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USO Targets Military Women With Care Packages

By Ian Graham
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2009 – The USO has changed a lot in 68 years and today marked another milestone in the group’s history of supporting the military when it sponsored a care package service specifically for female servicemembers.

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Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, participated Nov. 18 in a USO-sponsored event on Capitol Hill to build some 2,000 care packages that contain items specifically for female servicemembers. This is the first time the USO has targeted care packages specifically to servicewomen. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

While previous USO care packages were unisex, containing little sundries from home – snacks, magazines, toiletry items – the new line of female-specific packages contain items specifically requested by servicewomen such as cosmetics, moisturizers and special soaps.

In a ceremony at the Rayburn House Office Building here, Congress members joined servicemembers and volunteers, including Dr. Jill Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in stuffing the “for women only” packages.

“I’ve seen firsthand how acts of kindness and service can improve the life of a servicemember,” Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said. The Bidens’ son, Beau, a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard recently returned from service in Iraq.

“Thank you to the USO for giving Americans a concrete way to give back to our men and women in uniform,” she added.

USO President Sloan Gibson said he planned to have 2,000 packages prepared at the ceremony.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington began preparing care packages for servicemembers in 2002, he said, and will soon send its 2 millionth package abroad.

Pelosi applauded the many legislators and staffers who came to celebrate and contribute to the USO effort, noting that when it came to the well-being of servicemembers, party lines disappeared.

“It’s not about any one of us here,” Pelosi said. “It’s about all of us, and the work we can do to support our troops.”

Congressman Silvestre Reyes, a Vietnam veteran, said the USO was the only link to home that he and his fellow soldiers had when they were in the war zone.

“It’s a connection the troops can have to home when they are, as you can imagine, under some of the harshest conditions in the world,” he said.

He added that if there was any doubt about women’s roles in the military, they’ve been answered. Women in the services make us proud, and like any other servicemember before or after them, “they make it possible for us to be here today,” he said.

Donna Lagani, publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine, said her company was “thrilled” to contribute to the USO’s new effort. Cosmopolitan donated thousands of magazines to be included in the care packages.

“Our slogan at Cosmo is ‘Fun, Fearless, Female,’ and I can’t think of any more fearless females than the ones in the military serving on the front lines,” she said.

The care packages contained many items typical in care packages for servicemembers: hand wipes, sanitizer and food products, but also contained two cosmetic products courtesy of Maybelline.

Deborah Marquardt, vice president of marketing communications for Maybelline New York & Garnier, said even in a war zone, women like to be themselves.

"We want to support the brave women in uniform and we know how important the little things in life are -- beauty," she said. "Women intrinsically understand beauty and it can change their whole outlook to get a new lipstick or a mascara. Women like to feel like women no matter where they are and what context. I think anything that helps you feel like yourself and reminds you of back home and gives you confidence ... is important, no matter what the context."

Women make but about 15 percent of the active duty military, and about 18 percent of the National Guard and Reserve.

(Ian Graham is assigned to Defense Media Activity’s Emerging Media Directorate. C. Todd Lopez with Army News Service contributed to this report.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRep. Paul Tonko of New York joins Donna Kalajian Lagani, senior vice president and publishing director of Cosmopolitan magazine, as other volunteers stuff packages specifically for female troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill, Nov. 18, 2009, in Washington D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler.  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, holds up a USO care package specifically for female troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and USO President and CEO Sloan Gibson watch during a Congressional Stuffing Party on Capitol Hill, Nov. 18, 2009, in Washington D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler.  
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