A Look at Holidays Around the World with the USO

St. John's School, Guam National Junior Honor Society donated 12 beautiful Gingerbread Houses to the Guam USO. USO photo

St. John’s School, Guam National Junior Honor Society donated 12 Gingerbread Houses to USO Guam. USO photo

USO Guam

USO Guam invited all unaccompanied and single military members to join their annual “Home for the Holidays Christmas Drop In” on Christmas Day. There was a free holiday buffet available from 1100 to 1400.

USO Vicenza, Italy

Military children receive gifts from Santa at USO Vicenza, Italy.

Military children receive gifts from Santa at USO Vicenza, Italy. USO photo

More than 30 volunteers helped spread holiday cheer to over 250 troops and families at USO Vicenza, where they had a Santa’s area decorated with a chimney and stockings, a Christmas tree and even a 15-foot Snowman. Holiday music played as volunteers set up a bouncy castle, a holiday movie area and a coloring area for the kids. When Santa arrived, he gave gifts to more than 150 children as well as single troops and volunteers gifts and even offered to take pictures. At the conclusion of the event, attendees read letters from people all over the world thanking them for their service.

USO Kaiserslautern, Germany

Military families help themselves to holiday treats. USO photo

Military families help themselves to holiday treats provided by the USO. USO photo

On Tuesday, USO Ramstein provided free photos with Santa for 475 military children and their parents. Attendees were able to have their photo taken, print it out, put it in a card and even go online and download them. Best of all, Santa and his elves gave each child an age-appropriate gift after their picture was taken. The patrons had an assortment of cookies, drinks, popcorn, hot dogs with chili and cheese and hot cocoa. The elves assisted the children, the flow of traffic and serving the food and desserts. USO staff reported one family was so grateful that they teared up.

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USO Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan

Marines enjoy a Christmas meal at the Camp Courtney  USO in Okinawa, Japan. USO photo

Marines enjoy a Christmas meal at the Camp Courtney USO in Okinawa, Japan.

Volunteers came together to decorate the USO Camp Courtney center for their Holiday Around the World event on Dec. 10, with holiday trees, lights and other festive décor. The event was open to all DoD ID card holders, but largely focused on serving service members. The event offered holiday-themed games, movies,  music and food. Volunteers baked and cooked side dishes and desserts for the event, and a large portion of the food (turkey with all the fixings) was contributed by an anonymous donor. 

“Events like this are important because they allow service members to get together and have a good time during the holidays,” said 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Austin Stigall of California. “It helps with the morale of service members because not all of us are able to be with our loved ones during the holidays.”

USO Camp Walker, Korea

Expecting couples were able to gift their unborn children with a message of love at USO Camp Walker.

Expecting couples were able to gift their unborn children with a message of love at USO Camp Walker.

Expecting active duty mothers and fathers took advantage of the United Through Reading Military Program to record DVDs of themselves reading a book and heartfelt messages for their unborn children to watch as they grow up. Guests enjoyed popcorn, snacks, fruit and gifts. Special thanks to Disney for assisting with Christmas gifts for their new babies.

USO Hawaii

USO Hawaii centers offered new treats and givaways on each of the 12 Days of Christmas. USO photo

USO Hawaii centers offered new treats and givaways on each of the 12 Days of Christmas. USO photo

USO Hawaii celebrated the holidays with special treats, giveaways and activities in both their Hawaii Centers as they counted down the 12 Days of Christmas. Every day featured something different.

USO of North Carolina

The third annual Breakfast with Santa on Fort Bragg, North Carolina — presented by USAA — was a big hit for military families. The event was held at the Fort Bragg Club and featured family photos with Santa, Jingle Bell the Elf and barbershop-style entertainment by the Golf Capital Chorus from Pinehurst, North Carolina.

More than 350 family members attended and each family received a gift bag filled with children’s crafts, a recordable book, red, white and blue leis, a bag of candy, Christmas tree-shaped sunglasses for each child, gift cards to Texas Roadhouse, coloring books and several other items. A full breakfast buffet was available along with choice of beverages while the USO raffled off 13 bicycles with helmets, a family four-pack of tickets to Disney’s Frozen On Ice, Movie Night bags which included several children’s  DVDs, a sleeping bag, flashlight and microwave popcorn packets.

At the conclusion of the event, Santa joined the children in the ballroom and he read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The room was full of military families celebrating the holidays with the USO.

The room was full of military families celebrating the holidays with the USO.

Meanwhile, the USO of North Carolina’s Jacksonville center hosted “Breakfast with Gunny Claus” for the children of the Marines and sailors of Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River. Each child gets a stocking filled with goodies and a Christmas ornament, inscribed at 1st Reindeer Division, Marine Corps Base North Pole.

Children of Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River receive gifts from Gunny Claus. USO photo.

Children of Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River receive gifts from Gunny Claus. USO photo.

USO Fort Campbell, Kentucky

It’s Christmas Eve and if you need a little holiday cheer, stop by the USO. Santa’s helpers are there now, busy serving up cocoa, cookies and cupcakes to our soldiers!

Volunteers at USO Fort Campbell serve up holiday cheer on Christmas Eve. USO photo

Volunteers at USO Fort Campbell serve up holiday cheer on Christmas Eve. USO photo

The USO Holiday Gift Guide: Your Last Chance to Snag A Gift for Our Troops

DOD photo

It’s the season of giving.  And while we think everyone should treat themselves to a new sweater or gadget if they can, we do have one more holiday shopping suggestion. There’s a group of folks out there who protect our freedoms who can’t just decide to buy a plane ticket online and come home for the holidays. And for a little cash, you can give them a gift that can significantly benefit their lives.

Keeping Families Connected

The USO is a home away from home for deployed troops. But what gets lost in that phrase is the connection those troops get back to their families through our centers. Check out this video about a North Carolina couple who connected just in time for one of life’s most precious moments. This holiday season, it’s easy to support the USO’s efforts to keep troops downrange connected with phone calls home or online video connections back home from war zones.

Homecomings

The USO is also there for spouses back at home during deployment. Here is a story of how one spouse — who is also a USO volunteer — coped during her husband’s deployment in part by tapping into the USO community on Fort Drum, New York.

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USO2GO

Not every service member in the field has access to the basics, much less amenities to pass the time. That’s where USO2GO comes in. Service members like Army 1st Lt. Ben Lyman contact the USO directly from their forward operating base or combat outpost and put in an order to receive customized shipments of everything from furniture to snacks to sports equipment, TVs and even video games. You can donate toward great services like that here, or sponsor an entire shipment via USO Wishbook.

Families of the Fallen

Everyone reacts differently when the unthinkable happens. London Bell’s brother — Marine Staff. Sgt. Vincent Bell — died in Afghanistan in 2011. She was heading into what she thought would be a difficult holiday season in 2013 when the USO called, offering her a USO/TAPS getaway to New York City where she could bond with others who’d lost family a military family member.

“I started out on the journey as a lone traveler, but I left meeting several people who were really just like me,” Bell said. “It was a good way for me to bond.” It’s one of several ways the USO helps military families when they need us most.

The Hunt is On: $10,000 in Prizes Awaits the Military Family that Finds USO Colorado Springs’ Jingle Bell Rock

JingleBellRockPhil Martinez got up before dawn Friday, went over to Fort Carson, Colorado, and hid a rock. Whichever military family finds it is going to be about $10,000 in prizes richer.

USO Colorado Springs’ Jingle Bell Rock contest sends military families on the Colorado Springs base into a pre-holiday frenzy, as active duty troops and their immediate family members race their peers to find where Martinez stashed the painted piece of Earth. Martinez supplements their search by providing clues through his center’s Facebook page, website and at the USO center on Fort Carson. (HINT: There’s even an exclusive clue at the end of this story.)

There’s a lot on the line this year, too, including a $5,000 tennis bracelet, laptop computer, flat screen television, android tablet and four tickets to the Dec. 28 Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game and hundreds of dollars in gift cards to local stores.

“What’s great about it is it’s winner-take-all,” said Martinez, who is the director of USO Colorado Springs. “When I drive around [the base], you see little kids, families all bundled up looking for it together. I love that. It’s what it’s all about.”

Martinez says the contest has evolved over the years. The prize pool is up significantly from last year, when it was roughly $7,000 in gifts. He’s also seen collaboration come into play. After all, winner-take-all doesn’t mean you can’t team up.

“The first few years, everybody would hunt for it individually,” he said. “Now people are splitting up to look for it and pre-agreeing to split the prizes.”

Martinez says it normally takes between three and five days for the winners to combine enough clues to find the rock.

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The hefty prize pool is donated to the USO by local businesses as a way to say thank you to troops for their service. Martinez’s team puts the prizes together, comes up with a strategy to hide the rock and then springs it on the community in the days leading up to Christmas.

“Every year we try to make it bigger and better,” he said. “And with the help of our local partnerships out here with the business community, they are the ones who provide all the presents for our troops and their families.”

The full list of prizes includes:

  • $5,000 tennis bracelet courtesy of Gold Fingers Jewelry of Colorado Springs
  • 20” Mongoose bike courtesy of Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs/Denver 
  • 32” flat screen TV courtesy of Omni Financial
  • Acoustic guitar courtesy of MWR Fort Carson
  • Blu-ray DVD player courtesy of the USO
  • Nabi kids’ tablet courtesy of the USO
  • Assorted DVDs courtesy of Disney
  • Android tablet w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • Laptop computer w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • $500 in gift cards courtesy of the USO
  • Sony DSCW710 camera w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • Overnight stay and dinner for two at Hotel Elegante courtesy of Hotel Elegante
  • Marble top desk  courtesy of MWR Fort Carson
  • Two headsets courtesy of the Colorado Springs Airport
  • Colorado Rapids autographed soccer ball courtesy of Kroenke Sports in Denver
  • Papa John’s pizza for a year courtesy of Papa John’s Colorado Springs
  • Custom-made Disney gift basket courtesy of Disney
  • Four tickets to the Dec. 28 Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game courtesy of Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs

And finally, your clue:  Hunt day and night and keep a minimum speed, when you think you are close just look at the weeds.

Your USO at Work: December 2014 — Hunter Hayes Helping USO Make Every Moment Count

Country music star and USO tour veteran Hunter Hayes wasted no time making Every Moment Count for his fans at an Oct. 28 concert at Best Buy Theater in New York. USO photo

Country music star and USO tour veteran Hunter Hayes wasted no time making Every Moment Count for his fans at an Oct. 28 concert at Best Buy Theater in New York. USO photo by Matthew Ziegler

After Creating 11 Million Moments, USO Teams Up With
Country Star Hunter Hayes to Support More Troops and Families

Veterans Day marked the one-year anniversary of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, our national initiative to rally Americans to show their gratitude for the everyday moments that our troops and their families miss.

In the campaign’s first year, nearly 11 million special moments were created for our troops and their families across the world.

Hunter Hayes, a CMA Award-winning musician and four-time Grammy Award nominee, is helping the USO take Every Moment Counts to new heights in year two. Hayes, who partnered with the USO in September, created special moments for troops and their families at each of the 17 stops on his Tattoo (Your Name) Tour this fall.

“Every Moment Counts – I love those three words,” said Hayes, who also played USO shows for troops in Virginia and the United Kingdom. “I love that that’s what our current focus is. And the message is the fact that they give so much for us … we never want to take it for granted.”

Counting center visits, entertainment events and program activities, the USO creates about 30,000 moments for troops and their families each day, allowing the USO to create nearly 11 million moments a year.

Go to USO.org/donate today to help the USO create more moments for troops and their families.

Trace Adkins Rocks USO/PenFed Concert at Fort Hood

Country music star and nine-time USO tour veteran Trace Adkins teamed up with country music newcomer Casey James to perform for the Fort Hood, Texas, community at a free concert in November.

Trace Adkins performs for thousands of troops and their families at a concert at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 1. USO photo by Fred Greaves

Trace Adkins performs for thousands of troops and their families at a concert at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 1. USO photo by Fred Greaves

“It’s hard to explain what the feeling is like when you perform for the military audiences but, I’ve tried to tell people before that after you get off the stage you feel a little guilty because you feel like they gave you more than you gave them,” Adkins said. “It’s something that I’ve learned to deal with over the years but it’s never really gone away. It always feels like that.”

The concert, sponsored by the USO, Fort Hood MWR and Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), featured nearly three hours of star-studded entertainment at Fort Hood Stadium. PenFed donated $100,000 to the USO to help fund the costs of the concert.

James Schenck, president and CEO of Pentagon Federal Credit Union, said the show “was PenFed’s way of saying thank you to the service members who served and the families who support them.”

For Caregivers of Wounded Troops, Sharing Isn’t Always Easy

When Virginia Peacock’s husband, David, meets another wounded combat veteran, he asks them where they were medevaced from because he might have been the combat flight medic taking care of them.

Now, Virginia’s the one taking care of David.

Virginia Peacock laughs during a presentation at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina, last month. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Virginia Peacock laughs during a presentation at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina, last month. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Peacock led a breakout session at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she and other caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members swapped experiences in November. Peacock, who advocates for caregivers’ rights and recognition, reminded her peers how powerful sharing stories can be.

“The one thing that we are all really bad at is telling our own story,” she said.

The latest chapter in Peacock’s story is in its seventh year. As a registered nurse, she had a career she loved when David was injured on his 11th deployment. His severe shoulder problems were the only aliments that stood out at first. After a while, invisible wounds started surfacing, too.

Virginia tried to keep home life status quo, continuing her full-time nursing career while also caring for a wounded husband and a young son. But with so many new challenges, her own cloud of depression set in.

She left that job and started rebuilding her family life. Now in a much better place – and back to work as a pediatric nurse – she is sharing resiliency lessons with other caregivers and raising awareness for their cause. Additionally, Peacock teaches caregivers how to share their stories effectively.

“You’ve got to find your person who gets it [to share your stories with],” she said.

USO/Project Sanctuary Retreat Helps Couple Find New Ways to Deal with PTSD

Conrad DeGrace knew something wasn’t right. It just took him a long time to make the connection.

Earlier this year, DeGrace and his wife, Trish, sat on a deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and candidly discussed the repercussions of Conrad’s post-traumatic stress and major depressive disorders. The invisible wounds drove him to the brink of suicide during his 2007-08 Iraq deployment.

The issues led to his medical retirement from the Army, but they didn’t subside after his reintegration into civilian life. The DeGraces have since turned to programs including the USO/Project Sanctuary retreat that helped them reach a better understanding of how his post-deployment issues affect their daily lives.

“I always thought of myself as a very strong person,” said Trish, who acts as Conrad’s caregiver. “And no matter what I did, it wasn’t about what I was doing, or how much I loved him, it was about ‘I can’t connect with him the way he needs to be connected.’”

Through a USO grant, the DeGraces attended a USO/Project Sanctuary retreat last year in Colorado. There, they and other military couples attended programs, sought out counseling and unplugged from the stresses of everyday life in order to discover new approaches to their post-deployment realities.

BNSF Wants to Match Your Donation to the USO

BNSF Railway Foundation has made it easy to double your donation to the USO this holiday season.

BNSFThe company, one of our valued President’s Circle partners, is offering to match every donation to the USO, dollar-for-dollar, up to $250,000. The opportunity to make your gift go twice as far to support our troops is exceptional. With your help, we can ensure every penny of your gift is used to support our troops and their families.

Our troops count on the USO and we’re counting on you. Donate today and your tax-deductible holiday gift to the troops will be matched by BNSF.

Visit Bass Pro Shops and Support the USO at the Same Time

Bass Pro Shops, the leading retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor equipment, is once again showing its support for men and women in uniform.

BassFrom Veterans Day to Dec. 31, Bass Pro Shops stores throughout the U.S. will offer customers an opportunity to donate $1, $3 or $5 to the USO at checkout.

“For many of our troops serving far from home, it’s the small moments they miss most,” said USO Vice President of Corporate Alliances Christy Hartsell. “Customer donations at Bass Pro Shops will support our USO2GO program, which allows us to give the comforts of home to troops in remote areas.

“We’re grateful to committed partners like Bass Pro Shops who help support our nation’s military community and show them genuine appreciation for their service.”

Support the USO by visiting your nearest Bass Pro Shops and donating at checkout before time runs out!

Retired Soldier Helps USO Fulfill its Mission in Italy

For retired Army Sgt. Maj. Glenn Gibbs, the joy he found in selflessly serving his country followed him into his career with the USO.

USO Vicenza Center Manager Glenn Gibbs uses his position to help troops take advantage othe USO’s services and programs. Courtesy photo

USO Vicenza Center Manager Glenn Gibbs uses his position to help troops take advantage of the USO’s services and programs. Courtesy photo

“The USO is successful because of what we do, not me do,” said Gibbs, a North Carolina native. “With the countless volunteers and numerous volunteer hours, we are able to touch the hearts of service members and their families worldwide.”

His USO career was ignited through volunteer work as a handyman for the local center in Vicenza, Italy. In 2009, Gibbs just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

“I happened to be there the evening the USO Europe regional vice president was there and he asked if I was interested in a job,” Gibbs said. “The paperwork was started that evening.”

As a soldier for more than 31 years, he had never used the USO or its resources. Now as center manager, he is using his position to help current service members take advantage of the amenities the USO provides.

“I make a conscious effort to educate the patrons that come through the center on all the USO does for service members worldwide,” he said. “I like to believe I am a breathing example of the USO’s values.”

Today Only: A Chance to Double Your Gift to Troops

It’s a simple proposition to you from one of the USO’s biggest donors. And it expires at midnight.

BNSFThe BNSF Railway Foundation is offering to match any cash gift made by USO donors up to a total of $250,000. That means anything from the minimum gift of $5 and up will be doubled, with the money going toward USO programs and services that help American troops around the world.

This isn’t the first time BNSF Railway Foundation has stepped up for America’s troops. On July 24, they made a first-of-its-kind pledge to support USO Warrior and Family Care employment programs. Their pledge commits $3 million over the next three years to fund a portion USO programs designed to assist transitioning troops – including those who are wounded, ill or injured – as they re-enter the civilian workforce.

Check out the video from this USO/Hire Heroes USA Career Opportunity Day where BNSF representatives were on hand to talk about their commitment.