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Healing Invisible Wounds

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Most people know the USO for our world class entertainment. USO tours with headliner celebrities have been entertaining troops for more than 70 years and that tradition will continue during April, the month of the Military Child. But as the U.S. military has changed over those years, the USO has continually adapted with it. More than half of the people serving in the military today are married, many with children. And a decade of war, with the incumbent family separations and stresses of numerous combat tours, has increased the support our military families need and so richly deserve. When we ask ourselves who needs us most, clearly, military families have to be on top of that list.

While there are many thousands of miles between our deployed troops and their families, the distance seems even farther when you can't connect on the phone or email. Many of our troops, especially in combat zones or remote bases, have no way of calling home. To ease this burden, at our more than 160 locations worldwide, the USO provides the signature USO services -- a touch of home and connectivity. Our centers in Afghanistan, frequented by thousands of deployed troops daily, connect service members living in the harshest of conditions with their families back home with free phone lines and internet service. And at other centers, one of the most cherished services we provide is that free call home or that free internet. And when we learn that a service member will not be home to witness one of the most treasured moments for any parent, the birth of their child, we have been known to make it possible for them to be in the delivery room, via Skype.

Our locations in the United States, Pacific and Europe also support our nation's military families -- through programming and services at USO Centers and outreach to the military community. Just last week our locations in New York and Fort Campbell, Kentucky worked together with a NYC-based fashion designer to provide girls with free prom dresses through "Operation That's My Dress". One military spouse told us that her daughter had made the difficult decision to not attend prom this year because the family had other had financial demands. When USO Fort Campbell told her about "Operation That's My Dress," she was overjoyed because her daughter would not miss out on that cherished high school memory.

With our global reach and strong connections with the military, we strive to identify and meet the greatest needs of our troops and their families. The USO has many programs and partnerships aimed at supporting the children of our nation's troops, helping them cope with the unique lifestyle of a military child -- multiple deployments, reintegration and when a parent returns home "different" (with invisible and visible wounds).

Our partnership with best-in-class organizations such as the Trevor Romain Company in support of the With You All the Way program reaches school age children through presentations on or near military installations, schools, DVDs and kits distributed at USO Centers. This year the USO is taking the With You All the Way program overseas to reach military families living in the Pacific and Europe. After one show in the Pacific, Romain told us about a girl who was showing off a photo of her dad in his full uniform. She had glued it into the journal we gave her as part of the kits distributed following Romain's presentations. The girl was beaming with pride for her deployed father and the journal really helped her to express her emotions regarding this period of separation.

The USO is also here to support our military families during the most difficult times -- when a service member returns home with invisible or visible wounds and when our nation's heroes make the ultimate sacrifice.

Through a partnership with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) families of wounded, ill or injured troops are brought together in a four-day camp experience. Each camp focuses on activities for families to learn to play together again and adapt to their "new normal". And our partnership with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) provides Good Grief Camps for children of troops who have died in service to our nation. The children learn grief coping skills, how to identify and establish a support system, and by being among children experiencing the same tragedy they learn they are not alone.

The USO will continue our mission to lift the spirits of troops and their families this April, the month of the military child, and every month. We are humbled by the sacrifice military families make every day to ensure the safety of our nation. We honor them for their service and we look forward to continuing to support their needs today and in the future.

For more information about USO Programs in support of military families visit www.uso.org/programs

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