Away from Home for the Holidays: USO Events Spread Seasonal Cheer to Troops and Families

Among the many sacrifices our troops make, being away from family during the holidays is near the top of the list. The USO understands this and is constantly working to make sure troops all over the world know how much their efforts are appreciated.

Here’s a brief (and far from all-inclusive) look at holiday events the USO held for troops and families in the last week:

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Holiday cheer in the desert. USO photo

USO Bagram Duty Manager Michelle Turner, front bottom left and USO Forward Operating Base Fenty Duty Manager Jason Lewis, center right in red, helped troops deliver Christmas cheer to Forward Operating Base Torkham in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, with a little help from Molson Air.

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Thanks to generous donations, military children in New England will get a few extra gifts this holiday season. USO photo

Thanks to generous donations, military children in New England will get a few extra gifts this holiday season. USO photo by Sarah Kelley

Instead of preselected gifts from anonymous donors, USO New England’s Little Elf pilot program allowed military families to shop for their gifts at Target. Each family was given a set amount to spend on their children, with USO staff and volunteers on hand to pay the bill with funds specifically donated for the endeavor and to wrap the gifts on site.

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Apparently, you’re never too old for a visit with Santa. USO photo

Santa and company found ways to make things festive at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Check out their robust photo collection from December events here.

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A special guest at USO Fort Hood's Story Time. USO photo

A special guest at USO Fort Hood’s Story Time. USO photo

USO Fort Hood’s Story Time went down a different path last week when children got a visit from Santa. The recurring event–held for children up to 4 years old–featured a reading of “Santa Bear” and the distribution of stockings filled with a USO teddy bear, a juice box and animal crackers.

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Business and individuals from around the Washington, D.C., area pitched in big for USO Metro's Project Elf. USO photo

Businesses and individuals from around the Washington, D.C., area pitched in big for USO Metro’s Project Elf. USO photo

USO of Metropolitan Washington’s Project Elf brought hundreds of gifts to military children last week. USO Metro took toys and clothes purchased by donors for military kids in the local area, wrapped them and distributed them at Fort Meade, Md., and Fort Belvoir, Va.

–USO centers around the world are America’s way of supporting the troops. Show your support by making your year-end donation today here.

Eight New USO Wishbook Gifts

What’s new for the USO Wishbook this year? We have eight new gift options for you to choose from!

Flight Home Comfort Kit
For $60, make the trip home a bit more comfortable for wounded troops by helping to provide blankets and airplane pillows.

Run a Day Room for a Month
For $1,500 you can foot the bill for one of Afghanistan’s Warrior Day Rooms that give wounded ill or injured troops a refuge from the frontlines to heal.

Writing the Right Resume
For just $150, help Hire Heroes USA & the USO in our efforts to provide wounded, ill & injured troops with resumes & practice interviews that helps them to best represent their military skills & experience as they transition to the civilian sector.

Help Wounded Troops Navigate Their New Normal
$1,000 will assist the USO and AspenPointe Peer Navigator as it facilitates mentorship between community leaders and returning wounded troops.

Relaunch a Troop’s Career
With Career Opportunity Days, wounded, ill and injured troops are given guidance to secure jobs as they reintegrate into the private sector. Help for $250.

Give a Getaway to a Healing Family
Help fund retreat programs for $750 with the USO and TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) to organize getaways designed to mend families after trauma and tragedy.

Send a Military Child to Camp
Unique camps provide military children from families of the fallen or kids who have recuperating parents with getaways designed to focus on their well-being. Send a child for $500.

Keep USO Mobile on the Go
Keep USO Mobile rolling with a $500 contribution that allows the wheeled USO supply center on the road, supporting stateside troops at events and military installations.

‘It’s the Little Things’: Vet Drives 11 Hours to Donate Boxes of Supplies to USO Fort Campbell

It’s the single largest private donation ever received by USO Fort Campbell. And according to Center Director Kari Burgess-Brown, it’s also the most exuberant exchange she’s witnessed.

Jay and Kerri Giglio pose inside USO Fort Campbell, Ky., after driving from Texas to deliver 18 boxes of donated goods. USO Fort Campbell photo

Jay and Kerri Giglio pose inside USO Fort Campbell, Ky., after driving from Texas to deliver 18 boxes of donated goods. Photo courtesy of the Giglio family

For months, Burgess-Brown exchanged emails and phone calls with a passionate veteran from the Dallas area who couldn’t wait to give back to troops at his old command in Kentucky.

A veteran of 101st Airborne Division, Jay Giglio served during Operation Desert Storm, and for more than 20 years he has been working hard so that one day he might have the means to return the favor he received from generous Americans.

“At first he told us he was going to collect some things from his friends and co-workers and mail them to us,” Burgess-Brown said. “But as the weeks went by, his emails got more and more enthusiastic about the contributions he continued to receive from his community.”

Between Jay, his wife Kerri, their co-workers, and his wife’s two grown children, the Giglios gathered so many supplies that an 11-hour road trip became necessary in order to get the haul to Kentucky. In total, they collected 18 copy paper boxes full of things like snacks, games and hygiene supplies.

The Giglio's collected donation to USO Fort Campbell included snacks, games and hygiene supplies. USO photo

The Giglio’s collected donation to USO Fort Campbell included snacks, games and hygiene supplies. Photo Courtesy of the Giglio family

“We looked at the road trip as an opportunity for both of us because this is something Jay has wanted to do for a really long time, and I really wanted to see where he received his training,” Kerri Wilson-Giglio said. “I wanted to see where he was made into the great man he is today.”

For Jay, the donation was a chance to pay it forward.

“When I was at war, I remember opening a care package from a random citizen,” he said. “This person didn’t know me from Adam. In fact, I think it was even addressed to ‘Any Soldier.’ But when I opened it up and saw the thoughtful things inside, it gave me an overwhelming feeling of pride for my country.

“It’s the little things. The little things meant everything to us out there. It’s those little reminders from home, those things you can’t put a finger on that just aren’t easy to come by out there. Some of the things I remember clearly, like bobby pins and hair ties for the female soldiers. I remember crafting some of these things by hand for them because products like these were rare. The females are overlooked sometimes, and we made sure to include that stuff in our donation.”

But to Giglio’s surprise, the biggest hit within his 18 boxes of donated supplies wasn’t the bobby pins.

“When we told our guys in the field about the details of what we had coming their way, we were surprised to find out the troops were most excited about the assortment of condiments,” Burgess-Brown said.

“We had all these packets of sauce from random restaurants like Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A in our refrigerator just taking up space,” Jay Giglio said. “It was really an afterthought when we tossed them in there, but it makes sense that they would be a big hit. After all, troops must get tired of flavoring MREs with Tabasco.”

Filled with the confidence and pride of knowing their contributions were well received, the Giglio family returned to Texas with the determination to return to USO Fort Campbell each year with even more supplies for the troops of the 101st Airborne.

“I always said I would if I could,” he said. “And now I can — so I am.”

To make a similar donation, contact your local USO center or visit www.uso.org/donate.

P&G Gives Makeovers to Military Honorees Before USO Gala

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Jessica Perkins, wife of USO Soldier of the Year Staff Sgt. Jacob Perkins, gets her hair done at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon at the Washington Hilton before Friday’s USO Gala. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

Every year, the USO selects a service member from each branch and a military volunteer to honor at its gala in Washington, D.C. — a star-studded event with more than 1,000 attendees, including the nation’s top military brass.

With a roomful of guests to impress, they — and their families — needed to look good. That’s where the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon stepped in to help.

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Marianne Gaylor, wife of USO Sailor of the Year Greg Gaylor, gets her hair done Friday at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon.

One of the perks of having great partners like P&G is that they bring their own party supplies. Cover Girl cosmetics, Gillette razors and a whole line of hair and beauty products filled a private space just steps from the Washington Hilton’s ballroom on Friday afternoon. P&G-provided stylists spent the afternoon making the USO’s honorees — and a few other special military invitees — look sharp for the big event.

“I’ve never been shaved before,” said Army Master Sgt. Mike Martinez (Ret.). “That said, it was the best shave I’ve ever had. It’s nice to see P&G and the USO coming through for us, to help my wife and I get prepared for this.”

Five fully stocked stations for hair, make-up and shaving were in action for six hours on Friday to help spouses and family members feel comfortable and confident for their big night. More than 15 makeovers were performed by the end of the day.

—By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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USO Airman of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher Beversdorf gets a shave before Friday’s USO Gala at the P&G Beauty and Grooming Salon.

Support Our Troops through the CFC – Designate #11381

Federal employees can donate to the nonprofits of their choice through the annual Combined Federal Campaign, known as the CFC. Show your support of our troops by designating the USO as a recipient of your CFC contribution. Your donations will help us provide critical support to those who need us most, including forward-deployed troops, military families, wounded warriors and their families and the families of the fallen. We let them know they are not forgotten.

We are happy to participate in your campaign kickoffs or other CFC events. Please contact us about participating.

WHY THE USO?

  • 90% of our resources go directly to USO programs
  • $10 provides the troops 28 phone calls to loved ones back home
  • $25 sends one care package to deployed troops
  • $50 helps support a no-cost dinner for military families at a USO Center

WE NEED YOUR HELP

Wounded, ill and injured service men and women and their families face many difficult challenges upon their return, and the USO is doing all we can to support them.

  • 8.1 million – The number of times that troops and their families visited USO centers worldwide in 2011
  • Over 185,000 – The number of military family members who received support from USO family programs in 2011

Yoga for the USO

“It really bothers me that we’ve been at two wars for 10 years and the direct impact for seeing it in our community isn’t there.”

Karen Citow, owner of a Chicago-area yoga studio, is willing to go to the mat for our troops and their families. The 34-year-old mother of three was looking for a tangible, meaningful way to show her support, so she decided to donate all her profits for the year to the USO of Illinois.

“My husband and I are in complete awe of the bravery and dedication of the men and women who volunteer for our armed forces,” she says.

Karen in action

Citow, a former licensed clinical therapist, believes that yoga makes people kinder to themselves and others, resulting in an outpouring of goodwill and good deeds.

This taut, toned and relentlessly optimistic entrepreneur opened Breathe…A Yoga Oasis in 2010 as an entirely philanthropic venture. She draws no salary, and each year, she picks a different charity to receive any studio profits.

Leslie Wooten, associate director of development for the USO of Illinois, thinks the idea is “totally new and totally awesome.”

“It’s about paying it forward and supporting causes that matter in the world,” says Wooten.

But Citow knows she has skeptics. To date, her business hasn’t actually generated any revenue beyond its operating expenses, so she’s had to come up with other ways to raise money. Once a week she teaches a Dedication Class, with all the revenue—usually more than $100 per week—going directly to her chosen charity.

In 2011, that amounted to nearly $5,000 for a local cancer foundation. In 2010, Citow raised more than $13,000 for UNICEF, with a boost from a successful Halloween, trick-or-treating fundraiser.

She hopes to come up with new fundraising ideas this year, and she believes her business will finally be in the black, allowing her to give even more generously to the USO of Illinois.

Citow chose the USO because of its reputation for supporting active duty troops and military families. She worries that too many Americans have no connection at all to the men and women who defend our freedom.

“I try to make sure that our kids are really aware this is happening, and to be grateful and thankful … that people are sacrificing and serving.”

Citow knows that most other small business owners can’t forgo their salaries or give away their profits. She calls herself fortunate—her husband is a successful surgeon, so she doesn’t have to work. Her studio allows her to use her time and talents to promote the benefits of yoga, while giving back for all her blessings.

“I hate to say I wanted to make the world a better place, but it’s true!” she admits with a laugh, “I’m proud of what I’m doing… and I love yoga and believe that if more people practiced yoga the world could be a healthier and kinder place.” – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development