Your USO at Work: The Newsletter of the USO (December 2012)
(Issue 24, December 2012)
Ground Broken on Second USO Warrior and Family Center
A row of shovels pierced the dirt. The dignitaries smiled beneath their hard hats.
The moment, the groundbreaking at the new USO Warrior and Family Center on the campus of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, slated to open in 2014, was symbolic. Soon, it will be much more.
“We’re building hope here and this is the beginning of that journey,” USO President Sloan Gibson said. “Hope for our healing heroes and for their families. [This will be] a place where futures are planned and where they are launched.”
Every decision in designing the new center, and a sister site at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was made not just with the wounded, ill and injured troops in mind, but also caregivers and families.
The 16,217-square-foot USO Warrior and Family Center will keep families together and strong. Healing is not a solitary act. That’s why features such as the Fireside Lounge are important, offering a space for the family to relax together. Or the Children’s Playground and Children’s Garden, where the little ones can cut loose and explore.
Of course, a center of this magnitude would not be possible without generous donors. The list of those contributing to Operation Enduring Care includes corporate donors like the Northrop Grumman Foundation, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Anschutz Foundation, Charity Works and jcp cares, as well as individual donors like former Ambassador Tim and Sue Timken and actor Charlie Sheen.
“Today we’re starting on a mission, building an outstanding center that’s going to be a place of healing and fellowship,” said Navy Captain Fritz Kass, commander of Naval Support Activity Bethesda. “A place where families will come to nourish their bodies and their souls.”
Mullens Honored at 2012 USO Gala
The USO celebrated former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and his wife, Deborah, as 2012 Spirit of the USO honorees at the USO’s annual gala on November 2 in Washington. Throughout Mullen’s celebrated military career, he and Deborah were staunch supporters of the USO and its mission.
“We’ve watched, up closely and very personally, the USO for decades affect our lives, but more importantly, affect the lives of those we care about the most, both in peace and in war and at the most difficult times,” said Mullen, who retired in 2011. “If I were going to sum it up … it would be to bring that smile, that support, that little piece of home into the hearts and souls of those who serve around the world and do so, so nobly, for so long.”
Support in Sandy’s Aftermath
The USO’s response to Superstorm Sandy began even before the winds and rain died down.
Joan Ashner, a volunteer with USO of Metropolitan New York, walked 50 blocks, as the storm raged around her, to open the Times Square USO Center on Oct. 29, in case Joint Task Force Empire Shield troops needed a break.
“It was a little hairy,” she said. “If there are troops on duty, the USO must also be on duty.”
As it turned out, Empire Shield troops, tasked preventing terrorist attacks in New York, were diverted elsewhere and the Port Authority forced the USO Center to close until the storm passed.
Ashner was back less than 48 hours later and two USO Mobile vehicles from North Carolina and Virginia were headed north to support the more than 7,000 National Guardsmen deployed to the region for cleanup and relief effort.
The capabilities of the two Mobile USO lounges provided troops with entertainment including, a 46-inch LCD television with state-of-the-art home theater and digital satellite systems, as well as an Xbox 360 gaming system and ways to stay in touch with loved ones.
Army National Guard Captain J.C. Bravo of the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem said his soldiers were working hard, but called it “a great benefit to have the presence of the USO out there.”
A New Way to Serve
Elizabeth Vallette’s first experience with the USO wasn’t exactly life-changing, but it lifted the spirits of a cash-poor West Point cadet making her way through an airport en route to a training assignment.
“Another cadet came running … up the terminal at us, screaming ‘Free hot dogs at the USO,’” Vallette said.
Later, during a 12-month deployment to Iraq with III Corps in 2004, the USO brought comedian Robin Williams to her base in Baghdad.
“His show was perfect timing,” Vallette said. “It was just sinking in that things were not going well. We really needed the pick-me-up, and he delivered.”
After leaving the Army, Vallette spent time as an MBA student at the University of Houston and worked for a Canadian nonprofit in Kabul, Afghanistan.
When the project ended, she saw a job listing for a center director at USO Houston.
“It hadn’t ever really occurred to me that you could actually work for the USO … and get paid,” she said.
Since July 2011, she has led a team that serves nearly 35,000 troops and family members with the help of a team of 400 volunteers. Anyone who wants a taste of Vallette’s Houston hospitality should check out the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s World’s Championship in February and checkout the USO’s entry in the barbecue contest.
P&G’s Gala Glam
Every year, the USO selects a service member from each branch and a military volunteer to honor at its star-studded gala in Washington, D.C. With a roomful of guests to impress, honorees and their family members, like Jessica Perkins, wife of USO Soldier of the Year Staff Sgt. Jacob Perkins, pictured, need to look good.
That’s where P&G’s Beauty and Grooming Salon stepped in.
One of the perks of having great partners like P&G is that they bring their own party supplies. A whole line of P&G beauty items were donated and P&G-provided stylists to help honorees, their guests and a few special military invitees look sharp for the big event.
Serving Those Who Serve
For the dozens of Americans on the ground in Benghazi, this year’s 9/11 brought another terrifying scene, one that left several wounded and four dead, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
But when the C-17 carrying the evacuees touched down at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the USO was there and ready to provide comfort at the end of a horrifying ordeal.
“You could just tell by the looks on their faces,” said Konrad Braun, area director of USO Kaiserslautern.
Dozens of evacuees stepped off the plane around 10 p.m. on Sept. 12, many with only the ragged clothes on their backs.
When Braun learned the Americans—mostly State Department employees—would be arriving, he rounded up a group of 11 USO staffers and two volunteers who filled a van with assorted clothing items before assuring the USO Center at the Joint Mobility Processing Center was stocked with snacks, toiletries, laptops and televisions. Hot meals were also provided.
Any needed items not immediately available were quickly procured when the USO arranged for the base’s AAFES department store to open its doors at 1 a.m.
Within 24 hours, and with help from global strategic partner TKS, the USO provided cell phones loaded with enough minutes for 10 hours of calls back to the States for the evacuees.
“Even though these were not service members, they were serving our country,” Braun said. “We had the resources available and the will, and we executed both of those.”