Image of the Day

Tour participants board a plane in preparation for the annual USO holiday tour, led by Chairman of the the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Those joining the Chairman in bringing a touch of home to service members this holiday season are, comedian Dave Attell, world-renown tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, multi-platinum recording artist Billy Ray Cyrus and tennis player Anna Kournikova. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Ride2Recovery Rolls into Florida

Ride2Recovery is a program that was created to benefit mental and physical rehabilitation programs for wounded veterans, the core activity of which is cycling.  Much of this takes place in the form of large groups rides throughout the country, building camaraderie and positive memories as they bike over the miles and miles of pavement.  This year has seen multiple tours and so many great participants.  We’d like to share a few of the moments with you…

Block Leave – It’s a Good Thing

As many Troops prepare for holiday leave this time of year, USO Centers around the country gearing up to handle the influx of traffic through our airports and other locations. It can be a challenge making sure everyone received the best care the USO can provide, but our staff and volunteers relish the opportunity to meet and greet even more Troops than usual.

We’re pulling together the best coverage of Block Leave here and hope you’ll share your experience, too. We’ll keep you posted as new stories unfold!

UPDATE! Check out video from the Charlotte USO.  Those leather recliners look cozy…

Ft. Jackson soldiers prepare for Mass Exodus.

From Fox affiliate WACH: “Soldiers at Fort Jackson are getting ready to head out on a two-week leave for the holidays. Block leave is like orderly chaos at Fort Jackson. Its also a big day for the USO Director Joanie Thresher, who is trying to make their journey as smooth as possible.

“We will have roughly 1200 troops coming through the airport from Fort Jackson. We will be handing out water, coffee, sodas, we have many are businesses that have donated items to give the troops, to say thank you for the service that you do.” The soldiers will have a break until the first week in January.

From NBC affiliate WCNC: On Thursday more than 1,500 Fort Jackson Soldiers will come through Charlotte-Douglas International Airport as they make their way home for the holidays. It is part of Operation Victory Block Leave. The troops in Army basic training and military personnel assigned to the base will be going home for their two-week leave for the holidays.

Some of them will be boarding airplanes for the first time. It will be a busy day for the USO at Charlotte-Douglas. Soldiers can take advantage of their facilities and they’ll serve the soldiers breakfast. For the USO, though, taking care of the troops is a 365 day a year job. They serve 9,000 service members every month for free. They need donations to help keep their mission going.  For more information on how you can help the USO at Charlotte-Douglas this holiday, call them at 704-359-5581 or donate online here.

From CBS affiliate WBTV: Thousands of soldiers from Fort Jackson, South Carolina are heading home for the holidays today.  A large group of 1,500 soldiers are flying out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.  It’s called Operation Victory Block Leave. USO volunteers will be on hand to help the soldiers make their way through security, ticket counters and airport concourses. The USO is also preparing a breakfast for the soldiers.

“It’s that time of year that the major army bases and military bases around the United States close down during the holidays and let the troops go on home on vacation or what we call leave,” said John Falkenbury of the USO of Charlotte. “They’re taken care of at the USO North Carolina Center and then get on their way and get home to their loved ones.”

Other soldiers from Fort Jackson are flying out of Atlanta and Columbia.  So, if you’re headed to the airport this morning, shake a hand of one of the troops down here and thank them for their service.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Celebrity Entertainment

With multiple entertainment tours out, we’re reminded why we do what we do.  Even though entertainment is about 20 percent of our mission, it’s a very visible way to let troops and families know someone back here cares about service members serving far from home – especially at the holidays.

So, hats off to Anna Kournikova, Billy Ray Cyrus, Dave Attell, Mark Wills, Keni Thomas, Sheryl Underwood, Leeann Tweeden, members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and the U.S. Army Band (Downrange) for traveling to Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Germany this month.  Thanks, too to Admiral Michael Mullen and Sgt Major of the Army Ken Preston for continuing their tradition of taking these celebrities overseas.

I don’t want to leave out country artist (and Army Airborne veteran) Craig Morgan for visiting troops on Guam (hey, if you haven’t been stationed there, you don’t know how lonely that island can be) and to other members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders for heading out on their annual Christmas tour of Korea.

Remember, folks, these performers don’t have to do this.  They volunteer to give up time with their families and this most family-centered time of year to do something bigger than themselves.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year.