VFW Post Donates $50,000 to USO Delaware After Sale of Building

Dave Skocik, second from right, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 9962, presents a check to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Sept. 19. Also pictured are outgoing USO Delaware board members Dave Clapp, left, and C. Scott Kidner, second left, and USO Delaware Chairman Mike Tatoian, far right. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

Dave Skocik, second from right, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 9962, presents a check to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Sept. 19. Also pictured are outgoing USO Delaware board members Dave Clapp, left, and C. Scott Kidner, second left, and USO Delaware Chairman Mike Tatoian, far right. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

After serving 13 years in the Air Force and finishing out his military career with the Delaware National Guard and the Navy Reserve, Dave Skocik understands the needs of the military in his community.

That is why he and the veterans of VFW Memorial Post 9962 voted to donate $50,000 of the proceeds from the sale of the 1950s-era VFW post they called home to USO Delaware.

“Once it was decided that we would donate the proceeds to services for the military in our community, USO Delaware was the obvious choice,” said Skocik, who serves as quartermaster and president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition. “A lot of people go through the Dover facility and the USO there is doing a phenomenal job providing a much-needed service to our active duty troops and to their families.”

Skocik, a retired Vietnam-era veteran in his 60s, refers to himself as “the young guy in the group” of a few dozen World War II and Korean War veterans who have met at a local restaurant for the last few years while renting their building to a local school.

“We’re happy where we are,” Skocik said. “We don’t have a home anymore; we don’t want one. We don’t have a bar; we don’t want one. We all thought this would be a fitting end to the building and a fitting tribute to what the USO does.”

Joan Cote, director of USO Delaware, was astonished to see all those zeros.

“I was already very happy because one dollar is more than I had one minute ago,” Cote wrote in an email. “I was thinking in my mind that it might be $500 or $1,000 donation, but when Dave came out to present the check, he first handed me a note he wanted me to read explaining their donation. My jaw dropped and I honestly mouthed ‘OMG.’ It took everything I had to hold back the tears!”

Cote says USO Delaware will use some of the funding to improve services on its patio area for troops to enjoy 24-hours-a-day.

“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Skocik said. “We older veterans have to remember those who are serving today. Those who are serving multiple tours in harm’s way, uprooting their families — separations — and I can’t think of a better organization to contribute to than the USO.”

USO Roundup: Fort Campbell, Dover and Houston Centers Make Headlines

With more than 160 locations worldwide, news can slip through the cracks here at the USO. With that in mind, here are three items from the last few weeks you should know about:

  • The Little Things: The USO has a lot of initiatives for troops and families on the national level. But each USO location does a lot for the individual service members and families in its community, too. Earlier this week, Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations video journalists did a piece on how USO Delaware stocks the refrigerators for the Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base. Fisher House – part of the families of the fallen community at Dover – offers a free place to stay for families who are repatriating remains of troops killed while serving overseas. Watch the video here.
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USO Fort Campbell Director Kari Burgess, center, accepts the Christian County Chamber of Commerce’s Non-Profit of the Year Award Feb. 12. USO photo

  • Honor for Service: USO Fort Campbell – one of our newest centers – was named Non-Profit of the Year by the Christian County Chamber of Commerce. The award – presented at the chamber’s Small Business Breakfast on Feb. 12 – was sponsored by WHOP-FM, a radio station in Hopkinsville, Ky.
  • Over the Airwaves: USO Houston Director Elizabeth Vallette did an interview with the Houston Public Affairs radio show last week about what’s going on in her center, at USO Houston’s tent at the upcoming Rodeo Houston BBQ Cook-Off and at other USO locations around the world. Vallette is a former Army captain who has gone from using the organization’s services during her deployment to Iraq to helping the USO care for today’s troops. Listen to her interview here.

–Story by USO Story Development

 

Total Strangers and Roller Skates: A Chance Encounter at USO Delaware Brings Back a 50-Year-Old Memory

Rose Hirth, a volunteer at USO Delaware, was on a mission one blustery fall evening at Dover Air Force Base when a blast from her past marched through the door and reminded her of a promise she had made: She would be buried in her roller skates.

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More than 50 years later, USO Delaware volunteer Rose Hirth still has the roller skates she won at a 1961 competition. Photo courtesy of Rose Hirth

USO volunteers take on many missions. At Dover, the mission often involves interacting with families of those who have been killed in action. These strangers often become family, and that bond usually starts with one warm-hearted USO volunteer.

Since the USO’s Families of the Fallen Program began in December 2010, the USO has supported more than 3,000 family members who have traveled through airports and stayed at the Fisher House for Families of the Fallen. Many USO staff and volunteers travel alongside these families and work with airport security officials, airlines and even vehicle rental companies to help smooth transportation logistics to Dover and then on to the fallen hero’s final destination.

On that fall evening, a military escort and a chaplain walked through the door of the USO. Hirth rubbed the two pins — a cross and an angel — she keeps immediately over her heart. The angel is a prayer for those in harm’s way, and the cross is a prayer for our fallen.

The young escort wearing his dress uniform was escorting the remains of his good friend and compatriot. Hirth took one look at him and a name came to mind.

“Oh my gosh, it’s Josh Ward,” she said to herself.

Hirth sat down and began to get to know the young man she was sure she already knew. She found out he was from Williamstown, N.J., and his family, in fact, was into roller skating.

After a few more questions, Hirth confirmed that the young soldier strongly resembled his grandfather. And after a little more conversation, she discovered the soldier’s grandfather died a few years back. Which led to perhaps the eeriest question of all.

“Was he buried with his roller skates on?” she asked

The escort looked puzzled. How did she know?

“Because your grandfather and I met by chance nearly 50 years ago,” Hirth said.

It was 1961 when Hirth and Josh Ward both signed up with different partners for a roller skate dance competition.

“I don’t even remember what the first place prize was,” Hirth said. “It was probably unbelievable but I didn’t care. I had my heart set on the second place prize: a set of roller skates worth $125. That was a pretty expensive pair of skates in 1961, so I was really upset when my partner didn’t show.”

That’s when she met Josh Ward.

“Apparently something happened to his partner, too, so by total chance we were teamed up together,” she said. “We really wanted those skates but we only had a quick moment to rehearse.”

Hirth and Ward came up with a brand new routine on the spot and it hit the mark. They took second place and won the $125 roller skates.

“I’ve taken care of those roller skates all these years and they are still in A-1 condition,” she said. “Every once in a while I’ll take them out and revisit that same rink and skate for ‘one last time.’”

The prize and the chance encounter were so valuable to them both that Hirth and Ward made a promise that they would never lose their skates. In fact, they swore to be buried in them.

“What’s amazing about this story,” she explained, “is that there really are no strangers in this world. Just people we haven’t met yet.

“It’s not a coincidence Josh was there for me that night, and it’s not a coincidence his grandson came through here,” Hirth said as she touched the pins over her heart. “Certain people are placed in your life for a reason. I always look at these kids as my kids because sometimes all it takes is a chance occurrence to turn a total stranger into family.”

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Service After Service: Ron Collins

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

USO Delaware volunteer Ron Collins

As an 18 year old who was new to the Air Force, I remember my first trip back home to see my parents. This was an East Coast to West Coast trip. Like most of us traveling, I got delayed when changing aircraft and was stuck at a major airport for several hours. What was I supposed to do?

New at traveling and on a strict budget, I wandered around the airport. As I passed a room in the terminal with a sign over the doorway reading “USO,” I remembered hearing about how the organization supported troops and their families and I decided that I needed to check the place out.

When I entered the room I was met by two of the nicest people. Both the man and woman were senior in years, but what smiles they had. They asked me what branch of service I was in, where I was from and where was I going. They made me feel right at home.

Even better, they gave me free cookies and soda. I say again: free cookies and soda! I was escorted to a place where I could sit and watch a movie while waiting for my flight. I kept thinking to myself “Is this how VIPs travel?” The time flew by and, before I knew it, it was time to depart. The two USO volunteers said goodbye with a smile and thanked me for my service. How nice.

I couldn’t wait to tell my parents back in Oregon about my trip, especially the USO. My dad, a retired Marine, explained to me that the USO is everywhere and there to support us troops and our families. In my 28 years of active duty, I got the privilege to travel everywhere, some fun places and some not-so-fun places. The one constant to all my travels was the USO. My dad was right: they are everywhere.

While on active duty, I did my share of volunteer work from squadron booster clubs to fundraisers. After I retired, I became so wrapped up in establishing my new career that I had no time to spare. But after my first few years of military retirement, I found myself longing for an opportunity to get involved—to volunteer for something worthy and give back a little of the blessings I have received. My first thought was of those two people at the airport USO lounge those many years ago and how welcome they made me feel. What better thing to do than to volunteer with the USO, an organization dedicated to supporting our troops and their families?

I have been blessed to work with an awesome group of USO volunteers, all of whom are always looking for how can we better support our troops and their families. As I volunteer for events or at the USO lounge at the Dover Air Force Base passenger terminal, I am taken back by all the stories I hear from the troops, their families, the retirees and the other volunteers. I couldn’t imagine not giving some of my personal time to support such a great organization.

—Ron Collins
USO Delaware volunteer

USO Delaware Director Receives National Guard Honor

USO of Delaware Director Joan Cote receives the National Guard Association of the United States’ Patrick Henry Award in Reno, Nevada, earlier this month. Courtesy of the National Guard Association of the United States

USO Delaware Director Joan Cote received a career-defining honor this month when she accepted the Patrick Henry Award from the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) for her years of work with troops.

“What a thrill receiving this award was for me and USO Delaware,” Cote said. “As you can tell [from the photo above] my eyes were filled with tears. … [It was] the proudest moment of my USO career!”

Established in 1989, the Patrick Henry Award is the civilian equivalent to the NGAUS Distinguished Service Medal. According to the association’s website, the award “is designed to provide recognition to local officials and civic leaders, who in a position of great responsibility distinguished themselves with outstanding and exceptional service to the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Guard or NGAUS.”

Cote has been the director of USO Delaware for since it opened in March of 1991. Her duties include overseeing two centers at Dover Air Force Base, home to Air Force Mortuary Affairs and site of dignified transfers. USO Delaware has supported every dignified transfer at Dover since it opened its doors.

Click here to see the full list of the 2012 NGAUS recipients. - Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

Breaking the Roles: Chaplain David Sparks

David Sparks (l) is one of five chaplains supporting the community at Dover Air Force Base.

Continuing this week’s HuffPost Impact series “Breaking the Roles” is today’s profile of David Sparks, a long-time reserve chaplain who was called into active duty in the period after September, 11, before retiring in 2007 and staying on as a civilian chaplain at Dover Air Force Base.

“What an honor to work with these folks who are doing a duty that really can’t be described or imagined,” he told Huffington Post’s Jonathan Daniel Harris. “To keep them as healthy as possible as they do their work — it’s a huge privilege, it’s what called me to the ministry 30 years ago. Every day I walk away feeling fulfilled. Exhausted, but fulfilled.”

Click here to read the full interview and take a moment to watch a short video made at Dover AFB late last year…