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Change Agents: Couple Directs Wedding Donations to USO Operation Enduring Care

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

John and Eileen Martinson became successful by doing their homework.

So when the Air Force veteran-turned-venture capitalist and his software company CEO bride-to-be decided to ask their wedding guests, in lieu of gifts, to donate to a nonprofit in the military sphere, they sat down to do a deep dig.

“John did a lot of the legwork,” Eileen said. “I had a passion for wanting to do something to help our veterans and military given that my son was serving.”

The Martinsons – who married in April 2011 – have a strong connection to the armed forces. John – who was named a United States Air Force Academy Distinguished Graduate in 2008 – flew more than 500 missions during Vietnam. Eileen’s son Brian Basho served as a lance corporal in the Marines, receiving the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for his actions as a team leader during an Oct. 5, 2011, firefight in Afghanistan.

“He wanted to go over and make the world right,” said Eileen, CEO of Sparta Systems. “He wanted to be in the infantry. He wanted to be on the front line.”

According to his medal citation, Basho “ran down the alley and threw a grenade into the enemy position, silencing the threat” during a close encounter in Afghanistan’s Upper Sangin Valley.

“I knew a little bit about the event in October 2011, but not the details until he got the commendation,” Eileen said. “I’m sort of glad that I didn’t know about it until he was back here safe in the U.S.”

The couple wanted to do something to help troops facing a tough reintegration after the last decade of war, but they also wanted to make sure their donation was going where it would make the largest impact.

“To my surprise when I began researching it there were about 10 wounded warrior organizations and that was a little confusing for a week or two,” said John, general partner and founder of Edison Ventures. “[We] concluded that [USO Operation Enduring Care] was by far the largest in scope, and had a greater ambition and had the leadership and infrastructure in place.

“We also liked the direction and priorities that the USO was putting on it relative to recognizing that it was not only the soldier, but it was also their family that needed considerable assistance.”

The USO’s Operation Enduring Care campaign was conceived with the goal of building and endowing two USO Warrior and Family Centers (one on the medical campus at Fort Belvoir, Va., one in the National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.) and funding USO Warrior and Family Care programming. The USO and its partners offer dozens of options for wounded, ill and injured troops. There are programs that help restore physical and behavioral health and programs that strengthen families. Other programs focus on education, employment and reintegration to help families transition into civilian lives.

“We were really committed to the Operation Enduring Care – what the USO was doing specifically there with the family and the wounded warrior, and focusing in on that transition back into society and into work, dealing with the non-medical needs,” Eileen said. “Several of my son’s friends came back [needing assistance in those areas].”

The USO worked with the Martinsons to set up a website where guests could donate. USO Director of Major Gifts/Planned Giving for the Northeast Tonia White said about 60 donations came via the website, while another 35 donations came through more traditional avenues. The Martinsons also provided a generous contribution.

While the Martinsons’ wedding donation went long way toward helping troops and families, the USO made sure they came away with at least one present.

White coordinated with USO Southwest Asia Manager of Communications Eric Raum, who produced a wedding greeting for the couple from the USO center on Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

The video, which you can watch below, features American troops who use the USO for everything from communicating with friends and family at home to a snack between patrols congratulating the Martinsons on their nuptials.

When the troops finished their message, they went inside the USO center and shared a chocolate cake with a “Congratulations John and Eileen” message on the top.

White surprised the Martinsons with the video at their rehearsal dinner.

“It was really heartwarming … particularly for me, knowing that my son was over there,” Eileen said.

“I have been on the other side and have been in the combat environment,” John said, “and I realized it was uplifting for the soldiers to know that people back home were concerned about them.

“And I knew it was a break in their tedium as well, so I really appreciated the smiling faces in that video.”


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Photo caption: Eileen and John Martinson spent time vetting nonprofits in the military sphere before choosing to donate their wedding gifts to the USO. (Photo courtesy of the Martinson family) 

Join the USO to Honor, Salute and Celebrate Our Troops and Their Families during our current campaign. Learn more today.  

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