In the Name of Love, USO of Illinois Connects Military Couples

Long deployments away from home can put a strain on military marriages.

To help couples communicate and stay connected, the USO of Illinois wanted to provide an opportunity for some local troops to share a romantic getaway with their spouses.

This center, made up of six locations, came up with a video challenge.

The “How Do I Love Thee?” Valentine’s Day Getaway contest asked troops and spouses to create a creative, compelling video about why they love their valentine.  Contestants entered on Youtube, and the USO of Illinois put the top three videos online for voting.

Today, they announced the two winning couples on their website. Congratulations to Lindsey and Curt Borjas of the U.S. Marine Corps and Mindy and Mark Maroon of the National Guard!

Watch Lindsey and Curt’s winning video:

Watch Mindy and Mark’s winning video:

The lucky couples won a weekend getaway including a romantic carriage ride at the Eaglewood Resort and Spa in Itasca, Illinois.

Thanks to Media, Marketing, and Public Relations Director, Beth Polio and Programs Manager, Dayna Malow, for organizing the contest and making the arrangements with Eaglewood.

The USO of Illinois’ Valentine’s Day contest is just one example of how USO centers around the world work hard to keep military couples and their loved ones connected.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of America’s troops and families! – Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

News & Notes from Around the World

This week’s edition of News & Notes show how great collaborations can build a better USO for everybody…

USO Baghdad staffers Richard (left) and Ernie (right) shake hands with Iraqi Air Force Command Chief Master Sergeant Hassan Abid Kahdum, the senior NCO of the IqAF.

Baghdad, Iraq – It’s known as the Iraq Training & Advising Mission (ITAM) and it’s a key component to the drawdown plans for US Forces serving in Iraq. Here in Baghdad on Sather Air Base, members of the USAF work side by side with the Iraqi Air Force building up the personnel and fleet to enable the Iraqis to be self sustained. The ITAM-AF mission takes place on Al Multhana Air Base which sits right next to Sather Air Base and many of the US Airmen that work on Al Multhana are also dedicated USO volunteers.

TSgt William “Bill” Kusar USAF has spent the last year teaching his trade of airframe maintenance to his Iraqi counterparts and in that time has become a ambassador of the USAF and friend to many of the Iraqi including IqAF General Mohhamed Alaa Jasem. Bill, one of our USO volunteers, told us how many of the Iraqi Servicemen lack many simple items on Al Multhana including toilet paper. The Staffers of the USO Baghdad were able to recognize a wonderful opportunity to reach out and do some positive work with our Iraqi partners as toilet paper and hand lotion are two of the items we have in surplus here at the USO Baghdad.

On May 18th, USO Staffers Ernie Lacson & Richard McCarty accompanied Bill Kusar to Al Multhana Air Base to donate 9 boxes of toilet paper and 2 boxes of hand lotion to the General and his staff. General Jasem was very taken with the gesture of good will and expressed his gratitude, in true Arabic fashion, by inviting the USO Staff to a dinner in our honor. The USO Baghdad has served many nations at our center including Dutch, Turkish, Australians, British, Polish and even Fijians, but it was a great opportunity to help out the Iraqi as well when their success is so vital to our mission here.

USO staff, volunteers, and supporters turned out en masse for the Komen Race for the Cure in Rome, May 2010.

Rome, Italy – On an overcast gray Sunday morning, the USO Rome Center was thinking “pink.”  More specifically, staff, volunteers, friends and visitors of the USO Rome Center were gathering early on the morning of Sunday, May 16th to participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.  The USO Rome Center had worked diligently over the past several weeks soliciting donations and signing up runners.  In total, their efforts raised over 240 euros.  But now came the more grueling part.  They were pinning on bib numbers and lacing up their sneakers in preparation to run the 5K through the streets of the historical center of Rome.

The Race for the Cure is the signature event of the Susan G. Komen Italia, a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization, active in Italy since 2000 as the first international affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest and most progressive grassroots network fighting to eradicate breast cancer forever. The Race is a 5K run to raise funds, to promote positive awareness, education and early detection of breast cancer as well as to celebrate breast cancer survivors who participate to the Race donning pink caps and t-shirts and share their experience in an open and positive way.

The USO Rome Center team joined over 40,000 participants in the Race for the Cure.  Weaving their way around the race course, they had little time to catch their breath as they passed the Colosseum and the ancient Forum.  Energetic and enthusiastic the whole way, they reached the finish line and celebrated with the thousands of others in the Race Village at Terme di Caracalla.  This truly “amazing race” is now an annual event in the Eternal City and the USO Rome Center is proud to be part of this great tradition and to support this global organization.

The USO Rome Center is located in the heart of the capital city of Italy.  Conveniently located near the Vatican, the center’s goal is to make Rome one of the most memorable and positive experiences of our patrons’ military service by offering a “Home while in Rome.”  The USO Rome Center offers a hotel reservation service, great tours, airport transportation and free area information. And while in Rome, visit the center to relax and meet their friendly, informative staff, who can answer all your questions and provide you with area info, maps and more to help you make the most of your experience.  For more information, visit the USO Rome Center website.  You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

COL Dan Scott, USA, addresses the military families at the Opening Ceremony.

Chicago, Illinois– On Saturday, May 15, the USO of Illinois honored Armed Forces Day by sponsoring a fun-filled day of recreation for Illinois military and military families at Chicago’s historic Navy Pier.  Over 400 guests were treated to USO Kid Kits filled with kid-friendly surprises, free carnival rides and attractions, complimentary lunch and a free IMAX movie theater screening.  The event began with a special Opening Ceremony featuring guest speaker, Colonel Dan Scott, Deputy Commanding Officer, 3rd Brigade, 75th Division Battle Command Training Division, Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, and USO of Illinois President and COO, Tony Enrietto.

Military and their families were warmly welcomed to USO’s Navy Pier center, where USO Volunteers made them feel at home and helped military kids select a free Disney DVD from a large assortment while all families enjoyed home-baked treats and refreshments before embarking on the many activities arranged especially for the day and meant to recognize and thank them for their service.

You can find out more about USO Illinois on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy Anniversary, USO! And Thank You to All Who Make it Possible…

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

“February 4 is the USO’s 69th birthday.  That’s not a meaningful milestone in itself (unless you’re 68), but it reminds me that in parts of 8 decades, this organization continues to deliver support for troops and families with compassion and relevance.

I’m also reminded that our corps of staff and volunteers around the world show up each day at large and small locations and they solve problems.  When a young soldier appears at the USO at Dallas-Ft Worth Airport after missing his flight, he’s told to relax, get a cup of coffee, it’ll be all right.  Sure enough, the USO volunteer at the desk arranges for the next flight and calls the troop’s next base to explain what happened.

From Chicago to Kuwait, the desk where staff and volunteers sit and greet Troops serves as the nerve center of any USO. (USO Photos by Dave Gatley)

I once saw a recent graduate of the Navy’s boot camp at Great Lakes walk into the USO at O’Hare Airport with her orders and ask what she was supposed to do when she arrived at her first real duty station.  It seems that step was omitted in her out-processing briefing, and it occurred to her on the way to the airport that she was taking the second airplane flight of her life to a place she’d never been and into an environment with which she was totally unfamiliar.  The former sailor behind the counter looked at her orders, looked up the location of the personnel office at the next stop and gave her specific instructions about how to report for duty.

I accompanied a USO entertainment tour through Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan a few years ago.  On the way home we stopped to put on a show in Italy.  I met one of our employees of our USO in Vicenza there.  She told me how important the shows were to the troops wherever we went, and she wanted to thank us for stopping in her country.  She went on to tell me that a deployment from Vicenza to Afghanistan just ended, and she mourned as she told me about her “boys” who didn’t return.  “It’s tough on everybody,” she said.  “The families, of course, but also the extended families – the troops who knew them.  It’s really hard on all of us.”

Volunteers at the DFW USO celebrate a USO Birthday with - what else? - a delicious cake in 2009.

She went on to tell me that one day she went into the kitchen at the USO to make a cake.  Soon, troops started coming into the kitchen to “help” her.  There they were, some of the finest soldiers in the Army licking spoons and beaters, helping out as they would back home.

She went on to make more cakes, but she only did it when the USO was busy.  She knew she’d get more help.  “After all,” she said, “it’s not about the cakes.  It’s about MAKING the cakes.”  It was about being with Mom in the kitchen.

In 69 years we’ve moved from providing letter-writing stations to providing free Internet connections.  Films projected onto sheets have become videos on large screen TVs.  There’s still coffee and magazines and comfortable furniture.  There’s still the respite from hard duty.  And, there’s still Mom in the kitchen making a cake.

It’s just like home.”