Saluting Our Nation’s Littlest Heroes, and Letting Them Know the USO and Sesame Street Are Always By Their Side

Sesame Street and the USO have now partnered for five years to support military families around the world. As they celebrate this milestone, Rachel Tischler (Vice President of USO Entertainment) and Lynn Chwatsky (Vice President of Sesame Street’s Outreach Initiatives and Partners) offer this guest blog post to announce the new world tour of The Sesame Street/US Experience for Military Families

The children of US service members scream and wave at the start of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at USAG Humphreys in South Korea February 9, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Imagine you are five years old and you haven’t seen your mommy or daddy’s face, touched their hand or received their hug in six months because they’re deployed overseas. Now, imagine two years have passed and your mommy or daddy is back home, you have lots of friends at school, and you’re told the family is moving to a new base far away for the third time.  How do you feel?  And as a parent, what do you do?

These are just two of the many unique and challenging issues our nation’s military families face everyday.  It’s also THE reason Sesame Street and the USO partnered and are celebrating five years of working together to take The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families around the world.  Over the past five years our two organizations have brought the messages from Sesame Street’s military families initiative, Talk, Listen, Connectto life for more than 368,000 U.S. troops and military families.  We’ve performed 631 shows on 145 military installations in 33 states and 11 countries.

We are kicking off our new world tour at a special USO Care Package Service Project event with help from Cookie Monster and our supporters on Capitol Hill.  Next, we’ll head to Alaska to begin performing for and meeting even more military families this year as our journey takes us to 41 bases in 8 European and Pacific countries over the next six months.

For those unfamiliar with our adventure, the tour’s first phase focused on deployment.  Kids and parents related when Elmo said, “Elmo’s Daddy had to go away on a very important trip for lots and lots of days. Elmo sure misses Daddy when he’s away, and sometimes Elmo feels sad.”  Elmo and friends got those same families singing, dancing, and there was even the occasional Muppet mosh pit.

As the military transitioned away from long deployments, The USO and Sesame Street created a brand new show tailored towards another challenge, military family relocation.  The new show introduced a new character named Katie.  Katie is a military kid, and her experiences really echo those faced by military kids.  The show is designed to help other military kids like Katie with issues related to relocation – letting kids know they can stay in touch with old friends and even make new ones when they move.

Kids perk up in surprise as Katie identifies with them, telling audience members, “I’m moving AGAIN.”  And it’s thanks to Katie and her Sesame Street pals Elmo, Rosita, and Cookie Monster, who help her realize that while moving can be scary, she can still rely on her friends to help her through life’s transitions.

The USO and Sesame Street know that families everywhere can relate to the anxiety of moving to a new place, and having to go to a new school and make new friends.  But for military families around the world, it’s a way of life.  According to our friends at the Military Child Education Coalition, kids with parents in the military move six to nine times during their pre-school through high school education.

That’s why it’s important our military families know that Sesame Street and the USO are there.  We know it’s hard to be away from a loved one and that some days are harder than others.  Whether you’re a child, a military spouse, a service member or a nonmilitary member, nothing can change the fact our troops and their families are serving this country every day.  And in the words of Elmo and his pals, “We’re gonna be there for [them].”

As we celebrate the fifth birthday of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, we ask that you join in the celebration by offering your own support of military families.  We’ve come up with five things that everyone can do and we hope they will prompt and inspire you:

1.      Volunteer at one of the more than 160 USO locations around the world and discover ways you can take action locally.

2.      Offer to help a military family on the home front who live on or off base.  Whether you see that their lawn needs to be mowed or garbage cans taken in, helping with simple household chores and errands can really relieve some of the stress a family may be feeling.

3.      Teach your child how they can help support military kids in their school by visiting uso.org/get-involved.aspx and or Facebook.com/SesameStreetforMilitaryFamilies.

4.      Lend an ear to listen to a military spouse as sometimes just having someone there to vent to or talk to when you may feel all alone can be the greatest support of all.

5.      Say thank you to a military member and their family for their service, sacrifice and strength.  Our troops and their families make sacrifices so we don’t have to and those two simple words say so much.

Whether on the frontlines, with their loved ones, in recovery or in remembrance, the USO and Sesame Street are adapting to meet the needs of those who need us most.  The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is one of the ways we can help them navigate life’s challenges. To learn more and to see where the tour is headed next visit USO.org/Sesame.

Sesame Street characters pose for a photo with service members and their children following a performance of the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families at Atsugi Naval Air Field in Japan, January 19, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

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