By Mr. Kevin Downey (IMCOM)September 17, 2009
CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium-Elmo's dad is downrange again, a shared reality for children of both U.S. and international Servicemembers in the Benelux community as NATO allies continue engagements in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Lovable Sesame Street® Muppets Grover, Cookie Monster, Zoe and Rosita, joined Elmo on ChiAfA..vres Air Base Sept. 13 to support U.S. and NATO military families, experiencing the effects of long or multiple deployments or combat-related stress symptoms and injuries.
The show was open to all SHAPE ID cardholders, allowing the international community a first-hand account of award-winning American educational entertainment for children geared toward common military experiences.
"It's a sunny day today, but sometimes Elmo has a not-so-sunny day, like when Daddy has to go away," the bright red, furry Muppet said while facing the mesmerized young audience.
"Do you ever feel sad when you miss your mommy or your daddy'" he asked.
It's a part of life to which many children of military families from any nation can relate, said Lynne Chwatsky, senior director of Sesame Workshop®, the nonprofit organization behind Sesame Street®.
"We want to support our military children all over the world," she said. "Sesame knows that it's not just the Servicemember who serves. The entire family serves, and we want to provide support to the entire family."
The Sesame Street® USO Experience for Military Families is touring 20 U.S. military installations in the U.K., Europe, Hawaii and Alaska September through mid-December. The United Service Organization tour is part of Sesame Workshop's® "Talk, Listen, Connect" initiative, an outreach program for military families with young children between the ages of two and five.
Tuncer Tekin, a member of the Turkish Air Force equivalent in rank to a U.S. senior master sergeant, said Muppets like Elmo had helped his children stay busy during his deployments to Kosovo and Italy.
"It helps my children when I'm away," the SHAPE Club night manager said. "It takes their mind off long absences and helps them deal with the separation."
Sesame Street® organizers aim for children to relate with Elmo's emotions and cope with those feelings in a similar fashion, Chwatsky said. During the performance, three-year-old Elmo shares his personal experience with the audience.
"Elmo was very scared, worried and upset when his daddy had to go away for a long time for an important job," Chwatsky explained. "He didn't know what to say to his daddy or how to act. However, thanks to talking with his friends on Sesame Street®, and his mommy and daddy, Elmo felt a lot better and realized that he can still stay connected to his daddy even when he's so far away.
"It is Sesame Street's® hope that children will identify with Elmo's emotions," she continued, "yet model this behavior of talking with their parents about their feelings and coming up with strategies for staying connected through challenging times including long times apart."
Slovenian Soldiers Marko Pintar and his wife Natasha brought their 2 year-old daughter Mia to see Elmo and the gang perform live, after months of watching Elmo on the video sharing Web site youtube.com. Both husband and wife are assigned to SHAPE and are equivalent to the U.S. rank of sergeant first class.
"Elmo is famous in Slovenia," said Marko, who deployed to Bosnia last year. "We normally watch him on YouTube to learn English, and her ABC's. It's good entertainment for kids, it makes them think for themselves and keeps them engaged. I am grateful for her to have this opportunity to see Elmo in person."
U.S. Army Sgt. Jeffery Gunderson took his two children - five-year-old Kristina and two-year-old Nathan - to the performance because of his own childhood memories of the show.
"I grew-up on Sesame Street® and I wanted the same for my children," Gunderson said. "It's quality entertainment for children, and I wanted my children to see the live performance."
Pierpaolo Corbi, an Italian military policeman on SHAPE, also wanted his 21-month-old son who shares his name to see the lively dance routines and familiar songs of the gang from 123 Sesame Street®, which he said is highly regarded in his home country.
"The show is very attractive to kids and gets them interacting with the performance," he said. "It's easy to see this program is very good to help children deal with normal military life."
He said he brought his son to the performance just to have fun with Elmo and the other military children on a U.S. installation.
"Sesame Workshop® is proud of its ongoing commitment to serving the needs of military families, and we are thrilled to partner with our good friends at the USO to bring Elmo and all of his friends to military families overseas," said Gary E. Knell, Sesame Workshop's® president and chief executive officer. "This is our humble way of saying thank you to all the moms and dads in our armed forces for their commitment to all of us."
After a frenzy near the front row, caused by the Sesame Street® gang doling out hugs to the children in the audience, Elmo said goodbye to the children by reminding them how proud he is when each child contributes to the overall wellbeing of the family.
"Elmo is proud of you and thanks you for all that you do for Elmo, his family and his friends on Sesame Street®," he said.
"Elmo loves you," he said in his signature high-pitched garble, repeating a phrase so familiar to American families.
2009 TOUR SCHEDULE
RAF Mildenhall - United Kingdom - Sep 8 - 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.
RAF Lakenheath - United Kingdom - Sep 10 - 10:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
USAG Benelux - Belgium - Sep 13 - 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Spangdahlem AB - Germany - Sep 16 - 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
USAG Kaiserslautern - Germany - Sep 20 - 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m.
Ramstein AB - Germany - Sep 23 - 1:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
USAG Wiesbaden - Germany - Sep 25 - 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
USAG Mannheim - Germany - Sep 27 - 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
USAG Heidelberg - Germany - Sep 30 - 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
USAG Stuttgart - Germany - Oct 2 - 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
USAG Grafenwoehr - Germany - Oct 4 - 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Aviano AB - Italy - Oct 7 - 9:30 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
USAG Vicenza - Italy - Oct 8 - 3:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
NSA Naples - Italy - Oct 14 - 6:00 p.m. and Oct. 15 - 9:00 a.m.
USAG Livorno - Italy - Oct 17 or 18 - Time TBD
NS Rota - Spain - Oct 24 - 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Eielson AFB - Alaska - Nov 28 or 29 - Time TBD
Elmendorf AFB - Alaska - Dec 2 - Time TBD
MCB Hawaii - Hawaii - Dec 9 - 6:30 p.m.
Hickam AFB - Hawaii - Dec 13 - 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Tour dates and times are subject to change. Visit www.uso.org or www.sesamestreet.org/tlc for tour updates.