The Importance of Partnerships

By Nick Wakeman, originally published in Washington Technology

Sandee Cartwright, wife of Gen. James Cartwright Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, joins Elaine Rogers, Executive Director of USO of Metropolitan Washington, during a Pentagon care package event on July 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Elaine Rogers has been president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington for 34 years, and during that time, she’s dealt with legendary stars and chief executives of huge corporations. She’s also helped countless soldiers and their families.

All the while, she’s led an organization that continually adapts to new demands while staying focused on an unchanging mission: supporting the members of the military and their families. She spoke recently with Editor-in-Chief Nick Wakeman about how the USO has changed and the role corporate sponsors play.

WT: What has kept you in this job for so long?
Rogers: I love working with the military, and I love working with the volunteers. You get to see the good in people who want to give back and support our military.

The USO is never the same thing every day. The challenge of bringing so many people together to make something happen is the most exciting part of the job.

WT: Describe the role corporate sponsors play. How has the nature of giving changed?
Rogers: Without them, the USO wouldn’t exist. We work off the generosity of the corporations who want to give back to us because, in many cases, they are supporting their customers.

It used to be they would write a check. But today, when we are in discussions about giving to the USO, we are also in discussions about how they can help us beyond that.

These folks really want to give back — and not just dollars. Most of the corporations who donate to our USO also are getting their employees involved. They want their employees at the airports, handing out care packages, or at the hospitals.

Click here to read the rest of the interview!

USO-Metro Opens New Center at Dahlgren!

Preparing to officially open the new Dahlgren USO Center at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren are (l. to r.) Mariellen Curtis, the center's manager; John Marselle, board chairman for USO of Metropolitan Washington; Caitlin Uze, Miss Virginia 2010; Capt. Catie Hanft, commanding officer for Naval Support Activity South Potomac; and Elaine Rogers, president of USO-Metro. (Photo by Gary Wagner)

USO of Metropolitan Washington recently opened a new center at Dahlgren Navy Base in Virginia and one of the highlights is the inclusion of a Sesame Street Room!

The Sesame Rooms project is an exciting extension of Sesame Workshop’s ongoing Talk, Listen, Connect program for military families and the one at Dahlgren will be completed within the next few months.  “The challenges our military and their families face today have never been greater,” Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington, explained during the opening ceremony.  “With this center, we hope to make a positive change in that process. We will do it through laughter, through activities and amenities and in ways the USO is known for bringing joy into people’s lives.”

One guest in particular stood out from the crowd of over 100 in attendance: Miss Virginia 2010, Caitlin Uze.  ‘‘All of America understands that because of what you do, we enjoy the freedom we have today,” said Uze in expressing her appreciation for the U.S. armed services.  ‘‘I take every opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to our military personnel and their families for the sacrifices they make for all of us.”

Other amenities at the Dahlgren USO Center include a TV area with movie library, free wi-fi throughout the building, computer stations with Internet, a gaming area with Xbox 360, and much more!  If you know of Troops and families traveling through this area, we invite you to let them know about this great new facility.

We’ll keep you posted on the progress of the Sesame Street Room.  In the meantime, click here to see what a difference the Sesame Room at McGuire AFB made for military families…and let us know what you think!

“Me and a Friend”: It’s a Homerun for Military Kids

Kelsie Vick, second from left, poses with her friends Josh Braden, Mimi Nsanzimana, and Kyle Thornhill before the start of the Nationals-Mets baseball game at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2010. Kelsie has relocated 10 times with her Army family. (USO photo)

Last Saturday we gave you an exclusive preview of the new program for military kids called “Me and a Friend.”  A collaboration between the Washington Nationals and USO of Metropolitan DC resulted in this unique program, which provided nearly 4,000 free tickets for Sunday’s home game at Nationals Park.  The program was created in consultation with the Department of Defense as a way to say thanks for the sacrifices made by military kids, and will continue throughout the remainder of the baseball season.

Teens, especially, find that heading out to a baseball game with friends can make a big difference in normalizing their experience as a member of a military family.  “A lot of times, teens just can’t find anything to do,” as Josh Braden explained to Lisa Daniel of American Forces Press Service.  “The focus is just on clubs and stuff. So this is a good thing to do to keep kids out of trouble.”  Braden attended the game with his friend Kelsie Vick, a recent graduate of Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., who has relocated 10 times with her Army family.

Didn’t make it out to Sunday’s game?  No problem!  There’s still plenty of time to participate in “Me and a Friend” this summer.  To check ticket availability for the July 11 game against the Giants please use USO-Metro’s TicketLine program.  All tickets must be picked up at the USO office at 228 McNair Road, Bldg 405 Fort Myer, Va., 22211.  And check out more pics below!

Military Kids run the bases as the Rushmore Four cheer them on at the July 4, 2010 Washington Nationals home game against the New York Mets. (USO photo)

Two recipients of the "Me and a Friend" tickets took time out of watching the game to write a Major League thank you note to Washington Nationals players on July 4, 2010. (USO photo)

The Nationals Park billboard gave a special shout out to USO of Metropolitan Washington and all of the military kids, their friends, and their families in attendance at the game. (USO photo)

Pro vs. GI Joe Brings Giants and Redskins to Troops in Iraq!

Soldiers play “Guitar Hero” against players at the ESPN Zone in Washington D.C., as part of the “Pro vs. GI Joe” video game competition, June 8, 2010, which pitted troops against Washington Redskins football players. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Selby)

The ESPN Zone locations in New York City’s Times Square and downtown Washington, DC, were packed with wounded warriors, NFL players, USO staff and volunteers, and gaming enthusiasts of all stripes when Pro vs. GI Joe took the stage for heated competition – all in the name of supporting the Troops.

“Troops spend a lot of their downtime playing video games overseas,” co-founder Addie Zinone told AFPS. “When I told Greg about that, he thought of a way we could kind of give back to the troops [through] playing video games.”

This week’s activities kicked off on Monday, when soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 85th Infantry, Warrior in Transition Unit at Fort Drum met New York Giants players for a matchup on XBox 360.  Adding to the excitement was the opportunity to play Guitar Hero against Troops stationed in Basra, Iraq.  Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih stopped by and Tuesday morning the group appeared on CBS’s “The Early Show” to meet Dave Price, the show’s weatherman.

Troops stationed at Basra came to the USO Center there to play wounded warriors and Redskins players halfway around the world. (USO Photo by Richard McCarty)

Later that day, Pro vs. GI Joe packed up and headed to DC, where a group of wounded warriors was set to match up against local USO teams and players from the Washington Redskins, with the winners taking on USO Baghdad.  Jeremy Jarmon – a second-year defensive end for the Washington Redskins – “grew up in a military household where his mother, father, and stepfather had all served in the Army. Jarmon said he loves giving back to servicemembers any way he can.  ‘It means a lot to me to be able to come out here and be able to interact with some of our troops,’ Jarmon told AFPS. ‘Coming from a military family, I know it takes a special type of person to be able to serve over there.'”

In the end, it didn’t really matter who won the matchup, because all those involved had such a great time participating.  We’d like to thank USO Fort Drum, USO of Metropolitan Washington (who’ve posted video on their YouTube Channel), USO Basra, USO Baghdad, the Wounded Warrior Project, Pro vs. GI Joe and all of the active-duty and retired military who took part in these two amazing events.  Way to go – you’re all rockstars in our book!

Miss USA Rima Fakih takes on the drums as soldiers from the Fort Drum Warriors in Transition Unit tackle guitar and vocals at the Pro vs. GI Joe event with the Giants in New York City, June 7, 2010.

It’s a Party When Congress and the USO Get Together to Stuff Care Packages for Troops!

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), (left), and USO volunteer Nancy Lee Fiscus grab items to include in USO care packages. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

Yesterday, members of Congress led Hill staffers, donors, military leadership and other volunteers in stuffing more than 2,000 USO care packages for troops deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq and other overseas locations.

Volunteers move down rows of items as they stuff the packages with care. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Care packages provide items requested by service members, including prepaid international phone cards, toiletry kits with shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush and toothpaste and shaving kits, sunscreen, snacks, refreshments and other entertainment items. Each care package also contains a special message of support from the donor.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), (right), and his wife Carolina stuff peanuts and bandages in care packages. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Members of the USO Congressional Caucus in attendance included Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.): Rep.Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). Also present were Annie McChrystal, wife of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force/Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan; Ed Reilly, American Management Association president and chairman of the USO Board of Governors; and senior military leadership and their spouses attended this event.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), (center), makes remarks on the importance of Operation Care Package as Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), (left) and USO Board Chairman Ed Reilly listen. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Military spouses (left to right) Dale Rowe (wife of Army Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe), Sandee Cartwright (wife of USMC Gen, James E. Cartwright) and Annie McChrystal (wife of Army Gen Stanley A. McChrystal) show off some completed care packages. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and California National Guard Adjutant Brig. Gen. Mary J. Knight stuffed two bags at a time before handing them to USO volunteers to ship overseas. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Cinco de Mayo in Style!

The USO Center at Fort Belvoir celebrated Cinco De Mayo in style, hosting a lunchtime Cinco De Mayo party. Active duty soldiers, Marines and family members living at Fort Belvoir came by for the festivities. USO staff served up tacos, chips and salsa, and Pina Colada flavored Cotton Candy! The fiesta was complete with piñatas and sombreros!

USO Fort Belvoir Center coordinator, EmilyJane McLoughlin, readies a military child for her shot at the piñata. (USO Photo by Lauren Ross)

Soldiers and marines came out to USO’s Cinco De Mayo party on Fort Belvoir. The food was terrific! (USO Photo by Lauren Ross)