A Wish to Last the Year

Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella and USO President Sloan Gibson

When the USO launched its latest initiative, the USO Wishbook, we knew that getting the word out to the American public would be key. And with the holidays just around the corner what better time to debut the initiative than now, giving holiday shoppers a reprieve from crowded malls and relieving them from having to answer the age-old question of “What do you get the person who has it all?”

With gifts ranging from $15 to $5,000 the USO Wishbook – an alternative giving website that solely supports U.S. troops and their families – really does have a gift that can fit every budget. So, how do we get the word out to those looking to deliver some goodness and a touch of home to troops? We teamed up with long-time partner the Miss Universe Organization and headed to New York, where Miss USA 2011 Alyssa Campanella and USO President Sloan Gibson participated in a four-hour satellite media tour with 27 media outlets. When asked about her support of the USO and the USO Wishbook Campanella replied:

“For me its personal, I had a grandfather who served in the Navy and one of my best friends served in Afghanistan in the Marines. I know how my grandfather or best friend would have felt to receive these wonderful gifts. Especially for the holiday season.”

And with more than 6,000 gifts purchased since its Nov. 15th launch, the USO Wishbook is definitely hitting home with military supporters and holiday shoppers, and there are still stories to tell. Like that of Senior Airmen Gabriel Time, who was able to witness the birth of his first child via Skype at a USO center in Kandahar, Afghanistan, or that of CPT Peter Hufman, who was able to stay connected during his deployment with his 4 children, including one-month-old son Isaac, by reading them their favorite bedtime stories. It’s through purchases in support of “Tech to Connect” and “Bedtime Stories,” among the many other gifts available through the USO Wishbook, that the USO is able to continue creating moments like these for our troops and their families.

“We are going to keep the USO Wishbook up all year long,” said USO President Sloan Gibson. “And we will be constantly adding and changing items based on the things that we know troops and their family members appreciate.”

Devoted to building awareness of USO Wishbook, Campanella will once again team up with the USO and this Sunday, Dec. 18, she will join USO Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Frank Thorp on Fox & Friends. Tune in at 6:30 am (EST) to learn more about how the USO and the USO Wishbook are making a difference in the lives of today’s troops and military families and help us spread the word. – Sharee Posey, USO Media Specialist

Project USO Elf Delivers Holiday Gifts to Enlisted Families

Army SSG Shafonda Gore literally jumped with joy the moment she was unexpectedly handed two iPod Touch devices last night a Fort Belvoir, Va., in addition to a pile of gifts specifically purchased for her two young boys.

Corporate sponsors Ratheon, Microsoft, and ATK donated 150 bicycles to military families during Project USO Elf, Dec. 15, 2011, at Ft. Belvoir, Va. Several volunteers from each corporation also came out to help assemble the bicycles and deliver gifts.

“Are you serious?” she said as she suspiciously looked back and forth over her shoulders.

“A gift from us, for your service,” said Ashley Vanarsdall Burke, vice president of communications for DynCorp International, as she delivered the two devices, together with chargers and cases to the 17-year veteran currently undergoing treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress at Fort Belvoir.

Project USO Elf is a unique holiday gift program, run by USO of Metropolitan Washington, that matches wish lists from the children of junior enlisted, active duty families with local sponsors in the community, including corporations, organizations, families and individuals.

Employee volunteers from Raytheon, Microsoft, TASK, Inc., Lockheed Martin, ATK and The Boeing Company teamed up with the USO to build bicycles for 1,600 local military children, and last night, the finished bikes and other gifts were hand delivered to military families.

“This is such a great program,” said Burke, who enjoyed watching the reaction of unsuspecting parents when she added the iPod Touch devices to their haul. “To see the smile on their faces was just so rewarding. These families deserve all the help we can give to them right now, and I am so glad we could do any little thing to help during a tough time.

Ashley Vanarsdall Burke (right), vice president of communications for DynCorp International, adds an iPod Touch (one of 1,600 donated by DynCorp) to a pile of presents, fulfilling the holiday wish lists of junior enlisted troops at Fort Belvoir, Va

“Our company [DynCorp International] is 65 percent veterans, so anywhere we can reach back out to the military community and make a difference, we are there,” she added. When the USO called and told me how many children they had registered for the program, the stars must have been aligned, because at the same moment I had an overstock of exactly 1,600 iPod Touch devices. The USO is a great organization and programs like this are truly making an impact. We’re proud to be a part of it.”

Warren Stewart, program manager for military intelligence with Microsoft, helped build 50 bicycles last month at Fort Belvoir, and was also on hand last night to help with the heavy lifting.

“If building the bikes wasn’t rewarding enough, being here to personally give them to military families was over the top,” said Stewart. “I’m prior service myself, so giving back through the USO is a no-brainer. They’ve got my number, and I’m here to help with anything – anytime they call.”

Jodie Silverlock, an instructor with Lockheed Martin, has volunteered for years with her son, stuffing care packages with USO of Metropolitan Washington.

“Now he’s stationed in Afghanistan,” she said, “and we’re sending care packages to him,” said Silverlock. “Five years ago I would have never imagined, but here we are, and I’m so proud to volunteer for the USO.”

As holiday music echoed through the warehouse, cookies were passed around, and USO volunteers sorted through piles of red bags with smiles on their faces, individually calling out the names of families who had registered with the program.

“Holidays are especially important for military families who often experience extended separations,” said Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington. “The continued generosity of the community makes it possible for USO-Metro to serve the troops and their families, and we are truly grateful for the support and generous donations from our corporate partners and individuals in our local community.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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The 12 Days of USO Wishbook

It’s that time of year: the holidays have descended upon us! Many of us have no trouble getting into the festive mood, as coffee shops relentlessly play their $20 holiday CDs, houses compete to be seen from space and tempting treats seem to pop up everywhere. But for some, family and loved ones are far away. Their surroundings are unfamiliar and certainly don’t evoke feelings of holiday warmth. Here at the USO, there is one thing we think everyone should put on their wishlists: The Troops. For the next 12 days we’ll feature some of the best-selling gifts found in the USO Wishbook! A perfect present for anyone on your list, help us lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families for the holidays!

On the twelfth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

A Phone Call Home!
Our troops make remarkable sacrifices every day like being far from their family and friends. You can make sure they stay connected through our $25 package which gives them the phone cards and technology needed to hear a loved one’s voice.

On the eleventh day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

A Deployment Kit!
Full of snacks, toiletries, phone cards to call home and more, this deployment kit for $15 will mean so much to a new service man or woman and help make sure they are taken care of right from the very beginning of their service.

On the tenth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Stock the Movie Library!
Imagine the relief our troops feel entering a USO center, and settling in to watch one of their favorite movies. For just $25 you can make that possible by sending a great collection of DVDs to our troops  — from the latest blockbusters to movies they’ve specifically requested.

On the ninth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Welcome a Hero Home!
After deployment, our troops’ long flight home is grueling. For $25 you’ll be helping the USO decorate and celebrate our troops as they return home with welcome banners and streamers – making sure they know as soon as they step off the plane how much their service means to us.

On the eighth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Pocket-Sized Photo Memories!
This pocket-sized album was designed specially for our troops to fit in their cargo pants. It’s sent home first where their families can fill it and then sent to the frontlines. For $25, our troops can keep precious memories with them and look at it all the time!

On the seventh day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Bedtime Stories!
The hardest hit members of a military family are often the youngest. For $50 you can help by giving our service men and women the chance to read them a bedtime story through United Through Reading’s Military Program, record it on DVD and send it back home.

On the sixth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Family Fun Day!
Our military families go through lots of hardships during their service. But at USO centers, they have a chance to relax and have some fun together. For $50 you can make a Family Fun Day at a center possible and give a little something back for all their sacrifice.

On the fifth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

A Bridge Back Home!
Our troops make remarkable sacrifices for our freedom – including being far from home for long periods of time. For $25 you can help be a bridge back home by providing phone cards and other tools they need to stay connected.

On the fourth day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Game Night!
Full of the board games that our troops have specifically asked for, this package is sure to make for a fun and relaxing game night. Make it a great time by sending this special care package for $25 today.

On the third day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

Growing Up Brave!
Deployment can be a challenging and confusing time for a child. This $25 kit gives them the tools they need to help cope with this challenge and keep them happy and healthy. It includes a coloring book, a specially-made DVD to answer the questions they often have and a journal.

On the second day of USO Wishbook, my true love gave to me…

A World of Words!
A good book is a well deserved break and distraction for our troops. For just $15 you can add a book to the library in centers and bases all over the world – making sure that no matter where our troops are, they have a good book close at hand.

On the first day of USO Wishbook my true love gave to me…

A Comfort Food Package!
By sending comfort foods and beverages, you’ll help send some much needed relief to our troops. The assortment can include crackers, cookies, coffee, sports beverages and many more items that keep our troops going for just $15!

Find all these gifts and more at the USO Wishbook!

You Make the Call

So many of our troops are about to spend another holiday season thousands of miles from home. But thanks to the USO, you and I have the opportunity to make sure our troops and their families stay connected this holiday season.

That’s why I’m thrilled to kick off the USO’s 10 Million Minutes initiative.

The Goal: Provide 10 Million Minutes of talk time that our troops serving far away from home can use to connect with their loved ones.

The Deadline: Hit our 10 Million Minutes goal by December 20th, so that our troops can reach their loved ones when it matters most.

Every dollar you donate can make a 20-minute phone call home possible. A gift of $10 can provide 200 minutes of talk time. A $20 gift can connect our troops with friends and family back home for 400 minutes

I’ve toured with the USO to entertain our troops in Afghanistan, Germany, Kosovo, Iraq and Kuwait. I know how much hearing the sound of a loved one’s voice means to the men and women serving so far away from home over the holidays.

Just picture a young American serving at a remote outpost in Afghanistan. Imagine the joy and comfort that would come with a holiday phone call home. And imagine how good you’ll feel knowing that you helped to make that call possible.

Multiply those feelings tens of thousands of times and you’ve got a picture of how strong an impact the USO’s 10 Million Minutes initiative can have for our troops and their families.

Donate now. Help get our 10 Million Minutes effort off to a strong start.

This is a big assignment — and it’s going to take all of us chipping in to help make this a success. And it will especially mean so much to our troops during this holiday season. I know we can hit our goal.

Thanks for being a part of this wonderful initiative.

Happy Holidays,

Kellie Pickler