It is impossible to come back from war, regardless of your exposure to direct combat, and not come back changed. As the spouse of a Marine Corps Officer and Iraq War veteran, my husband's service played a significant role in our marriage, as well as in his relationships with his friends and other very important people in our lives, especially as he transitioned back to civilian life. My dual roles as a military spouse and a new mother afford me a unique and personal perspective driving me to do all I can for our nation's heroes -- especially as we reflect on their service, sacrifice and strength this Veterans Day.
When people think of the USO, many often think of our legendary entertainment tours. But our mission is so much deeper -- life-changing in some cases. When I joined the organization as the vice president of USO Warrior and Family Care, I joined an organization dedicated to developing programs and partnerships that support deployed troops and families around the globe as well as the men and women returning wounded, through a continuum of care that helps to provide those we serve with the hope and confidence to sustain their journey towards full and rewarding lives.
This Veterans Day, the USO has launched an effort to Grant A Wish for Our Heroes to recognize and support those who have exemplified service, sacrifice and strength for our nation. It's a way for Americans -- in ways large and small -- to step up to support our service men and women.
When I think about Granting Wishes for Our Heroes, I think about the myriad of USO programs that support these men and women. One wish they all have is for a sound economic future.
I think about USO's vital partnership with Hire Heroes USA. Our program provides support for troops who are now transitioning to the civilian work force. Programs like these have an immediate effect, but also have long-term impact on the lives of returning heroes.
What if the only path you had charted for your future was a military career? Many of these service men and women have never held a civilian position before. For those who had previous civilian careers, their new job search may have no connection to their lives before their military career. This transition can be daunting, and it can be difficult to envision a new future.
USO and Hire Heroes USA work together to help these service men and women navigate this transition. Workshops are offered at locations throughout the country. Troops walk away with a polished resume and the confidence to tackle an interview setting. Nearly two-thirds of Hire Heroes USA staff are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans themselves; many of whom have post-traumatic stress and can truly relate to many of the challenges those in their workshops are facing.
They have been through this same transition. They know the realities of job-hunting, and nothing is sugar coated here. These heroes face a tough job market, but this program produces real results. Since our partnership with Hire Heroes USA began in early 2011, 98 percent of the nearly 430 service members who have attended reported they would recommend the program to a buddy. Perhaps more important to their job search, 92 percent strongly believe that they are more confident in their ability to accurately represent themselves in the interview.
In one of our first workshops in Fort Carson, Colorado, I met a woman who was extremely nervous on her first day and unsure of her next step. She was from a small community in Arkansas, and the military was her path out of her hometown. She had been hurt in an accident and was no longer able to continue down that path, but she had not a clue where to go next.
On the second day, she worked hard on her practice interviews to prepare for a career fair the next day. That very night, she bought her first professional civilian outfit -- using the tips we had provided during the workshop -- and she nailed that career fair interview. She walked out with two job offers, and is currently working in a position she never thought was possible on day one of the USO/Hire Heroes USA workshop. It is for the hundreds just like her, who are so confident in combat but lose that confidence in the civilian setting, that we do what we do.
As a mother, I also think about Granting Wishes for our nation's littlest heroes -- children of deployed troops who frequently move, change schools and friends and who live without that daily parent-child connection that I dearly cherish. Our work with Debbie Fink, author of the book, The Little CHAMPS: Child Heroes Attached to Military Personnel supports these young leaders. Fink, along with her co-author and daughter, Jennifer, is currently touring with the USO, bringing her book, song and words of encouragement to military and civilian children throughout the U.S.
The Little CHAMPS chronicles the lives of five military children representing each branch of the service, replacing the age old phrase "military brat" with the more positive acronym "CHAMP." Last month, the USO provided a school in Fort Meade, Maryland with copies of The Little CHAMPS for every child, both military and civilian. Debbie and Jennifer then spoke to the children during an assembly where they talked about the themes of the book, children asked questions and everyone sang the CHAMPS song together. After the Finks' performance, school counselors, teachers and children told Debbie and Jennifer how important the book is. For the first time, many children felt someone "understood" them.
How else does the USO grant wishes every day? Our service men and women need our help to sustain hope and build confidence for a happy and fulfilling future. They want to keep their families together and strong. They need our help to develop a plan for a future, and to ensure a support network when progress falters. And for those who need it, to provide comfort and support to our families of the fallen.
Seeing these "wishes granted" in such different ways this Veterans Day, and every day, is a daily inspiration. I hope that Americans everywhere will take a moment to recognize those who sacrifice so much for our freedom as well as the families and caregivers that support them.
Visit uso.org/grant-a-wish for more information and to get involved.