Yep, Your Care Packages Made it to Iraq

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.

News & Notes from Around the World: Memorial Day Edition

Sather Air Base is a memorial itself, named for Scott Sather who was the first Airman to be killed in action in OIF. The Scott Sather memorial was dedicated last year and this was the first Memorial Day to further honor him and everyone else who has served with the same distinction as Scott Sather.

Baghdad, Iraq – While millions of Americans take a day of from work to reflect and enjoy each others company, the aerial port of Baghdad and the USO, that serves the 1000 passengers a day, were working at full speed. “Mission Critical” is when important work takes priority above all else, but the meaning of this day is too important to over look.

USO Duty Manager, Courtney Haueter, lead the National Moment of Remembrance and the entire aerial port staff, passengers and visitors paused for a full minute at 3:00pm local time. USO customers ceased all calls, IMs, games and movies while the military crew of Sather Air Base paused operations during that time.

Commanding Officer of the 447th, Col Bruce Taylor USAF, led the Memorial Day ceremony and spoke of heroes gone and not forgotten.  Honor Guard for both the Air Force and Army took part in the remembrance and did outstanding work in saluting their brothers in arms.

An essay by Theater of War‘s Bryan Doerries in today’s Washington Post – After a reading of Sophocles’ “Ajax” and “Philoctetes” for members of the Warrior Transition Unit at Fort Stewart, Ga., a soldier approached me. His hands were trembling and he was fighting back tears.

“For a while now, I have been separated from my unit, the guys I fought alongside downrange. Being separated from your unit is like being stripped of your humanity. I think Sophocles wrote these plays to bring soldiers together to restore their humanity.” He leaned closer, his eyes locking with mine. “Without our humanity, none of this means anything.”

I held the soldier’s gaze and shook his hand, thanking him for his comment, which I promised to share with military audiences at performances throughout the United States…

Watching the soldier at Fort Stewart exit the auditorium last month, it suddenly seemed un-coincidental to me that the ancient plays that we were performing for the U.S. military during the ninth year of the war in Afghanistan and so many years into Iraq depicted what happened to the Greek armed forces during the ninth year of the Trojan War. Brig. Gen. Loree Sutton, the visionary leader who made our project possible, has said repeatedly of today’s armed forces: “Never has so great a burden been placed upon the shoulders of so few on behalf of so many for so long.”

We are not a nation at war. We are a nation with a volunteer army at war… Click here to read the full essay.

From Snag Film’s Rick Allen – “For 99% of Americans, Memorial Day is a chance to circle a barbeque grill; for us, it’s about gathering together in a cemetery.” Probably nothing captures the enormous gulf between how veterans and civilians treat Monday’s national holiday than that quick but pointed reminder I heard Wednesday from Paul Rieckhoff.  Paul is the charismatic founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and author of the acclaimed book Chasing Ghosts, about his tour of duty in Iraq.  As most of us celebrate the “official” start of summer this weekend, hopefully the words of Paul Rieckhoff, or the roar of Rolling Thunder, or the quiet comfort that the USO brings every day to service families, will break through our routine.

My generation was the first beneficiary of our modern volunteer armed service, in the sense that no longer would all able-bodied men be expected to spend time in uniform.  The ability to outsource our service keeps us personally untouched by combat, but raises societal issues and comes with countervailing personal trade-offs. Sebastian Junger’s new book War and his companion film Restrepo vividly detail the depth of camaraderie that come from absolute commitment to the safety of your fellow squad members.  Those of us around our family barbeques can instinctively appreciate how common mortal danger binds brothers and sisters-in-arms; our challenge now is to find better ways to hold our veterans close to the whole community and to demonstrate our appreciation for what they’ve given for our freedoms.

IAVA joins many other governmental and non-profit organizations in working on the full range of issues facing today’s returning warriors. At a time when our economy struggles to produce new jobs, an estimated 30% of veterans of our current conflicts are out of work.  The Veterans Administration is more invigorated under Secretary Shinseki than it has been in many decades – but a huge number of vets, particularly the young ones, will never willingly walk into a VA hospital or ask for government help, despite what may be significant need.

Many organizations are hard at work to bridge these gaps. The USO assists service members and their families around the world. IAVA has created an incredible online community of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations, and advocates for federal action on jobs, health, education and other pressing vet issues. There are various levels of government that deliver services as well as recreational opportunities to active duty warriors and their families, and veterans.  But more is needed, from our society collectively and each of us individually.

Leon Cooper will be on CNN Monday morning. Leon is 90, a WWII vet living in Los Angeles and working with a consistency and energy of someone in his 20s. That’s how old he was at Tarawa, one of the bloodiest battles in Marine Corps history. Leon returned to that atoll when he learned that the beach that held the bones of his fallen comrades was now a garbage dump for islanders without arable land for alternatives.  His final campaign is captured in the film Return to Tarawa, which you can watch here.  Thanks to Leon’s indomitability, the power of the film, and the tools of SnagFilms, Congress last year directed the Department of Defense to identify the remains on Red Beach and bring them home.  In two months, the DOD teams will wing west to begin a task of memory and responsibility we have deferred for nearly 7 decades.

Kyle Maynard spends significant time working with wounded warriors.  An exceptional athlete honored with an ESPY and a shelf of other awards, best-selling author and motivational speaker, Kyle was born without complete limbs.  His motto, “No Excuses”, completely encapsulates how he lives his life. (A new film about Kyle will air on ESPN in November and you can learn more here.) Not long ago, I spent an afternoon at Ft. Myer, Virginia, with Kyle and a group of Iraq and Afghanistan vets with serious physical injuries resulting from their service.  We gathered around an exercise mat, and Kyle put the six men and one woman through a daunting workout – but from my fly-on-the-wall vantage point, the greatest outcome of the day came from the conversation among the participants.  The service members joining Kyle knew he only had a civilian’s perspective … but they also knew that his physical challenges had been life-long. They had in common much more than what they lacked; each was working every minute to turn loss into motivation, not cause for withdrawal.

We too need to make an effort, each in our own way. Memorial Day provides many such opportunities.  At the very least, it provides the chance for reflection and appreciation. Our founder, Ted Leonsis, coined the term “filmanthropy” to combine the communication power of film with the interactivity of the web, and allow an engaged audience new ways to start a conversation or take an action. We’ve pulled 11 films together from different conflicts and perspectives for Memorial Day – you can watch them from the widget below, or at http://bit.ly/SnagMemorialDay .  Enjoy them alone or with others. And make your Memorial Day into something to remember.

Mother’s Day Across the Miles

The good folks at Baghdad USO have forged a great relationship with Operation Write Home, a volunteer organization that has approximately 2,500 talented crafters across the USA making unique greeting cards for the service members at Sather Air Base in Baghdad.  OWH supplies cards for every occasion, whether Birthday, Anniversary, Miss You – or holidays including Easter, Mother’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.  Sather AB has received over 600 Valentine’s Day cards and every single one was used!  They were also very fortunate to have one of their volunteers, who happens to be a master woodworker, make a beautiful card rack to display the cards in the reception area.

To commemorate Mother’s Day, Operation Write Home asked Baghdad USO to take pictures of our wonderful troops for their website.  They hope to ensure that all Mothers will receive a card from their service members who are passing through Sather AB.  USO Baghdad recently provided photos that are included in Operation Write Home’s video tribute to Moms everywhere, shown below.

Happy (early) Mother’s Day…we hope you enjoy!

News & Notes from Around the World

On 29 April, 2010 the CASF USO hosted nine cartoonist from the National Cartoonist Society.  Approximately  50 patients and CASF staff members joined in the fun by having their caricatures drawn as well as their favorite cartoon characters.  The evening was sweetened by a variety desserts.  A great time was had by all.

A servicemember has his likeness done in caricature by one of the visiting cartoonists.

At USO Hawaii, Marines and a Corpsman from the Wounded Warrior Detachment, Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii were treated to chartered deep sea fishing through USO’s Operation Enduring Care program on Friday April 3.  The sport fishing charter left the Marine Corps Community Service Outdoor Recreation marina promptly at 7 a.m. for the six-hour excursion.  The Wounded Warriors spent the day casting and reeling.  The charter’s captain and his crew were available to assist with the warriors’ catch of the day.

It was a good day for fishing with (left to right) HM2 David Provost, LCpl Perry Crawford, LCpl Blaze Cox, LCpl Jason Grivas, Cpl Beau Parra, Sgt Jacob Cash, and members of the boat's crew.

Sather AB recently hosted a ping-pong tournament.  It was a hard-fought competition taken very seriously by all the 16 finalists.  Sponsored by the USO, the three winners received AAFES gift cards and they must have needed to buy something very special at the PX because they fought long and hard for these prizes!

A1C Josep (l) came in third and MSG Smith (r) came in second. We can't even see the ball!

And finally, here’s a special shoutout all the way from Afghanistan to the USO for our support of the upcoming Warrior Games in Colorado.  Hoo-rah!

more about “DVIDS Warrior Games Group“, posted with vodpod

We Offer Up Delicious Dishes and Bowling Parties!

We’ve been busy around the world – as usual! – and a few events seem to be particularly popular, no matter where in the world our Troops and their families are enjoying a USO Center.

Case in point: bowling.  Who knew it was just as popular in Iraq as it in in Italy?

Baghdad Duty Manager Courtney Haueter was talking to a group of soldiers who told her they’d been stuck here for 2 days using the USO computers, phones, Play Station 3 games and had each drunk a gallon of coffee. They had run out of things to do, so Courtney suggested they all go bowling. At first they thought she was joking because they had just come in from a small FOB and there was definitely no bowling center there. So Courtney loaded them up since the next chance at a flight was still 16 hours away. Off to Club Baghdad they went!

After waiting two days for a plane to take them on R & R, these Troops combat boredom with bowling. Looks like they did pretty well!

USO Vicenza thanked its volunteers by throwing a bowling party for them in honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week on Thursday, April 23.  Two of USO Vicenza’s Core volunteers and one of USO Vicenza’s Special Events volunteers were present to celebrate.  U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza’s Arena sponsored two bowling lanes and shoe rentals for the USO to use. Pizza, soda, and a great time were had by all!

A volunteer at USO Vicenza waits her turn to hit the lane during a bowling outing in celebration of National Volunteer Week.

On that same day the USO Warrior Center hosted a BBQ sponsored by the Stuttgart’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS).  Along with the good food, the BOSS volunteers brought warm smiles and great conversation. During the visit there was one wounded warrior who had not been able to get out of his hospital room. He was very thankful to have the opportunity to leave his hospital bed and eat a good meal around friendly faces. Wounded warriors attended – 115.

One hundred fifteen Wounded Warriors chowed down on hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, and sausages courtesy of Stuttgart's BOSS program.

On April 24, the USO Warrior Center hosted a Chicken Dinner sponsored by the Theta Rho International Chapter.  Along with the good food, the Theta Rho International Chapter served the warriors with smiling faces and kind words. One warrior commented that the chicken was so delicious he didn’t want to return home, he wanted to stay here if he could keep eating this type of wonderful food. Another warrior commented “I just had to try the sweet potatoes; they are out of this world.”

One hundred thirty Wounded Warriors enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner with all the fixin's - yum!

Our Volunteers are the Best!

It may be National Volunteer Week stateside, but our USO Centers in Southwest Asia are extending that celebration overseas by recognizing their volunteers, too!  Here are some stories from the field…

National Volunteer Week in Full Swing at Ali Al Salem

To kick off National Volunteer Week the staff at Ali Al Salem (AAS) just so happened to be planning their quarterly volunteer recognition event. This time it was a day of fun in the sun, a pool party.

Duane DeVorak, AAS’s Volunteer Coordinator, planned the event over the past three months.  “I think every USO employee knows how valuable our volunteers are. That’s why I wanted to plan something to recognize them and give back to them,” said DeVorak.

The Rock Air Force Base right next door has a swimming pool and volunteers did nothing but enjoy themselves throughout the day.  “This was a much needed break from everything we have going on right now,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenora Drake, a USO Volunteer. “I can’t believe they did all this for us.”

“We had great food, give-a-ways and all kinds of pool toys for everyone, said Cindy Glenn, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator. “It seemed like everyone had a great time and really enjoyed themselves.”  In an effort to unite the centers here in Kuwait, DeVorak invited the volunteer coordinators and the top volunteers form Camp Virginia and Camp Buehring.

Volunteers from Ali Al Salem, Camp Buehring, and Camp Virginia enjoy a pool party thrown at Rock Force Air Base in honor of their efforts.

Baghdad USO Army and Air Force Volunteers Surpass the 150 Hour Mark!

Baghdad USO would like to congratulate SSG Shaina Newton assigned to TF28th CSH, Sather AB Iraq; her home unit is Bravo Company 28th CSH Fort Bragg, NC and her hometown is Shreveport, Louisiana. Also we would like to thank SMSgt David Sopshier assigned to 447 ELRS Sather AB Iraq; his home unit is 96 LRS Eglin AFB FL, and his hometown is Charleston, SC.

They both started volunteering in January 2010 and are eager volunteers who display a special desire and responsibility for their duties, learning new programs, and volunteering for additional tasks without hesitation. They are valued members of our USO team and consistently exceed the normal  expectations. We are very proud of their work here at USO Baghdad. Check out the pictures of Shaina and Dave!

SSG Shaina Newton and SMSgt David Sopshier celebrate 150 volunteer hours each!

Celebrating Volunteers AND Earth Day During a Water Shortage

And finally, Baghdad SO has been experiencing a water shortage and one of its many volunteers is helping out by recycling the water that is left behind from people passing thru BIAP and we are using it to mop and keep the USO buildings clean instead of going to the faucet to fill up. Below is a picture of Youssefian Parker doing his part and he is also rapidly approaching 1000hrs as a volunteer here at BIAP. THANK YOU PARKER!

Volunteer Youssefian Parker helps conserve water during a shortage at BIAP.