By: Brian Wellner
It’s the first USO center in Illinois outside Chicago, which has five, and the only one that serves Iowa’s active service personnel and their families.
“Now, there’s a chance for military families to come and utilize a space to get away and relax,” said Jackie Inman, the Arsenal center director.
She previously served as a family readiness group leader for Iowa Army National Guard units and saw the need for USO services in the Quad-Cities. Her son serves in the Iowa Army National Guard and she has longed for a center like this to serve Iowa and Illinois active service members outside the Chicago area.
USO centers provide programs and services for military personnel and their families from send-offs to homecomings. The new, 2,000-square-foot space on the Arsenal features a meeting space and lounge, reading library and resource center, computer lab with free Wi-Fi, cable TV and gaming console, snacks and refreshments and a children’s play area.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., helped kick off the opening of the USO center.
“As someone who comes from a family of those who have served in wartime and peacetime and someone who considers it a point of pride to have former military members on my staff, I will never lose sight of the importance of supporting those who serve,” she said.
The facility was done in a partnership with Army Community Services and Hooah! Quad-Cities, two more organizations that support local military personnel and their families with outreach programs and resources.
“Here we can take care of our troops and their families, and we’re always looking for volunteers,” Tere Pouch of ACS said.
Richard Straub volunteers at the center and said he enjoys meeting active service personnel and hearing their stories.
“This is the least I can do for the sacrifices they make,” Straub said.
He said his son serves in the military, and whenever he travels, he uses USO centers around the country.
Alison Ruble, president of USO of Illinois, a nonprofit agency providing support for U.S. troops and their families, said she’s “beyond ecstatic” about the new center.
“We really want to be a home away from home,” Ruble said.
Major General George R. Fay, U.S. Army (Ret) received the Ronald L. Friske Memorial Award at the USO of Illinois Annual Board of Directors Meeting on December 12, 2012 in honor of his many years of dedicated service to the USO. The award is presented annually by the USO of Illinois to an individual who has provided outstanding service and support to those the USO serves: the men, women and families of the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Friske Award is presented in honor and memory of Ronald L. Friske, a dedicated Director and Treasurer of the USO of Illinois.
MG Fay serves as the Executive Vice President, Worldwide Property & Casualty Claim at CNA and is a true champion of the USO of Illinois mission. Most recently, it was MG Fay’s leadership that lead to a very special tailgate party for the big Army-Navy game at the USO Great Lakes, sponsored by CNA. MG Fay and a corps of CNA volunteers helped over 500 service members celebrate the 122-year rivalry and root for their favorite team!
“CNA is very proud to partner with the USO to support our wonderful service men and women,” said George Fay, executive vice president, Worldwide Property & Casualty Claim – CNA. “The Army/Navy tailgate is a great example of one of the many ways we support the USO’s efforts. Although as a retired Major General of the U. S. Army Reserve, I was disappointed with the game’s outcome, as a CNA employee, I was delighted we were part of this terrific event.”
The HOME&AWAY campaign, now in its fourth year, highlights how the USO of Illinois and Boeing are committed to helping service members and their military families thrive. Our nation’s armed forces and their families make many sacrifices to protect our freedoms. While we support their efforts at home and away, we may overlook the opportunity to say thank you, or be able to find a way to make a tangible difference. Join Boeing, in supporting the USO of Illinois and the work they do to help local military and their families.
Vote here for your favorite Home & Away video for your chance to win a VIP Chicago sports experience from Boeing with two of your favorite teams. Help someone you know. Support the USO.
Making Lifelong Connections: The heartwarming story of a soldier reconnecting with a childhood friend while stationed overseas in Japan, and asking for her hand in marriage once returning to Illinois.
From Military Police to Military Mom: After serving in Iraq as a member of the military police, Julie returned home to Illinois where she learned to reconnect with both her family and her community through the help she found at USO Rock Island.
The USO’s 12th Man: Watch pro athlete Charles Tillman recount his experiences growing up as the son of a military sergeant, and his journeys abroad where he lent his support to deployed troops working with the USO of Illinois.
Over the past two months in between training, classes and their various other duties at Great Lakes Naval Station, three young sailors volunteered their time to hand paint an original mural featuring famous cartoon characters in the USO Center Great Lakes Kids Room. Each designed their own wall, choosing to paint their favorite characters from their childhood.
FC3 Avery Wilson said, “I wanted to give kids something to look at from my generation of Looney Tunes.” The USO Center at Great Lakes is a “home away from home” for sailors and their families stationed in or around Great Lakes. Wilson, originally from Norfolk, VA, who has been at Great Lakes for 18 months says “I love the USO, it’s my escape.”
FCSN Conner Stevens agreed by saying, “The USO takes the stress off of being on base.” A fan of Disney films, Stevens painted a mural of his favorite characters from The Lion King and Aladdin films. “I’ve always liked to draw and I wanted to help out,” said Stevens. Originally from the small town Magalia, California, Stevens has spent 16 months at Great Lakes Naval Station.
The idea to update the USO Great Lakes Kids Room came from FCSN Kori Hopkins as a way to give back to the USO. Having been at Great Lakes for 17 months, Hopkins stated, “I love all the different things the USO offers. I love the Girl Scout Cookies, the pool tables and all the other free things. Here you don’t have to stress.” Hopkins painted a unique mural of characters from her favorite Disney films and Dr. Seuss books she read as a child.
USO Great Lakes is a multifaceted complex where service members can enjoy rest, relaxation and recreation. The USO Great Lakes Kids Room is a special place for families to spend time together. It is a place where kids can make arts & crafts, play games, jam with their favorite musical instrument, watch movie or even put on a puppet show.
The USO of Illinois wishes to thank Avery, Conner and Kori for making the USO Great Lakes Kids Room so special.
USO Great Lakes Kids Room
Thanks to the generous contributions of PepsiCo and the Pepsi Valor team, the USO of Illinois celebrated the grand opening of the PepsiCo Theater Room at USO Great Lakes Thursday, May 24, on Naval Station Great Lakes.
Adding to the “Home Away from Home” experience of USO Great Lakes, the PepsiCo Theater Room features theater-style seating and a state-of-the-art sound system, providing service members the opportunity to put up their feet, grab a snack and choose a movie from the center’s extensive movie catalog.
The USO of Illinois would like to thank PepsiCo for their continued support of our military service members and their families.
View before and after photos of the Great Lakes PepsiCo Theater Room.
Great Lakes Theater Before and After
USO program aims to help injured soldiers get back to work – Quad Cities Online.
ROCK ISLAND — They sat in uniform, about 60 men and women injured as they served their country and now seeking their way back into the workforce.
How to write a resume or how to interview with a prospective employer are tasks the injured veterans did not have to do while stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Monday, they heard tips for both tasks at the inaugural USO Life Skills Resources Program in the Arsenal Golf Club Ballroom, Rock Island Arsenal.
The pilot program — the first of its kind in the country — is designed to support transitioning National Guard and Reserve service members as they leave active duty to secure government or private jobs.
The USO’s employment mentoring program will supplement the Community Based Warrior in Transition Unit – Illinois. The Army says the unit is committed to Wounded Warrior care, with a focus on medical treatment while a soldier is at home.
Monday’s participants included police officers, firefighters, mechanics and construction workers. Now, they must adapt and adjust to injuries received in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“You know, they did physical jobs,” said Army 1st Sgt. John Hersey who helps oversee CBWTU-IL. “Now they’ve got this physical limitation. They can’t return back to that job.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges we have: What are they going to do with the rest of their life?”
There are about 340 members of the CBWTU – IL and nine such units across the country, 1st Sgt. Hersey said. The CBWTU – IL, headquartered at the Arsenal, covers Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.
Jobs are hard to find, especially for veterans, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The nation’s 2.4 million Gulf War-era II veterans — those who served on active duty at any time since September 2001 — was 12.1 percent in 2011. That compares to the jobless rate of 8.3 percent for all veterans.
Unemployment among young male veterans 18 to 24 years old who served since September 2001 was 29.1 percent in 2011, according to the federal figures. That’s much higher than the 17.6 percent for young male nonveterans.
The numbers weren’t lost on Monday’s participants.
“I think probably a lot of it has to do with the fact a lot of these folks haven’t been in the civilian workforce, and they’re coming out of uniform for the first time,” said USO of Illinois chairman and chief executive officer John May. “And, so, it’s a challenge.”
Jeff Blackwell, director of Black Hawk College’s economic development center, said the college has a substantial investment in the pilot program.
“Many times, when military people come back, they come back with all the acronyms and all of the ways of doing business that they’ve learned in the military,” he said. “But they have an incredible array of skills — leadership skills — and the ability to process things quickly.
“Those are sometimes hard to translate into a resume or into an interview.”
Mr. Blackwell said this is the first time CBWTU – IL, the USO and BHC have merged their efforts for such a program.
Lindsey Chapman, a group leader and volunteer for CBWTU – IL, has first-hand experience with the program.
Her husband, Army Cpl. Mitch Chapman, was injured in Afghanistan in October 2008 by an improvised explosive device. The DeWitt, Iowa, woman said her husband broke his back, suffered hearing loss and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
Through the CBWTU – IL program, she said, her husband is recovering and is back home. She endorsed the program Monday.
“Anybody in the community that is going to support these soldiers, it means so much,” she said.
First Sgt. Hersey said the Army deems family a big part of recovery. He said he believes the USO and Black Hawk College can only add to the CBWTU’s success with injured veterans.
“We have several soldiers who have come to the program and have done internships,” he said. “They’ve received employment at the Arsenal.
“There are other soldiers who have gone back to school to become behavioral health specialists,” he said. “That was one of their challenges, and they really want to give back in that way.”
The 167 members of the 1644th arrived home from Kuwait, where they have been tending to the aftermath of a war that lasted nearly nine years. The brief homecoming ceremony marked the end of Illinois’ role in the Iraq War. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, more than 25,600 troops from Illinois have deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 20,000 of them from the Illinois National Guard.