on Skype with my wife through 15 hours of labor, that photo book put the icing on the cake.”

Staff Sgt. Hubbell returned from deployment in late February and met his daughter in person for the first time. She is now seven months old, and even though he sees her every day, he still carries his picture book with him everywhere he goes. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Madelynn Rae Hubbell. Photo by Amy Zochol Oyler of Legacy Photo and Design

 

Op Thanksgiving Eagle – “Brings A Beat To Our Military Children’s Hearts”

‎”Mrs. Fink–I loved your songs. Your beat is in my heart.” - Sammy, Kindergarten, Wetzel Elementary School, Baumholder. Father is currently deployed and in danger’s way. (The Assistant Principal led Sammy to me after the show so he could share his powerful words with me.)

Operation Thanksgiving Eagle at the USO Warrior Center in Germany

Be still my heart. Sammy and I then hugged, and had a priceless conversation about the power of music. Yes, with a five-year-old. I told him his words were the highlight of my day, and were worth traveling to Germany to hear.

The 450 students at this morning’s two performances at Wetzel ES were stellar. The principal, Ms. Simmons, and her assistant principal lead and educate these children lovingly and enduringly. Their students are 100% Army (so of course we wove the Army anthem into the script!), and over 90% currently have a parent deployed and in harm’s way.

Debbie Fink plays during the Operation Thanksgiving Eagle Tour at Vogelweh

As Ms. Simmons said (I am paraphrasing), “there’s a specialness to these kids. What they are dealing with is beyond the call of duty. They do their best, and are simply–special.” The assistant principal shared how she feels so privileged to work with them, and to help them with all their individual and collective needs. Looking at the upside, she shared that these are happier times right now, because the majority of their deployed parents are coming home before the New Year.

Yet, I wonder, how does it feel inside a child’s heart to see “all” the other parents come trickling home, when yours does not? Don’t we all remember a time when our parent was the very last to pick us up from school, or didn’t pick us up that time at all? Multiply that by a million, and that’s my civilian guess for how it feels. Add to this the possibilities that such a child might feel jealousy, anger, or resentment for the classmates whose parents DO come home. And top that off with those kids who then may feel badly or ashamed or embarrassed that this is how they feel, when they “should” feel happy for their peers’ long-awaited-for family reunions.

It’s comforting to know that these brave Wexler students are in a school environment that understands them, supports them, comforts them, and stands by them. It’s comforting to know that as Sammy holds the beat of our OTE performance’s music and message in his gentle heart, that he is in a space which will one day soon place drumsticks in his hands. May Sammy’s heart continue to sing; may his soul continue to dance; and may his father soon return home safely to swoop Sammy up and swing his son in his strong, heroic arms. – Debbie Fink, Acclaimed Author, Educator, Speaker & Performer

See more updates from the tour at Debbie Fink’s Facebook Page. Note: the child’s real name was changed to Sammy for reasons of confidentiality.

“A Tribute to Military Families” and United Through Reading

Twelve-year old actress Madison Pettis stresses the importance of United Through Reading on today’s military families at the 2010 USO Gala on October 7, 2010. The youngest entertainer to take part in a USO tour, Pettis’ brother is a member of the U.S. Army and served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. (USO photo by Bill Auth)

We can hardly believe it’s been almost a week since the 2010 USO Gala, and we still have many great stories to share with you!  One of the highlights of the evening was getting to meet the Hofman family.  Dad is deployed, but mom and the kids (all four of them!) are staying connected with him via United Through Reading’s Military Program.

We shared their story at the Gala and we want to share it with you now.  A big thank you goes out to our new USO Kandahar center, where CH (CPT) Peter T. Hofman’s portion was filmed.  And a HUGE thank you goes out to the entire Hofman family, who let us into their home and their lives for a slice of what it’s like when a loved one is deployed.  Enjoy!

United Through Reading Keeps This Family Connected

We received this fantastic email from a recipient of United Through Reading’s Military Program.  We hope you enjoy…and be sure to let any military family you know about this wonderful program!

The kids have a great time reading along as Dad reads the same book to them on screen! (Photo courtesy of the Hofman Family)

“Thanks to you, my husband, who is currently stationed in Afghanistan, was able to take care of the kids this afternoon!  He read to them by DVD, thanks to the United Through Reading Program.  My children felt so proud to get something in the mail from him, and they absolutely loved the book selections and being able to see and hear their dad.  My 3 year old son was beaming from ear to ear.  My four year old daughter kept waving at her dad on the TV and blowing him kisses.  I loved the words my husband was also able to share with my oldest son on the DVD.

And we have a 6 week old infant as well, who I put in a baby swing in the same room, enjoying the fact that he can hear his dad’s voice for a good 20 minutes at a time. It is also the most clear recording of my husband’s voice we have, better quality than we hear on the phone, through Skype, or in the voice recordings my children have in stuffed bears from my husband. It is truly my husband’s voice filling our home. Thank you so much for having this program. We really appreciate the way we are able to stay connected with our Soldier.”

It's smiles all around as the kids receive their books from United Through Reading's Military Program, complemented by a DVD of their Dad reading out loud. (Photo courtesy of the Hofman family)