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

Marine Rides Shotgun with NASCAR Star Jeff Gordon on USO Trip

Growing up in Holland, Mich., Cory Gritter almost always spent Sunday afternoons with his father in front of the television, watching stock cars tear around oval tracks at ridiculous speeds.

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Marine Sgt. Cory Gritter rides shotgun with Jeff Gordon along Las Vegas Boulevard during NASCAR Victory Lap on Thursday. Gritter is part of a group of a group of recovering troops brought to Las Vegas by the USO to participate in NASCAR’s Champions Week festivities. Photo courtesy of Trent Staley/NASCAR

Gritter’s favorite was the No. 24 piloted by Jeff Gordon, perhaps NASCAR’s most polarizing driver.

Years later and nearly 1,900 miles away, Gritter was riding shotgun Thursday when he looked to his left and Gordon — his racing idol — looked back and smiled.

“You might want to put your head back,” Gordon told him, “or you’re gonna get whiplash.”

With that, Gordon turned loose the 865 horses beneath the hood of his DuPont Chevrolet and spun into a burnout in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip, sending smoke rising over the asphalt and palm trees.

“That was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Gritter said afterward, still beaming. “I’ve got to thank the USO for bringing us out here. This is amazing.”

Gritter is now a sergeant in the Marine Corps, serving in a wounded warrior battalion at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he’s receiving treatment for injuries caused by an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in 2009.

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Jeff Gordon, with Marine Sgt. Cory Gritter on board, does a burnout on Las Vegas Boulevard during NASCAR Victory Lap on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Trent Staley/NASCAR

He is part of a group of wounded service members from Bethesda and Fort Belvoir, Va., brought to Las Vegas by the USO to participate in NASCAR’s Champions Week celebration. Thursday’s event, dubbed NASCAR Victory Lap, included the top 12 drivers in the Sprint Cup points standings parading their cars up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and doing burnouts at either end of the route as thousands of fans cheered from the roadside and from pedestrian bridges above the street. Gritter’s fellow troops looked down from atop a double-decker bus riding with the convoy of stock cars.

Gritter was singled out because he is the biggest NASCAR fan in the group. When Gordon heard that he is Gritter’s favorite driver, the four-time champion eagerly agreed to bring the Marine along for the ride. Gordon even handed off his iPhone to Gritter so he could snap photos and document the experience.

The outing is part of the USO’s Warrior and Family Care initiative and was coordinated by the USO of Metropolitan Washington. It is actually Gritter’s second Las Vegas trip with the USO, though the first involved more relaxation and less adrenaline.

“This was cool,” Gritter said. “My dad would love this. I can’t wait to tell him about it.”

—By Derek Turner, USO Senior Editor

Recovering Troops Get Dressed in Style for NASCAR Event

A plane carrying a group of combat-tested service members touched down in the desert on Wednesday morning.

Spc. Cleber Ferreira shows off the tuxedo he’ll wear Friday to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas. Ferreira is part of a group of recovering troops and their guests who traveled with the USO to Las Vegas for NASCAR’s Champions Week festivities. USO photo by Samuel Zelaya

Then it was time to suit up.

“Oh, man, I want the red one,” said Spc. Cleber Ferreira as he spotted the jacket. “Nah, I’ll go traditional. Like James Bond.”

The desert is Vegas. Suiting up meant getting fitted for tuxedos and gowns.

Ferreira — who suffered back, leg and head injuries when 400 pounds of explosives detonated beneath his Stryker vehicle in Afghanistan in 2010 — is part of a group of more than a dozen wounded warriors and their guests visiting Las Vegas with the USO to take part in NASCAR’s Champions Week celebration. On Thursday, they were to sit atop a double-decker bus and lead a parade of stock cars down Las Vegas Boulevard, better known as The Strip. Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will perform a celebratory burnout and race teams will conduct pit stops in front of the Bellagio’s famed fountains.

On Friday, it’ll be time to break out the formalwear for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at the Wynn, a swanky gala where, between performances from celebrity entertainers, NASCAR will honor the top 10 finishers in the points standings.

Marine Sgt. Cory Gritter gets measured Wednesday for a tuxedo to wear to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony on Friday in Las Vegas. USO photo by Samuel Zelaya

The wounded warriors — on a break from recovering at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland — were looking sharp during their trial run Wednesday at Tuxedo Junction and David’s Bridal in Las Vegas.

Lance Cpl. Nathan Jakubisin, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in June, initially worried that he might have to wear shorts with his tux because the pants wouldn’t fit over the metal fixator holding together his left leg.

“Maybe a kilt,” he quipped. “That’s a good idea.”

But with a pair of scissors, a little extra fabric and a sewing machine, the staff at Tuxedo Junction delivered a pair of custom-made pants.

And Ferreira? Well, he almost did look like James Bond. That is, if 007 wore a camo hat with his tuxedo.

—Story by Derek Turner, USO Senior Editor

Jobs for Our Wounded Troops

Let me put it plainly: We need to pull out all the stops to give our wounded, ill and injured troops returning home the resources and training they need to transition back into the workplace.

That’s why we’ve made tripling our investment in job training for our returning troops a priority in 2013, and one of the key initiatives to our effort is a special drive to raise $150,000 by Veterans Day.

In the months ahead, we’ll be organizing more than 60 USO/Hire Heroes USA Transition Workshops — workshops that are the starting place for reintegration of our brave, wounded troops into the workforce.

Donate now to support this and other critical USO initiatives for our troops — including helping our wounded heroes gain the skills and training they need to find a job and lead a life filled with hope and confidence.

At these workshops, we’ll focus on resume writing and mock interviews guided by human resources professionals from military-friendly companies. At the end of each workshop, our troops will have written an improved resume, practiced effective job interview skills and learned about additional resources and opportunities available for career development.

This hands-on training is just one of the critical types of programs for our troops that you can support by participating in our Veterans Day campaign. You can honor America’s veterans and support our troops by helping provide the resources to help servicemen and women reintegrate into their communities.

Help the USO support our troops and give our wounded heroes the chance to attend a career transition workshop and gain the training they need for their new life ahead.

You’ve been there for our wounded, ill and injured troops before. And I know you’ll support our decision to make meeting their needs for reintegration a major priority among the many programs and services we provide for our troops. I hope I can count on you to step up once again.

For the troops!

- Sloan Gibson, President and CEO, USO

P.S. Our military leaders, who understand the needs of wounded troops firsthand, have directly asked the USO to focus more attention on helping wounded troops find a path to new and rewarding careers after their military service. Help us start answering that need by raising the funds needed to provide these critically important workshops and other USO programs by Veterans Day.

Ride 2 Recovery, Project HERO Hold Training Workshop

Thirty-three representatives from Warrior Transition Units, Wounded Warrior Battalions and Veteran Affairs (VA) medical clinics came to Bethesda, Md., recently to participate in a three-day training camp to build and improve their respective Ride 2 Recovery cycling rehabilitation programs.

Project HERO (Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunities) is designed as a train-the-trainer camp, where vital cycling skills such as organizing and leading rides, bike mechanics, maintenance, adaptations and safety and even bike building and fitting are taught to hospital and military representatives.

Project HERO National Director Barbara Springer said the camp aimed to empower local cycling representatives so they can promote a fuller, quicker rehabilitation for injured servicemen and women.

“These reps will go back to their locations and each will be qualified to start up a Project HERO program at their own hospital or unit,” Springer said. “Each will possess the knowledge and skills required not only to lead a ride, but also to help their unit’s healing heroes reach their highest level of function by using cycling as part of physical and psychological rehabilitation.”

Army veteran Marina Libro is developing a Project HERO cycling program with the McGuire Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va. For her, learning how to fit riders for a bike and seeing how a maintenance shop was set up was the most useful elements of the training.

“I’ve got the people at the VA behind me now supporting a cycling program, but I didn’t have the technical knowledge or mechanical skills to make it all happen,” she said. “Now I know what I need to set up a bike room and I have the confidence to make it successful.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer