Your USO at Work: October 2015 — 8 Ways the USO Connects Troops To Home


Here’s How the USO Keeps Service Members Connected to the People and Places They Love

From the moment they step into boot camp to the time they transition back to civilian life, troops rely on the USO to help them stay connected to their friends and family. Here are eight ways the USO does it.

1. Getting troops online: Free Internet access is one of the most popular services at USO centers today. While some USO centers offer computers for troops to use, nearly all of them offer free Wi-Fi for people who bring their own devices. Even our Mobile USO units are Wi-Fi enabled so troops serving in remote locations can get online.

2. Skyping into the delivery room: Did you know that the USO helps expecting military dads Skype into the delivery room for their baby’s birth, even if they’re abroad? Marine Capt. Nick Whitefield used this USO service when his wife Laura delivered the couple’s second child, Ethan Whitefield, via a USO-provided Skype connection at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.

3. Free phone calls home: In 2003, the USO launched Operation Phone Home to provide troops with free phone cards so they can call their loved ones at no cost – even when they’re in remote locations. Some USO centers abroad also offer troops access to a private phone network so they can call home on a safe, secure and reliable line inside the center.

4. Keeping story time alive: Thanks to the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading, deployed troops can record themselves reading a children’s book at a USO center and send the DVD recording back home for their kids to watch and digitally connect with them in their absence.

5. Giving the gift of gaming: Video games are one of our younger service members’ favorite ways to unwind. That’s why most USO centers have gaming stations featuring popular video games like “Call of Duty” and “Halo.” At some centers, service members can even play the games against friends and family around the globe online in real time.

But troops aren’t always stationed near brick-and-mortar USO centers. With that in mind, the USO developed the Mobile Entertainment Gaming System (MEGS) so service members can enjoy video games no matter their location.

6. Serving up comfort foods from home: Sometimes all it takes to make service members feel connected to home is a taste of their favorite foods. That’s why USO patrons can always find a variety of snack, drink and meal options at centers around the world. Some centers, like USO Great Lakes, provide free, home-cooked meals for troops, while others, like many Southwest Asia centers, always seem to be churning out comforting sweet treats like homemade ice cream.

7. Bringing the holidays to troops abroad: Being deployed during a special holiday can make troops feel even further from home. That’s why many USO centers host a number of special parties and events around those red calendar days.

8. Welcoming troops home: Even though a homecoming is already a joyful occasion for military families, the USO has a history of stepping in to make the day even more memorable. From helping arriving troops freshen up before reuniting with their loved ones to coordinating surprise homecomings, the USO there to celebrate military families finally reconnecting after a long deployment apart.

Visit to help keep America’s military members connected to the comforts of home.

USO and SiriusXM Bring ‘The Highway’ to Troops in Alaska

Storme Warren took his SiriusXM show and fellow USO tour veterans Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers with him on the road to Alaska.

Usually a host on The Highway, SiriusXM’s flagship channel for new country music, Warren emceed USO concerts at Eielson Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak during the weeklong tour. He also broadcasted exclusive behind-the-scenes commentary from the military installations on The Highway.

“My goal in putting together this year’s trip to Alaska was to not only lift the spirits of troops and their families, but also bring that rich USO experience directly to our SiriusXM listeners in hopes of shedding light [on] the important work our troops and military families do for us back home,” Warren said.

The Swon Brothers and Atkins welcomed the opportunity to express their gratitude. “The sacrifices our service men and women in uniform make for us each and every day are great and anything we can do to say ‘thank you’ or show our appreciation, we are there,” Zach Swon said.

USO Expands its Mission to Military Entrance Processing Stations

A recruit’s first few days in the military can be tedious.

From the moment they enter the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), most recruits sit through aptitude testing, medical screening and job selection that sets the path for their military careers. Between these steps, there’s little to do but sit around or read. It’s a day begging for a distraction, so the USO is providing some entertainment to break the monotony.

Recruits starting their military journeys take advantage of the amenities offered at the USO center inside the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Station. USO photo

Recruits starting their military journeys take advantage of the amenities offered at the USO center inside the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Station. USO photo

The USO is opening new centers inside several MEPS around the United States in 2015. It’s part of the organization’s commitment to support service members and their families through their military careers. These new centers, which will feature entertainment like televisions, video games, snacks and support services, are aimed at comforting recruits and their families during the entrance process. They also introduce recruits and families to the services the USO offers.

The USO plans to open centers inside eight MEPS this year in addition to the six that are already serving new recruits in Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee and Fort Lee, Virginia.

The USO and RP/6 are Showing Transitioning Troops the Way Forward 

Even the most experienced soldier can use a hand when leaving the Army.

“After 28 years I was certain that I had this whole thing down,” said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Lee Baleme, now an RP/6 Fellow. “It was an eye-opening experience to think that I was going to make that transition — smoothly — and then realize that I wasn’t.”

RP/6, part of the new USO Transition 360 Alliance, connects service members and their families with resources and organizations in their community that support their transition. This approach incorporates several USO Transition 360 Alliance partners (including Hire Heroes USAStronger Families and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids) in an effort to cover both the personal and professional issues military families face when moving to the civilian world.

The USO plans to incorporate RP/6 services at some of its stateside locations in the near future.

“[Veterans and transitioning military] can come [to RP/6] and find that person [who] will point them in the direction of the resources that they need,” Baleme said. “From housing issues to employment, school and even family issues, transition from active duty to the civilian has never been an easy nut to crack and I think RP/6 found a great partner in the USO.”

Belgard Hardscapes’ Campaign Helps Welcome Troops Home

Belgard Hardscapes knows what it means to make a house a home, and through its new partnership with the USO, the company is extending a warm message of gratitude and appreciation to service members across the country.

BELGARD-LOGOThe company’s Welcome Home giving initiative runs through Veterans Day and it’s your chance to support our military and beautify your home at the same time. From now until Nov. 11, Belgard, a leading provider of interlocking pavers, paving stone and wall products, will donate $100 to the USO for every patio, driveway or walkway installed. The company aims to provide up to $150,000 in both financial donations and in-kind services to the USO.

“To those who put their lives on the line to defend our country, and the family members who sacrifice so much in their absence, we want to express our sincerest thank you,” said Jackie Paulsen, marketing director of Belgard Hardscapes.

Visit to learn more about Belgard’s Welcome Home initiative.

USO Center in Kuwait Desert is an Oasis for Deployed Troops

Lisa Choi started working at the USO in 2011, but that wasn’t her introduction to the organization. Choi, now a duty manager at USO Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, was a USO volunteer before signing on full time.

Lisa Choi, a duty manager at USO Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, said her role at the center helped her become a “jack of all trades.” USO photo

Lisa Choi, a duty manager at USO Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, said her role at the center helped her become a “jack of all trades.” USO photo

“I enjoyed helping out with the special events and programs [as a volunteer.] So when a job opportunity came up, I applied,” she said. “The job seemed like an interesting opportunity to [support] troops while experiencing the fruits of my labor directly and immediately.”

Choi, who grew up in a military family and lived in South Korea and Japan as a child, said the well-rounded work environment is the most enjoyable part of her job.

“You are constantly on your feet and interacting with people, she said. “Throughout all those interactions, you learn a little bit about everything and instantly become a jack of all trades.”

She’s also worked at USO Camp Walker near Daegu, South Korea, a city of 2.5 million. By comparison, the USO center on Camp Arifjan is an oasis in the middle of the desert. There are virtually no off-base entertainment options for service members, so the center is a hub of activity and social interaction.

“Many troops cannot leave base here,” she said. “The USO center is the main place where people come to kick back and relax.” The isolated-but-busy center allows service members to let loose in an environment where everyone is connected by service and separation from the people and places they love most.

“We offer a large variety of programs at Camp Arifjan and you’ll notice that military members here are more willing to partake in activities or programs that may be a bit out of their comfort zone,” Choi said.

Visit to help connect deployed service members to family, home and country.

Theta Chi Fraternity Raises Thousands for USO at G.I. Theta Chi Events

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

For Theta Chi Fraternity, partnering with the USO was an easy decision.

The fraternity, which has military roots dating back to its founding, has a history of supporting military nonprofits. After years of backing organizations that primarily serve wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans, Theta Chi expanded its philanthropic efforts in 2013 to support the larger military community.

“By supporting the USO, Theta Chi not only honors its creed, but also its storied military roots,” Theta Chi Executive Director Mike Mayer said.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

Since the partnership began two years ago, Theta Chi has raised over $43,102 to benefit the USO.

“The members of Theta Chi have already made an impact to the USO by hosting events that both bring monetary benefit as well as raising awareness in the community,” USO Regional Development Manager Kyndele Cooke said at Theta Chi’s 2014 National Convention.

The USO also partners with the Greek organizations Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Gamma Delta.

Rooted in the Military Community

Theta Chi’s connection with the military dates back to its founding in at Norwich University in 1856. That year, two cadets attending Norwich — the oldest private military college in the country — created the Theta Chi Society, which eventually became Theta Chi fraternity.

Many of the organization’s first members, who were also military cadets at Norwich, had to leave their studies to fight in the Civil War. Several other Theta Chi brothers throughout history have served in the military, including a handful who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

“Being a military-based fraternity, we would sometimes recruit guys who are coming back from the service to go to college,” Heard said. “We had two Marines in our [Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida] in the past four years.”

Creating G.I. Theta Chi

Before the fraternity’s official partnership with the USO began, several Theta Chi chapters held “G.I. Theta Chi” philanthropy events to raise money for other military nonprofits. These “G.I. Theta Chi” events, which originated at the Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida, now benefit the USO.

“Just a couple years ago we decided to start something that would set us apart on campus and nationally as far as raising money for a good cause,”said Wylder Heard, the philanthropy chair at the University of Central Florida’s Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter. “What makes us come back to do it every single year is the fact that we’re raising money to help the troops.”

G.I. Theta Chi events vary from school to school. At the University of Central Florida, the fraternity holds a weeklong fundraising competition involving the entire campus. At the end of the week, Theta Chi leads a field day with military-themed activities. All students, regardless of Greek affiliation, are invited to participate in the week’s events.

“Everyone knows, ‘Oh, G.I. Theta Chi,'” Heard said. “‘I want to participate. I love the obstacle course. I love the cause. I love America.’

“I guess that’s one thing: Everyone can be a patriot [during G.I. Theta Chi].”

Chicago-Area Kids Raise $100 for USO at Afternoon Lemonade Stand

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

When Erin McNaughton’s three children told her they wanted to start a lemonade stand this summer — with the proceeds going towards the USO — it was a proud parenting moment.

“It was all their own,” McNaughton said. “[You feel like] you’re doing a good job as a parent when they come up with an idea that’s going to help others.”

It started one morning in August when the children, who have an aunt and uncle that serve in the military, decided out of the blue to create a roadside lemonade stand to raise money for the USO.

“They’re around the military atmosphere and they like it and they see [why the military is important],” McNaughton said.

After about an hour of sign drawing, lemonade making and organizing, the kids were out in front of their Chicago-area house ready for their first customer. McNaughton estimates between 20 to 30 people stopped by the stand to buy lemonade that afternoon, although the majority of customers paid much more than the 75-cent list price.

“They were handing over five dollars, 20 dollars,” McNaughton said. “We had a great turnout. It was so cute. ”

At the end of the day, the McNaughton children had raised roughly $100, which they hand-delivered to the USO of Illinois office in downtown Chicago.

“The creative initiative that these young patriots demonstrated is inspired,” USO of Illinois President and CEO Alison Ruble in an email. “Embracing the true meaning of Every Moment Counts, they have provided a poignant reminder of what it means to give back to those who serve our nation.”

Rachel Feinberg, who works as a marketing associate at the USO of Illinois, said the organization only gets a few community-based, spur-of-the-moment donations a year.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The kids looked like they had a great time and it was just great to see some of the younger generation taking on the USO and helping us out.”

Your USO at Work: August 2015 — Great Dane Pup Who Needed Help is Returning the Favor

Meet Bandit, the Gentle Giant at USO Fort Leonard Wood

When Kelly Gist adopted Bandit more than three years ago, she didn’t expect him to become a healer.

Sickly, underweight and suffering from a number of health issues, the Great Dane pup looked like he needed more help than he would ever be able to give.

As Bandit grew stronger and healthier, he started accompanying Gist to her job as center director of USO Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. She quickly learned Bandit was no ordinary rescue dog.

“We would bring him into the USO, and as he grew, his interactions with the troops were unbelievable and we realized he had something else to give,” said Gist, who decided to train Bandit as a therapy dog.

Whether it’s visiting patients at the hospital, comforting troops at the Warrior Transition Unit or hanging out with military families at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist says Bandit is always ready to comfort those in need.

“If anyone can spend five minutes with him … they’ll realize the difference he can make in someone’s day,” she said.

Bandit isn’t the only one who make a difference in five minutes. Go to to find out how you can show your support for our troops and military families.

Duracell and Hilary Swank Help the USO Highlight Military Family Issues

Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank has played several roles, but her first was as the daughter of a now-retired Air Force senior master sergeant.

Swank joined military couple Robert and Denise Nilson, Duracell’s Jeff Jarrett and USO Senior Vice President Alan Reyes in New York last month to promote the USO’s partnership with Duracell and the company’s new short film “The Teddy Bear.” The video, which has been viewed more than 11 million times, is based on the Nilsons’ deployment experiences.

Duracell is also generously donating $100,000 to the USO Transition 360 Alliance to support the Comfort Crew for Military Kids, which helps children deal with their parents’ deployment and other issues that come up when you’re part of a military family.

Bruno Mars Brings ‘Uptown Funk’ to USO Concert at the White House

Grammy-winning recording artist Bruno Mars performed a USO show for cheering troops, military family members and guests of the first family at the White House on July 4.

Bruno Mars and his band perform at the USO’s Salute to the Military show July 4 at the White House. USO photo by Mike Thelier

Bruno Mars and his band perform at the USO’s Salute to the Military show July 4 at the White House. USO photo by Mike Theiler

The superstar sang some of his hits at the annual Salute to the Military USO concert. While storms cancelled the preshow cookout on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama came out and addressed the crowd before Mars’ hourlong set that led up to the fireworks display on the National Mall.

This was the seventh consecutive year the White House has partnered with the USO to host the concert. Last year’s event featured Pitbull, while acts like fun., Cedric The Entertainer, The Killers, Brandi Carlile, Brad Paisley, Train, Jimmy Fallon and the Foo Fighters have also played the White House on Independence Day.

“It was an honor to perform at the Fourth of July concert at the White House,” Mars said in a release. “It was incredible to stand with the first family and the USO to recognize the service and sacrifice of our troops and military families.”

Mobile USO Helps Troops Through Summer Training 

Spending three weeks in the field on a military exercise can make you feel like you’re in another country — even if you never leave your home state.

Images from the Mobile USO’s stop in Oklahoma. Photos courtesy of Army Spc. Tyler Davis

Images from the Mobile USO’s stop in Oklahoma. Photos courtesy of Army Spc. Tyler Davis

Ask Army National Guard Spc. Tyler Davis, 21, from Lawton, Oklahoma, who took to Instagram to show his appreciation when his unit received a surprise visit from a Mobile USO during training. Davis, who’s been in the National Guard for more than four years, was pulling 48-hour shifts in the blazing sun when the Mobile USO arrived.

“When we’re out here in the field, we’re adapting to the military lifestyle. … You get completely engulfed in it,” Davis said. “When we first caught wind of the [Mobile USO] coming I made sure to get everyone in my squad signed up.”

A USO center on wheels, Mobile USO units offer troops the same kind of support provided at stationary centers, including video games, movies, Wi-Fi and air conditioning—the most important amenity when training in the Oklahoma sun.

“God bless you guys at the USO,” Davis said. “Without you, a lot of us would probably go insane.”

USO Opens First Staffed Center in Africa

Sometimes they are created to facilitate the changing travel needs of troops stateside. Sometimes they are built downrange and constructed by the troops themselves. Whatever the case, each USO center is opened where troops need them the most. And that most recent need is on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

There are lots of smiling faces inside the new USO center on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Courtesy photo

There are lots of smiling faces inside the new USO center on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Courtesy photo

After the Defense Department announced it would spend $1 billion over the next 20 years to enlarge the U.S. base, the USO decided it was time to open up a permanent canteen for troops stationed there.

“Most of the troops here are unaccompanied and stay … anywhere from nine months to a year,” USO Camp Lemonnier Center Manager Michael Eyassu said. “They are very excited about [the USO] providing free phone calls to the States since they have to purchase phone cards otherwise.”

Currently the only staffed USO center in Africa, USO Camp Lemonnier consists of two Quonset huts equipped with a lounge area, leather chairs, a full canteen with snacks and treats from home, free toiletries and plenty of phones and computers to use to call home.

“We’ve got something going on every night for the military,” Eyassu said. “We have a lot of fun, and we’re getting more and more foot traffic each and every day we’re open.”

You can support troops deployed to bases around the world by visiting

USO Partner Almay Highlights the Strength and Determination of Military Women

Almay is partnering with the USO and celebrating female service members with their Simply American campaign. As part of the initiative, the cosmetics giant is donating $250,000 to the USO and creating a #SimplyAmerican social media push to raise additional funds and awareness.

AlmayThe company is highlighting military women throughout the summer in two unique ways. First, they’re embarking on a summer-long road trip to fairs and festivals to create what they’re calling a Simply American experience that celebrates female service members, military wives and their families.

Almay also is soliciting photos that capture “Simply American moments.” The company will donate one dollar for every like or share on social media that uses the hashtag #SimplyAmerican, up to a total of $10,000.

Go to Almay’s Simply American page to see if the road trip is coming to a city near you.

USO Opened Up a New World for This Military Spouse

Karolina Wignall has been connected to the military for as long as she can remember.

Karolina Wignall

Karolina Wignall

She grew up in the military, living in Texas, Georgia, Germany and Las Vegas during her formative years. She later married an Air Force pilot, moving around the globe to places like Okinawa and Virginia.

Wignall, USO Europe’s operations manager, understands the sacrifices troops and military families make every day, but she didn’t know much about the USO before becoming a volunteer in 2010.

“All I knew about the USO was what I saw in the airports,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what volunteering for the USO really meant.”

She quickly learned what the USO’s all about by racking up hundreds of volunteer hours in a few months. “Averaging 40 hours a week as a volunteer, I was hooked,” Wignall said. “The USO opened up a whole new world to me and I haven’t looked back.”

Hired as a full-time employee a short time later, she’s been with the organization ever since and has watched as the USO has evolved with the military.

“We have come a long way from just providing comfort and respite for our troops during wartime,” she said. “We are with the young troops when they first enter military service, when they deploy, and when they return home.

“Always by their side” is more than a slogan. It’s what the USO—backed by volunteers and employees like Wignall — does each and every day at more than 160 USO locations around the world.

“No matter what stage they are in during their military career, the military community can be sure the USO will always be there, providing whatever it takes to ensure that the military community knows we stand by them,” she said.

From start to finish, the USO supports troops and military families through each step of their journey. And we can’t do it without you.

Peyton Manning, Stevie Nicks And Other Stars Shine at USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 33rd Annual Awards Dinner

ARLINGTON, Va. — For Peyton Manning, Stevie Nicks, Sebastian Junger and Seema Reza, it was a night to remember.

The four stars, along with nearly 30 Medal of Honor recipients, were honored last night for their contributions to the military community at the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 33rd Annual Awards Dinner.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning accepts the USO-Metro Merit Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning accepts the USO-Metro Merit Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Manning, who traveled to Europe and the Persian Gulf on the USO Vice Chairman’s tour in 2013, has been an active supporter of the military throughout his entire NFL career.

“I really had a life-changing experience on my USO tour two years ago,” Manning said. “Just how they’re protecting our freedom, their service to our country, [it’s] very inspiring and I’m really glad that I took the trip.”

The Denver Broncos quarterback received the USO-Metro Merit Award for dedicating his time to help lift the spirits of troops all around the world

Stevie Nicks accepts the USO Achievement Award.

Stevie Nicks accepts the USO Achievement Award.

Five years ago, Nicks received a last-minute invitation to visit troops at Naval Support Activity Bethesda — home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — and has committed to spending time with wounded, ill and recovering service members ever since.

Nicks, who wrote the 2011 song, “Soldier’s Angel,” about her numerous visits with wounded troops as part of USO-Metro’s celebrity handshake tours, received the USO Achievement Award for donating her time, talent and treasure to helping bring smiles to recovering troops.

Sebastian Junger accepts the Legacy of Hope Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Sebastian Junger accepts the Legacy of Hope Award. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

Junger, a war correspondent, best-selling author and Oscar-nominated filmmaker received the Legacy of Hope Award for his heart-wrenching storytelling. His most recent documentary works – “Restrepo,” “Korengal” and “The Last Patrol” – focus on the challenges military members endure during combat and upon returning home.

“I was thrilled to sort of discover that those works were very helpful to soldiers [and] emotionally useful to soldiers,” Junger said.


Seema Reza (far left) poses for photos before the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 33rd Annual Awards Dinner.

Reza, a poet and essayist, has spent years working with wounded, ill and injured service members at military hospitals and USO Warrior and Family Centers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Bethesda, Maryland.

She conducts art workshops for service members recovering from visible and invisible wounds and said “the work that I’ve been able to do is its own reward.”

Reza received the Col. John Gioia Patriot Award for her outstanding commitment to helping recovering troops navigate the healing process.

Your USO at Work: February 2015 — Jay Leno Auctions Off Prized Car For USO

Jay Leno Auctions Off Rare Muscle Car to Benefit the USO

Auction houses selling rare and expensive collector cars are usually teeming with excitement, but at Gooding & Company’s Scottsdale, Arizona, auction in January, there was an extra layer of celebrity buzz when late night legend Jay Leno rolled out his prized 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 — with all proceeds benefiting the USO.

The highlight of the auction was Leno’s Challenger. The crowd roared as bidders competed in the one of the most exciting bidding displays Gooding & Company has ever seen.

The bidding started at $50,000, but when the auctioneer finally dropped the gavel at $360,000, the entire auction house stood for applause. However, the giving wasn’t done.

“After the car sold, one of the men who lost the bid for Leno’s car stood up and offered an on-the-spot cash donation for the USO — he would match anyone’s donation up to $100,000,” said USO CEO and President J.D. Crouch II, who attended the event.

Paddles began flying and within moments, another man committed to match the full $100,000. Additional donations totaled $5,625, which means that thanks to Jay Leno and other generous supporters, the USO will receive a total of $565,625.

“We’re overwhelmed by the response that we got from those who attended the auction,” Crouch said. “The funds raised here will go far to advance our goals of expanding our services to men and women in uniform.”

USO Mission Continues in Afghanistan Despite Formal End of Combat

On Fridays, troops at USO Kandahar can kick back for a few moments and enjoy some special treats after a long week of hard work. USO photo

Troops at USO Kandahar can kick back for a few moments and enjoy some special treats on Fridays — and every other day of the week. USO photo

The American combat mission in Afghanistan is officially over. But the USO is still on the ground serving more than 10,000 U.S. troops stationed there.

“The mission has not changed for us,” said USO Senior Vice President of Operations, Alan Reyes. “Troops serving in harm’s way will always be one of our top priorities, so we will continue to serve those troops in Afghanistan and throughout the region.”

If U.S. troops need support, the USO will be there for them. Wherever that may be.

Operation Enduring Freedom officially ended Dec. 28. However, according to the Defense Department, more than 10,800 American troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2015 as part of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

USO centers in the Middle East will stay open as long as there’s a need at the bases they support. There were four fully operational USO centers in Afghanistan at the beginning of February and the USO also has standing operations in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and has supported the mission of U.S. troops sent to other areas around the region as needed.

Visit today to pledge your support for America’s troops.

USO Supporting Quarantined Troops Returning From Ebola Mission

Thousands of U.S. troops are stationed far from home every day, but a few hundred of those brave men and women are serving an unconventional mission, isolated as a precautionary measure after duty in West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak.

Army Pfc. Michael Matale, left, signs out a video game from Sgt. Brandon Banks at the grand opening of the USO at Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, Liberia. Army photo by Spc. Rashene Mincy

Army Pfc. Michael Matale, left, signs out a video game from Sgt. Brandon Banks at the opening of the USO at Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, Liberia, in December. Army photo by Spc. Rashene Mincy

And the USO is by their side.

Troops rotating home after deployments to West Africa are being isolated for 21 days in what the military calls controlled monitoring areas (CMAs) at installations in the United States, Germany and Italy. Thousands of troops have deployed and returned from the region with no issues to date.

In Liberia, where about 300 military personnel continue to support the mission to build and support hospitals, the USO is on the ground providing the comforts of home. These items include dedicated satellite service for Internet connectivity, phone cards, health and comfort items and even leisure and recreational equipment.

In the U.S., troops are being monitored at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, Texas and Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

In most cases, groups of 20 to 30 soldiers are isolated at the same time. Subsequent groups cannot have items used by a previous group because of health precautions, so providing multiple sets of supplies has made the operation more challenging.

“If somebody can find a problem, the USO can find a solution,” said Glenn Gibbs, manager of USO Vicenza, who is supporting the CMA site at nearby American-Italian installation Caserma Del Din. “It’s just what the USO does.”

USO/Hire Heroes USA Helps Transitioning Troops in Three Phases

Starting a new career is about the details.

How you describe what you bring to an employer. How an interviewer feels you fit their corporate culture. How you present yourself in person – and even online.

Army Capt. Amelia Campbell is one of many transitioning troops who have benefitted from a USO/Hire Heroes Workshop. Courtesy photo

Army Capt. Amelia Campbell is one of many transitioning troops who have benefitted from a USO/Hire Heroes USA workshop. USO photo

The last of those was a detail Capt. Amelia Campbell picked up during a two-day USO/Hire Heroes USA Workshop in Tacoma, Washington, in November.

“Something that’s really resonated with me … [is] how important it is to actually represent myself in social media,” the 22-year Army veteran said.

Statistically, getting an interview is the hard part. With plenty of job-seeking Americans and college grads looking for work, there’s lots of competition out there, so USO/Hire Heroes USA workshops take time to fine-tune transitioning service members’ resumes to give them the best shot to beat the odds.

Getting through stacks of resumes is difficult because companies are used to having many qualified applicants in today’s economy. So if there are only a few openings, having the strongest resume alone won’t get you an offer. You need to nail the interview, and that means you need to practice.

USO/Hire Heroes USA Workshops and Career Opportunity Days prepare attendees by holding mock interviews with Hire Heroes USA staff or local hiring managers who’ve volunteered their time. The interviewers question the service members about what makes them the right fit for a position. When it’s over, the interviewers provide feedback on how the service member did, and any other applicable tips.

Multiple employers who’ve participated in the mock interview sessions have extended follow-up interview requests and some of those second interviews have led to job offers.

“We definitely want them to have that renewed confidence as they take on the job market,” said Elda Auxiliaire, who manages the program for the USO. “We want them to have that confidence as they sit down with an employer and say ‘I can do this just as well as anyone else.’”

You can help transitioning troops and military spouses start new careers by visiting today.

 GEICO Becomes USO Worldwide Strategic Partner

The USO and GEICO announced a new worldwide strategic partnership Feb. 12 that will expand GEICO’s support of our mission to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.

Geico LogoGEICO will support 14 USO centers and USO programs like Ride 2 Recovery, which provides wounded troops with bikes to help them build hope and confidence through cycling, and Mobile USOs, which serve as centers on wheels.

In addition to funding USO programs, the partnership will also provide opportunities for GEICO to build relationships with USO centers throughout the country and volunteer at USO events that support our military heroes.

“The USO’s commitment to improving the lives of our men and women in uniform and their families is unparalleled,” said Tony Nicely, chairman and CEO of GEICO. “GEICO has been a proud supporter of the USO for years, so we’re very pleased to take our partnership to the next level as a Worldwide Strategic Partner.”

After a Tough Transition, Military Spouse Found a New Home at the USO 

There was no smooth transition to military life for Cary Fulladosa, a programs coordinator in the USO’s Japan area office. She’s a new military wife and her first duty station is half a world away from her hometown of Miami.

Cary Fulladosa

Cary Fulladosa

In addition to being separated from her close-knit family— five siblings included— Fulladosa left behind a job she loved to make the move. Upon arriving, she said she immediately understood why an overseas military community sometimes needs a boost.

“Instantly, I saw the need for a support net for this kind of lifestyle and I knew I wanted to be part of a greater cause to give sustenance to the community I am now a part of,” she said.

After seeing the job posting for the USO, she researched the organization and realized that the USO’s mission to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families fell in line with her personal pursuits. Fulladosa, who is working towards a degree in psychology, enjoys helping people reach their potential. She felt the USO would be a great fit, so she applied for the opening, got the job and started her new career in June.

Fulladosa says her coworkers are her favorite part of her first nine months on the job.

“They are so positive, empowering and passionate,” she said. “[They] make work feel like I am not getting up every morning for a job, for a paycheck. I am walking into this office to serve a higher purpose with a crew of spirit-lifting warriors. The passion my co-workers express is inspiring.”