New Program Honors Military Kids, Friends With Fun
(July 9, 2010)
WASHINGTON, July 4, 2010 – When Defense Department and USO
officials created the “Me and a Friend” program, Kelsie Vick
was who they had in mind.|
After moving 10 times with her father, Army Master Sgt. John Vick, Kelsie knows
as well as anyone the sacrifices military children make. And, like many military
kids, she takes it in stride. “I liked it,” she said, of the military lifestyle.
Still, Kelsie admits her dad's two war deployments were stressful. “I just tried
to ignore it and not think about it,” she said.
But today, any thoughts of long separations, frequent moves and parents in war
zones took a back seat, as Kelsie and three of her friends joined her family and
hundreds of other military families at Nationals Stadium here for the Washington
Nationals' Independence Day baseball game against the New York Mets.
Kelsie Vick, second from left, poses with her friends, Josh Braden, Mimi Nsanzimana, and Kyle Thornhill before the start of the Washington Nationals-New York Mets baseball game at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2010. Kelsie has relocated 10 times with her Army family.
The game marked the kick-off of the USO's “Me and a Friend”
program, which provides free tickets to major league
sporting events, theater performances, museums and other
venues for military children and their friends.|
Many major and minor league sports teams recognize
servicemembers, USO Vice President Kevin Wensing said, and
the “Me and a Friend” program builds on that by bringing the
focus to military children.
“We thought it would be nice if some of the attention were
on the kids and their sacrifices, too,” he said.
Nationals President Stan Kasten said he was happy to donate
100 tickets to the program, and that he plans to donate more
in the future and encourage other teams to do the same.
“When you think about kids being separated from their
parents in their service to the country, we can't do enough
for them,” he said.
The 100 tickets were among 5,000 the Nationals donated to
military members and their families for three home games
over the July Fourth weekend, Kasten said. He added that the
“Me and a Friend” program will complement the team's other
military-related outreach efforts, including honoring
military families during the third inning of every game and
having players visit wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army
Medical Center here.
“We have a longstanding relationship with the military, and
we take very seriously our role in the national pastime in
the nation's capital,” he said.
And, even though the Mets beat the Nats, Kelsie and her
friends, all of whom graduated from Washington-Lee High
School in Arlington, Va., last month, were just happy to
have the day out together.
Kelsie's friend, Josh Braden, said he thinks the program
will be a hit, especially with teenage military children.
“A lot of times, teens just can't find anything to do,” he
said. “The focus is just on clubs and stuff. So this is a
good thing to do to keep kids out of trouble.”
Doug Wilson, assistant secretary of defense for public
affairs, began developing the program with the USO after a
chance meeting with the children of a servicemember who
attended a military family conference with their mother last
year. As Wilson spoke with the children, he said, the
11-year-old girl told him she would be OK throughout her
father's deployment to Afghanistan, but she worried about
her brother. The 9-year-old was coming home from school
every day announcing a new best friend.
“There is a huge truth in that,” Wilson said. “What all kids
want is a sense of normalcy, a sense of belonging, and of
being able to bond with other kids.”
The program creates that by offering free tickets for
military children to attend events of their choosing with a
friend. The program sponsors plan to expand it enough in the
coming months that military families anywhere in the United
States can call or log onto the USO website, or that of
their closest installation, and find a selection of events
“What I wanted was for kids to be able to go online and say,
‘What do you have for me and a friend?'” Wilson said.
Tina Durkin, a former Air Force reservist whose husband,
Matthew, is on his way to deploy to Afghanistan with the Air
Force, said she “lucked into” the “Me and a Friend” tickets
to the Nationals game after contacting the morale, welfare
and recreation office at Fort Myer, Va., for tickets to the
King's Dominion amusement park. She said she was happy to
get tickets to both events, and brought her daughter,
Evelyn, 6, and their friend, John Lytle, to the ballgame.
“I think this is just great,” said Durkin, a Cleveland
native, who is dealing with deployment for the first time.
“It helps me so I don't feel so alone in this big city, not
knowing what to do or where to go.”
Some military family members who attended the game said they
were glad to learn of the program, even if they didn't take
part in it today. Brenda Schwegel was there with her Navy
son and his family, and her husband, who retired from the
Army in 1995.
“It's amazing to see how much more support there is for the
military now than there was before,” she said. “This is
really wonderful, and I just hope they keep it going.”
By Lisa Daniel|
American Forces Press Service
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