Win Kellie Pickler’s Truck (and Help the USO in the Process)

For the last year, critically acclaimed country music singer Kellie Pickler has been driving a Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn truck courtesy of Ram. Now, you have the chance to win it at auction.

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Pickler received a yearlong lease on the truck with the understanding that the vehicle would go up for auction in early 2013 to raise money for the organization of her choice. Pickler – a USO tour veteran – is putting the auction proceeds toward USO Warrior and Family Care, a comprehensive long-term initiative helping to provide wounded, ill and injured troops with the hope and confidence to sustain their journey towards a full and rewarding life.

“I love everything there is to love about my Ram Truck,” Pickler said in a release. “And I have to be honest I am a little sad about giving it up but its for a great cause, and we really want to raise a lot of money for the USO, so please log on and bid.”

Bidding starts today at 7 p.m. ET and will conclude at 7 p.m. ET on Feb. 1. Visit this link – or click on the photo – for more details.

Wounded Veteran Receives Home Makeover With Help From USO

The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team presented the Harris family with a new, state-of-the-art house that helps wounded veteran Shilo Harris lead a more comfortable and enjoyable life. Photo courtesy of the Harris family

On February 19, 2007, while on patrol in Iraq, a massive IED struck the truck that SSG Shilo Harris was traveling in. Despite suffering devastating injuries, with burns to over 40% of his body, Shilo’s only concern was for the wellbeing of the men under his command, refusing medical treatment until he’d been assured that his troops were out of harm’s way. During the months of painful surgeries that followed, Shilo and his loyal wife, Kathreyn, found a true calling — to help wounded warriors through the agonizing and traumatic processes of recovery, rehabilitation and learning to face a life that will never be the same. Shilo, once sufficiently healed, began a career as a motivational speaker, giving hope to others similarly wounded, while Kathreyn, taking up the cause as well, began working for the Army Wounded Warrior Project. Shilo and Kathreyn have dedicated their lives to giving back.

With each day that passes the Harris family put more distance between themselves and the event that changed their lives, but their home still stands as a reminder of their struggles, as it cannot protect Shilo from dangerous dust and heat. The family have tried everything to make the home comfortable and safe, but whatever they do, it’s not enough. This hero who was disfigured in service to his country cannot find respite in his own home.

Tonight on ABC at 8:00 PM EST, watch as the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team changes all of that, with help from the USO.

Will You Join Them?

On Monday, we launched an effort to bring critical year-end support to our troops, especially those who have been wounded, ill or injured. The response has been truly amazing and inspiring.

Thousands of people are coming together to take care of these brave men and women who are just starting their road to recovery. I hope you will join with other USO supporters and make your special year-end donation today.

Please, make your year-end USO donation today to support our troops on the frontlines and all the brave wounded, ill and injured troops recovering here at home.

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This campaign isn’t just about bringing support to the wounded, ill and injured. It’s also about honoring a special request from our troops on the frontlines and in forward operating bases all around the world.

When we ask them what we can do to help, their first answer is always: Take care of my friends who have been wounded.

So, when you give today, you’re honoring the service and sacrifice of our active troops and helping support those who are wounded, ill and injured.

Donate today to help the USO’s effort to bring support to our wounded troops and provide ongoing care for our troops on the frontlines.

I’ve been so encouraged by the way USO supporters like you have stepped up to be there for our troops at this time of year. And I thank you for lending your personal support to this campaign today. – Sloan Gibson, President and CEO, USO

USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir Nearing Completion

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A stone facade fireplace and a second-story footbridge stand as the interoir centerpieces of the Great Room at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. Construction should wrap up by year’s end. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Nail by nail, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., is getting closer to welcoming troops and families

USO staffers visited the construction site last week for a walkthrough and saw dozens of contractors buzzing throughout the building, which is still on track to be complete by the end of 2012 and open to guests in early 2013.

The Warrior and Family Center at Belvoir will serve wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers. Many of these troops are stationed at Belvoir while they recover from invisible wounds of war like traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress.

Here are a few photos from the walkthrough:

The USO’s Operation Enduring Care is raising funds for the construction of both the USO Warrior and Family Center at Belvoir and the USO Warrior and Family Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, along with USO Warrior and Family Programs worldwide.

—Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

What the Blind Can Do

Army Capt. Ivan Castro, center, accepts the ceremonial torch from Air Force Capt. Tony Simone during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 1, 2012. Since his combat injury in 2006, Castro has sought to redefine the word “disability” as he completes one monumental feat after another while still serving on active duty in Special Operations. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

If you have followed this blog since the start of the summer you have read some pretty remarkable stories of wounded veterans using adaptive sports to get their lives back.

You read about the story of Brad Snyder, the blind Navy Explosive Ordnance
officer who broke World Paralympics swimming records in London less than a
year after being hit by an Improvised Explosive Device in Afghanistan. You’ve read the inspiring story of Jim Castaneda, who, to his 10-year-old son, was “better than Superman” for having the courage to persevere in the face of adversity at the 2012 Warrior Games. And you read the recovery story of Christopher “Aggie” Aguilera and his co-pilot, Tony Simone—the only two survivors of a horrific helicopter crash just two years ago.

After hearing all those remarkable stories, however, I am still floored when I meet people like Army Capt. Ivan Castro. I caught up with him on the final leg of a 3,800 mile bicycle ride across the country, where he taught me what it is the blind can do.

He was extremely tan from the long ride and wearing sunglasses, I couldn’t tell at first that his entire right cheek was a prosthetic, that he is missing his right eye or that shrapnel had taken sight from his other eye. He was wearing long sleeves, so I couldn’t see the scars there either. I didn’t know that pieces of his arm and shoulder were gone. I did, however, notice the black steel bracelet around his wrist inscribed with the names of the two soldiers who lost their lives in the blast that nearly killed him.

He never takes that off.

A native of Hoboken, New Jersey, Castro has served in Special Operations since 1999, and still serves on active duty today. He’s fought in every climb and place from Bosnia to South America, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, he was commanding a joint recon-scout sniper platoon from a rooftop in Youssifiyah, Iraq, when an 82mm mortar shell exploded five feet from his position. He was severely wounded and evacuated back to the States in critical condition. It took nearly 40 surgeries to repair his body, but his vision could not be restored.

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“I had no clue what the blind could do,” said 44-year-old Castro. “As a service member you don’t think about these things. You train, deploy, and it’s like a black and white situation. Black, you come back in a body bag—white, you come back fine. We don’t think about that gray area … when you come back injured.”

For the past six years he has used adaptive sports to push the limits of his recovery. He has completed more than 30 tandem marathons, rode a tandem bicycle from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, and now has his sights set on hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“I’ve been blessed,” he said. “I have both legs, both arms, I can breathe and speak on my own, and I have a network of help from family, friends and the Special Operations community. Part of what has made my recovery so successful has been sports like cycling.”

After he was injured he couldn’t walk, so he had to start from scratch on a
mechanical bike. He graduated from recumbent cycle to upright bicycle to elliptical, spinning, then on to tandem cycling with a sighted partner—once a week, twice a week, and then three times a week.

“It’s fun, but not easy on the nerves,” said Castro. “When you’re on a bike and you’re blind, you are putting all of your faith and confidence in your pilot. It’s one thing when you’re walking around with a cane, or even running, but when you’re on a bicycle and you’re going 60 miles per hour down some hill somewhere in Colorado, anything can happen. It’s an incredible rush, feeling the inertia, but not being able to see what’s in your path can make it scary if you don’t trust your pilot.”

Castro rides tandem during the Sea to Shining Sea bike ride. S2SS photo by Mike Sanders

“Bill [his civilian pilot] had the patience, maturity and skill level to take me across the country,” said Castro. “That’s not something that was easy to find. If you talk to any cyclist they will tell you they would like to cycle across America, but very few have what it takes to do it. I’m very grateful to Bill and to World T.E.A.M. Sports for giving me the opportunity to do this.”

Undeterred by things most of us might consider “obstacles,” Castro is on a personal mission to redefine how we understand and perceive persons with disabilities.

Perhaps this is why he was the first blind service member asked to walk into Brad Snyder’s hospital room after he was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device last September. Perhaps this is why he was chosen to stand next to the First Lady and receive the torch from Tony Simone and Aggie during the opening ceremony at the 2012 Warrior Games.

“I don’t dwell on what I’ve lost,” he explained. “I just concern myself with positive people always and am grateful for what I have. It was a Marine who came into my hospital room and inspired me, just as I might have inspired Snyder. Civilians like Bill and the USO volunteers that have come along for this ride—they do their part to drive me. I’m not a one-man show, and I’m not special.”

“I depend—just like all of us do—on other people, and as long as I have my network of support, I know exactly what it is the blind can do,” he concluded. “Anything I want.” — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer