When I signed up to serve in the United States Air Force at age 23 in 1985, I knew that serving my country also meant I would sacrifice some precious time with my family. During my 27 years of service, I watched my wife, the mother of our six children, manage everyday family life in addition to multiple relocations. During each of my deployments, she was the constant that kept our family together during those difficult transitions.
Whether we are talking about a newborn baby taking his or her first breath, a high school senior ready to make those first steps towards being an adult, or someone starting a family all their own, most of us can look back in our lives and see the influence and support our moms have provided us along the way.
However, some families, like military families, do not get as much time together as others.
I have served alongside amazing women, who are an integral part of today's U.S. military. These women represent approximately 14 percent of the 1.38 million active duty military personnel currently serving in our armed forces.
Additionally, 40 percent of active duty women are mothers, balancing their military career with maintaining a safe, secure and happy home for their families. As USO Vice President of Warrior and Family Care, I've been able to travel to locations around the world and talk to our troops, and hear first-hand how difficult lengthy deployments can be on moms but these amazing women are as committed to their service as they are to their families.
That's why it is so important to the USO that we keep military families connected. At more than 160 USO locations around the world, service members can stop by and call home, read and record a bedtime story to send home to their children as well as have access to free Wi-Fi to video chat with loved ones. USO's reach extends back home as well with programs, like Special Delivery, which focuses on serving expectant active duty service members and military wives. We provide them with key resources for tackling the milestone of childbirth and getting through those first few years of child rearing.
Additionally, the USO partners with the What to Expect Foundation and author Heidi Murkoff, to celebrate our new mothers in the states and abroad with the time honored tradition of the baby shower. At every Special Delivery event, military moms are encouraged to connect with their peers and community, many walk away with newly formed bonds, and a deep appreciation that their service and sacrifices are being recognized.
The USO's also works to close in the distance that separates military families. When a soon-to-be father finds himself deployed to Afghanistan, not able to be present at the time of his child's birth, he can make arrangements with his USO center downrange to video conference directly into the birthing room, allowing him to virtually witness the birth of his new son or daughter. After the birth of a child, a deployed father can request a USO Tiny Tots package be sent home to his loved one and newborn, the gift set includes essential mommy and baby care items, as well as a personalized note from their troop. But the set is much more than a gift, it's an opportunity to keep families connected. We often hear back from both soldier and family member about how important that connection was to helping them cope with being a part at such a significant moment in their lives. Since the program's inception in October of 2013, the USO has shipped 140 Tiny Tots packages.
Military moms are resilient, strong women, and whether their service calls for them to wear a uniform or to be the foundation that holds the family together during lengthy deployments and separations or through recovery and transition, they rise to the occasion. From Afghanistan to Africa and back home in the states, the USO's mission is to make sure they have the resources and the support they need to serve, live, and maintain happy and healthy lives.
The USO has partnered with Johnson & Johnson as an active cause in their Donate a Photo app. For every photo you donate, Johnson & Johnson gives $1 to USO*. That $1 helps provide 30 minutes of a video call or phone call for deployed service members, helping them to stay connected with their loved ones.
*Johnson & Johnson has curated a list of trusted causes, and you can donate a photo to one cause, once a day. Each cause will appear in the app until it reaches its goal, or the donation period ends. If the goal isn't reached, the cause will still get a minimum donation.