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USO of Illinois Offers Camp Trips to Invigorate Military Families

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

By Christian Pelusi 

Reconnecting with loved ones can occasionally be difficult for servicemen and women returning home from deployment. In an attempt to smooth that transition, USO of Illinois created Camp R&R.

The Appleton Lodge in Eagle River, Wisc., plays host to between three and five military families a week for approximately five weeks during the summer. The trips are facilitated by the center and one of USO of Illinois’ board members (who wishes to remain anonymous) and incorporate the same kinds of activities that one would associate with summer camp.

“The goal of the camp is for families to rest, relax and reconnect after a recent overseas deployment,” said USO of Illinois Program Director Wiley Norden. “Where campers can enjoy the great outdoors with swimming, hiking, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, etc.”

Said Elizabeth Polito, USO of Illinois Director of Media, Marketing and Public Relations: “The families bond, build relationships with their own families and other families who have gone through similar separations. Trying new things such as rock climbing, horseback riding, even fishing for the first time. They get away from it all for a short time, away from stresses. Some will even be deployed again soon after they return from camp. So this time with their families was truly special.”

A cursory read of responses from military families that have enjoyed Camp R&R shows the effectiveness and importance of the program. (Names have been withheld to preserve privacy.)

“I just wanted to tell you we had a wonderful time up in Wisconsin,” one Marine captain wrote. “I would like to take the time to thank you and the USO for this wonderful experience. [His wife] and the kids and I desperately needed the vacation and it was nice to have other families that needed the same thing share in our experiences. The go-cart boating session is a memorable one, I'm pretty sure the staff there at the track realized we were certifiably crazy. … You did a great job in putting this together and making sure that everyone was taken care of.”

The wife of a serviceman wrote: “On behalf of [my husband] and [our] children, we would like to thank the USO of Illinois for a wonderful week at Camp R&R. We were spoiled the second we arrived until the end of our vacation. It was a wonderful experience and we are so grateful we were chosen as guests at the Appleton Lodge.  We made many friends and had a wonderful time as a family.”

To be eligible for the trips, service members submit an application and a 150-word essay, which asks them to explain how a week at Camp R&R would be beneficial to their life and family.

For Polito, providing this opportunity to military families goes to the heart of what the USO represents.

“When a man or woman gives their service to our country, it's the whole family that serves. The USO of Illinois is honored to give back to these families that give such a sacrifice for our country. We serve those who serve.

“It's hard to understand what a family goes through when a member of their family is deployed for months, many times not knowing how long he or she will be gone. Camp R&R gives these families time and a place to reconnect as a family, enjoy time together and meet other families who know what they've been through. It's such a privilege to give these families memories that they can cherish forever.”

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To learn more about Camp R&R or to support this and other programs with USO of Illinois, visit the USO of Illinois website. 

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