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America Supports You: USAA to Salute Military

By Tech. Sgt. Elaine Wilson, USAF
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2006 – "America Supports You" corporate partner USAA will honor military members and their sacrifices tomorrow during a Memorial Day observance at the company's headquarters in San Antonio.

America Supports You is a Defense Department program that spotlights efforts to support the men and women of the nation's armed forces.

The USAA program will be broadcast live for the company's 22,000 employees in six cities, and then aired on the Pentagon Channel at 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. EDT on Memorial Day, May 29, for millions of servicemembers worldwide.

Military leaders from throughout the city and more than 700 local employees are expected to attend the ceremony, which will include video features highlighting the history of Memorial Day and the past sacrifices of servicemembers.

The ceremony also will spotlight Army units from Fort Hood, Texas, and honor a military family from Pflugerville, Texas, that lost a son in Iraq.

"The ceremony is focused on honoring the sacrifices of our troops," said retired Army Lt. Col. Gary Pasierb, USAA Military Affairs officer programs manager. "Not only is the ceremony important for the troops, so they know the nation is behind them, but also for our employees, who have the chance to see the depth of sacrifice made for their freedom."

Although one of the company's more visible military-related events, the Memorial Day ceremony is just one part of the extensive support USAA offers the military as an America Supports You team member, said retired Air Force Master Sgt. John Hancock of USAA's marketing awareness team.

"USAA was created by military officers in 1922 and remains dedicated to military members and their families today," Hancock said. "Supporting the military is part of our culture."

A member of America Supports You since May 2005, USAA rejuvenated its commitment to the campaign this year with a half-million-dollar pledge to programs benefiting military members and their families, Hancock said.

The company already has spent nearly $440,000 on annual scholarships, award and recognition programs, and morale and welfare events for active and reserve members. USAA also pays the first-year membership fees into the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States for new National Guard noncommissioned officers, which totals about $75,000 a year, Hancock said.

Online, USAA created and sponsors CincHouse.com's Spouse Club Hubs, which allows military families to network and promote activities at military installations throughout the country.

Also, USAA employees visit military units throughout the world to educate and inform servicemembers and their families, whether USAA members or not, about deployments, to include how to prepare, cope and recoup. In 2005, USAA reached out to more than 60,000 military and family members.

"When Sept. 11 happened, we knew there would be a significant response and focused on how we could help military members and their families prepare for deployments," said retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Eric Benken, USAA Military Affairs Air Force programs manager. "With an ongoing war, that focus hasn't changed."

Benken's military involvement is longstanding - he was on active duty for more than 30 years and the 12th chief master sergeant of the Air Force, having served from November 1996 to July 1999.

"We know what it's like to (move the household), deploy and leave family members behind," he said. "Although we're no longer in the military, our focus is still on the health and welfare of the troops."

To that end, Benken and other USAA military affairs representatives travel to military installations around the world and "attend 1,000 exhibits a year, including family day and MWR events." Their focus, he said, isn't to sell financial services but to educate and inform servicemembers about the resources available to them whether on deployment or at home.

"It's hard to quantify some of the services we provide," Hancock said.

For example, Hancock said, the company frequently ships out hundreds of its Global War on Terrorism coins, which were specially designed for military members to serve as a symbol and reminder of the sacrifices made in the fight against terrorism.

"We had a senior NCO in Iraq request coins for his soldiers to have when leaving to return home. We shipped out 150. That's an important thing to do and acts as a simple reminder of all that our servicemembers have done - and continue to do - to keep America safe," he said.

USAA has been serving the military's financial needs for more than 80 years, but the bottom line for its leaders extends far beyond the dollar sign, Benken said.

"We're dedicated to helping the servicemember," he said. "We want them to know if they need something, we're here."

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