Your USO at Work: The Newsletter of the USO (May 2013)
(Issue 26, May 2013)
Symposium Focuses on Children and Deployments
Children’s deployment issues were at the heart of a recent With You All the Way Symposium presented by The Comfort Crew for Military Kids. The event – held at the new USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. – featured panel discussions on how homecoming, transition and resilience affect the youngest members of military families. It was part of the USO’s activities marking Month of the Military Child.
Trevor Romain – the creative force behind The Comfort Crew and the USO-sponsored With You All the Way tours and support kits – said adults often tell children what they want to hear in attempts to fix problems rather than actually listening to their concerns.
“When children have come up to us after [presentations], really what they needed was validation of what they were going through, instead of somebody trying to fix it for them,” he said.
USO Helps Returning Soldier with Anniversary Surprise
Kristi Hinson and her two daughters waited patiently at the foot of a baggage claim escalator last month at San Antonio International Airport.
Chief Warrant Officer Scott Hinson was scheduled to arrive any minute on mid-tour leave from Afghanistan.
They were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. An unfamiliar woman in a pink sweatsuit approached Kristi and handed her a long-stem rose.
“Happy anniversary,” the woman said. Then came a stranger in a business suit. He, too, was bearing a rose.
They came one after another until Kristi held 19 long-stem roses.
She turned misty when she saw Scott carrying the 20th rose.
One month earlier, Scott contacted the USO for help arranging an anniversary surprise, realizing he’d have nowhere to buy flowers before reuniting with his family.
The day of his arrival, USO Georgia staffer Carol Austin bought flowers at a nearby boutique, went past security and hand-delivered the roses. Scott gave 19 roses to helpful passengers on his flight from Atlanta to San Antonio and told them how they’d recognize his wife.
“He definitely earned some brownie points on this one,” Kristi said, “but when he told me how the USO made this all possible, that made the story even sweeter.”
Perfect Fit at USO
Twenty-one years at any job is a long time, so few could blame Kathy O’Connor for seeking the next challenge.
But as she looked to the future after more than two decades with AAIM Management Association in St. Louis, she also looked to the past. O’Connor is the daughter of two World War II veterans. Her late father was a 100 percent disabled Army vet and her mother served in the Navy.
“The USO of Missouri executive director opening perfectly matched my family background and my professional skills,” she said.
O’Connor joined the USO in 2007 and her area of operations provides plenty of variety. The USO center at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport often welcomes nervous Army recruits bound for Fort Leonard Wood. Meanwhile, the USO center on the post is filled with grateful soldiers and their families.
“I think serving our troops and their family members is the most rewarding job I have ever had,” she said. “Given everything they do for our country, we will never be able to do enough to repay them for the sacrifices they have made for us.”.
Manning Connects With Troops
Peyton Manning has completed a lot of passes in his long NFL career, but likely few will be as memorable as those he completed in February and March, well after the season ended.
Manning found receivers running open on the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and in a crowd at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.
The quarterback was one of several celebrity guests on a recent USO tour led by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. The entourage – which included NFL stars Vincent Jackson and Austin Collie, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, former baseball player Curt Schilling, and “American Idol” stars Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo – began with a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland and then traveled to visit troops in Spain, Italy, Djibouti and Germany, as well as stops in Afghanistan and aboard the Stennis.
Manning chronicled his experience with a journal that was posted on espn.com. He ended with this: “Proud to have been a part of it. Think ol’ Bob Hope would have been proud as well. God bless our troops.”
Athletes Gear Up at Marine Corps Trials
Some of the military’s top wounded, ill and injured athletes gathered in San Diego last month to prove their mettle at the Marine Corps Trials.
The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment hosted the event, with support from the USO, and when it was done, 50 athletes had been selected to represent the Corps at the Warrior Games, a Paralympics- style competition to be held May 11-16 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Every year, the competition intensifies as more athletes vie for a spot in the Warrior Games, which includes teams from the Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Special Operations competing in sports such as sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, swimming, cycling, shooting, archery and track and field.
Though competition is fierce and emotions run high, the Marine Corps Trials and the subsequent Warrior Games are designed to promote physical activity, camaraderie and fellowship, all critical parts of the healing process.
“The athletes will learn skills that will enable them to be highly successful not only at the trials and games but in their future endeavors,” said Jennifer Sullivan, who manages the regiment’s Warrior Athlete Reconditioning Program.
Conference Highlights Caregiver’s Journey
Melissa Novoa says the first instinct is to fix the situation. But problems like this don’t come with a manual.
Her husband, medically retired Marine Sgt. Danny Novoa, was nearly killed in Iraq in November 2008 when a roadside bomb exploded just five feet from where he stood. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, was blinded in his left eye and now deals with epilepsy and permanently embedded shrapnel.
“Your first instinct is: ‘I want to fix it. I want to make things better,’” Melissa said.
Melissa was one of several military family members sharing their stories at the USO Caregivers Conference at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in late February. It took Melissa nearly three years to rediscover her own identity, independent of her role as a caregiver, but now she serves as a mentor for others in the same position.
“My healing to me is helping others,” she said. “[I tell] them ‘You know what? It’s OK to be normal. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to maybe feel sorry for yourself for a bit but you’ve got to nip it in the bud. You’ve got to make your situation better. You’ve got to find answers.’”
Tell USO Survey* Some results from the 2012 Tell USO survey in which thousands of troops and family members from around the world participated * 85 percent of family members recommend USO services to others * 89 percent of family members “Totally Agree” that the USO boosts the morale of the troops * 94 percent say the USO’s military family programs and services are valuable *