By Connie Storch, Fort Wainwright PAOApril 29, 2011
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Several thousand military family members enjoyed carnival games, prizes, and the music, songs and dances by Muppets of the Sesame Street USO Experience Saturday, courtesy of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the United Service Organization and their sponsors.
The post's fitness center was transformed for the Month of the Military Child Carnival and the Sesame Street USO Experience, a show featuring powerful messages and tips for military families through dialog and songs performed by Grover, Cookie Monster, Elmo and other Muppets.
This year a new Sesame Street character was introduced during the show.
The newest character is a young military family member, Katie. Her family is going through some changes as they move to a new place. The show introduces topics of relationships and making connections.
"I liked how it was for little kids and military familes" said Iman Allen, a young military family member. Sporting the red, white and blue USO bandana provided to all who attended the show, her sister Isis said, "I liked how they talked about moving so (children) can understand what it's like to move."
Fort Wainwright families and Soldiers had the unique opportunity to see the show first as it was kicked off in Interior Alaska. The USO tour will go on to Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson before departing Alaska.
This season, the Muppet crew will bring the show to 10 countries and will be performed 140 times, Megan Brown, FMWR's special events coordinator said.
FMWR Director MJ Lohrenz said the opportunity to host the show was too good to pass up. Because Alaska is separated from the continental U.S. but not 'overseas,' entertainment opportunities are rare for the Army in Alaska. "So we jumped at the chance," Lohrenz said. She noted the family-centered show was well-timed as thousands of U.S. Army Alaska Soldiers are deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, or are already deployed.
Since 2008 the USO Sesame Street Experience has helped families deal with the challenges of deployments and homecomings. According to the USO website, the tour brought its message to more than 192,600 troops and military families and performed 315 shows on 90 military bases in 33 different states and nine countries. Additionally, the tour has logged more than 61,200 miles and distributed more than 1,455,000 giveaways.
The USO's Sesame Street Tour and related Talk, Listen, Connect themes have been available to military families for years, but this year the tour offers something new - a new Muppet character and a new message for military families.
"The show couldn't have come at a better time with so many of our families going through the deployment process right now," Brown said. The cooperation among directorates and volunteers from "all over," helped make the day a success.
The crew of 60 FMWR staff and volunteers assisted with the show and ran the carnival.
Throughout the fitness center, outdoors and in the racquetball courts, carnival games and activities for children filled the space. Above the frenetic carnival action, on the second floor running track, the 9th Army Band's Jazz Combo provided light, toe-tapping music to complete the sensory experience for face-painted, prize-laden carnival-goers who moved from mascots like McGruff the Crime Dog and Sparky the Fire Dog to craft-making to games like duck pond fishing, all free-of-charge to military families.
"The show was absolutely brilliant for our Soldiers and their families," Brown said. "Every show was unique with the excitement levels of the crowd," she said of the three shows performed in a single day.
And the high point'
"Listening to the cheers of the children when Elmo made the initial appearance-what a thrill."