Your USO at Work: April 2015 — USO Celebrates Expecting Military Moms

Heidi Murkoff, left, laughs with Gretchen Stradley during a group baby shower at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria in Germany on March 13. The USO and Murkoff, author of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," hosted the shower for over 70 expectant moms. U.S. Army photo

Heidi Murkoff, left, laughs with Gretchen Stradley during a group baby shower at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria in Germany on March 13. The USO and Murkoff, author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” hosted the shower for over 70 expectant moms. U.S. Army photo

USO Celebrates More Than 70 Military Moms With Baby Shower in Germany

Whether you’re having your first child or your third, the experience is a cause for celebration. For some military moms-to-be, sharing the experience with extended family is not always an option.

To help fill that void, the USO, in partnership with the What to Expect Foundation and best-selling author Heidi Murkoff, hosted a Special Delivery baby shower for more than 70 military moms in Germany.

“It’s never easy being a mom, especially for first time,” Murkoff said in an Army.mil story. “But, these families and these women are so far-flung and so separated from their net of support; they’re completely on their own.”

The March 13 baby shower at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria featured food, gifts and games in addition to a Q&A session  with Murkoff. The event also gave expecting moms a chance to form bonds and friendships with each other.

Valerie Pamphile said she attended because she wanted to be around other pregnant women because studies show that “when you’re around other women at your gestational age, you thrive.”

You can help the USO create special moments for military moms by visiting USO.org/donate.

Mother of Fallen Soldier Finds a Moment of Solace Through Visit to USO 

Vicki Dickinson doesn’t remember much about the two years after her son was killed. Between the funeral, the tears and the coping, everything felt like a blur.

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson hugs his mother, Vicki. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dickinson

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson hugs his mother, Vicki. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dickinson

But she does recall one moment in perfect detail. While walking through an airport about a year after Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson II’s 2006 death in Iraq, she visited her first USO.

Michael, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native, told his mother about his visits to USO centers around the world.

“He would always try to find the USO and [relax],” she said of her son, who was killed in a firefight nine days before he was supposed to come home. “And he’d say, ‘They’ve always got great snacks, things to drink. They’ve got nice comfortable places to lie down, take a little nap if you need it.’”

So when she had a few minutes between flights that day, Vicki went to a USO airport center to see for herself. She walked into the center and told a volunteer about her son and his fondness for the USO.

After a volunteer offered her a quick tour and refreshments, Vicki settled into one of the cozy couches and quietly pictured her son resting on a similar couch a few years prior.

“[I thought] ‘I can see him here. I can see him on that couch, playing a game,’” she said. “It made me feel good that my son got to do that. That he knew that he was cared about.”

The USO Spring Troop Visit led by Admiral James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brought lots of smiles to troops stationed around the world during an eight-day, seven country USO tour. Troops stationed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, got a short reprieve from their duties on March 6 to enjoy a USO show and to take a group photo with the athletes and entertainers on the tour. USO photo

The USO Spring Troop Visit led by Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brought lots of smiles to troops stationed around the world during an eight-day, seven country USO tour. Troops stationed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, got a short reprieve from their duties on March 6 to enjoy a USO show and to take a group photo with the athletes and entertainers on the tour. USO photo

Vice Chairman Takes All-Star Cast on USO Tour Around the World

Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led a full roster of entertainers, celebrities and sports stars on a USO tour around the world in March.

NFL players Andrew Luck, Dwayne Allen and David DeCastro, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, musicians Phillip Phillips, Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, actors Dennis Haysbert and Jason “Wee Man” Acuna and Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev all circled the globe with the admiral to greet and entertain troops and their families.

The group visited troops in Germany, Italy, Bahrain, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS New York in the Arabian Gulf, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, South Korea and Hawaii before closing out the tour at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

“It was a huge honor of mine to get to go overseas and thank them in person,” Kazantsev told DoD News. “I’m so honored that I got to be a part of it. This crew and the cast were amazing. We were like a family.”

By visiting USO.org/donate today, your support will help the USO  deliver top-notch entertainment to troops and families all over the world.

Kellie Pickler Jumps At The Chance to Play Checkers to Benefit the USO 

Kellie Pickler and Thomas Rhett will be playing checkers for a cause on April 18, but the twist is that the country music stars won’t be sitting at a table while they play.

Country music star Kellie Pickler performs a USO show for troops stationed in Italy as part of the 2014 USO Holiday Tour. USO Photo by Dave Gatley

Country music star Kellie Pickler performs a USO show for troops stationed in Italy as part of the 2014 USO Holiday Tour. USO Photo by Dave Gatley

Instead, the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Country Checkers Challenge will play out on a giant checkerboard at the ACM Party for a Cause Festival in Arlington, Texas.

Team captains Pickler and Rhett will move their “game pieces” – 12 country music celebrities and six lucky fans – to support two military service organizations. Pickler is playing on behalf of the USO and Rhett chose Disabled American Veterans (DAV) as his benefiting charity.

Through a $35,000 donation from Cracker Barrel, ACM Lifting Lives, the charitable arm of the Academy of Country Music, will donate $25,000 to the winning team’s charity and $10,000 to the losing team’s charity.

Pickler, an eight-time USO tour veteran, told TheBoot.com that she’s discussing strategies and thinking positive thoughts ahead of the April 18 showdown.

“I’m going to stay positive, I’m going to pray for a miracle and we’re going to win.”

You can get involved, too. Go to crackerbarrelsweepstakes.com by April 19 to enter for your chance to win cash prizes!

USO Opens New Facility at Seattle’s SeaTac Airport

The USO was joined by local officials and military leaders as it welcomed guests into its new center at SeaTac Airport in February.

From a full-service kitchen to enhanced entertainment amenities, the 7,500 square-foot center will provide a touch of home for service members and their families as they travel through the airport and beyond. With major Army, Navy and Air Force installations nearby, the region is home to one of the largest concentrations of military personnel in the United States.

“This is the pointed edge of the spear of the USO,” said J.D. Crouch II, CEO and President of the USO. “This is where we meet the men and women and their families who we are dedicated to supporting. It’s places like this all around the world … which allow us to always be by their side.”

With support from USO Northwest staff and volunteers, the new center will be open to visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

USO and TAPS Come Through for Army Family After Son’s Suicide

Corey Smith was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who committed suicide in 2012

Corey Smith, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, committed suicide Dec. 29, 2012. Courtesy of the Smith family

Like every Saturday morning, Kathy Smith expected a phone call from her Army veteran son.

But on this Saturday, it was a call from someone else.

“Corey Jon Smith, what did you do? Oh my God kid! What did you do?” she recalls shouting aloud from her bathroom before gathering the family at her oldest son Travis’ house to share the tragic news.

Their beloved Corey, her youngest child who had struggled with post-traumatic stress for years after serving in Iraq and who was close to graduating with a psychology degree with the intention of helping others going through similar problems, had committed suicide at his home in Anchorage, Alaska.

“You know what, God,” she recalled saying, “I absolutely do not agree with this plan. I don’t like this plan and I don’t agree with it.

“But I believe in you and I trust you, and I’m trusting that you’re going to take care of us now, because we have to get to Anchorage.”

Corey Smith on deployment in Iraq, 2006. Courtesy photo

Corey Smith during a 2006 Iraq deployment.

Kathy said the family had recently spent the last of its savings on her nursing school tuition and were trying to figure out how to get gas and food for the week. There were no funds to get to Anchorage.

“When TAPS stepped into the picture with the USO, they covered all of those areas,” she said. “When I told you they were the answer to a prayer, I wasn’t kidding. They answered our prayers to a ‘T.’ There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of the people at TAPS and the USO.”

On Dec. 29, 2012, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) received a call from a friend who lived near the Smith family in Big Lake, Minnesota, explaining the Smiths’ need to get to Anchorage quickly to comfort their 26-year-old now-widowed daughter-in-law and 3-year-old granddaughter.

TAPS moved quickly to make that happen. The only available flight plan included an overnight layover in Seattle, which meant asking the USO to act as a concierge for the family. Within days, the Smiths were on their way to Alaska, arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just as the ball was dropping to start 2013 in New York City.

“We were so exhausted,” Tim Smith said. “In a situation like that, you wouldn’t know what you want if you wanted it, your brain is so scrambled and confused — kind of just hanging in limbo.”

USO SeaTac Director Bill Baker greeted them and guided them to the USO, where they stayed until their 6 a.m. flight.

“It was a heartbreaking week to say the least,” Baker said. “My volunteers did an amazing job taking care of them and made them feel so comfortable and welcome when they asked if they could stay in the USO instead of a hotel so they could be closer to military troops.”

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With an early flight and Kathy nursing a broken foot from dropping her laptop bag on it that day, they decided staying at the USO was the most convenient decision.

“I remember we went to bed at about 1:30 or 2 a.m. but the gentleman on duty at the USO said he had an alarm set for us, and that he and another woman would be up all night to look over us” Kathy Smith said. “I know for a fact that they were because I saw them come in and check on us. I couldn’t sleep, so I watched her pull the covers up over my daughter.”

The Smiths made it to Anchorage for the funeral proceedings and back to their home outside Minneapolis without further incident, all the while being watched over by TAPS and USO volunteers.

“Throughout the whole time we would get calls from TAPS asking us if we needed anything or if we forgot anything,” Kathy Smith said. “They called to make sure we got to the USO safely and we got calls shortly after we arrived. Every step of the way they made sure that we weren’t stranded anywhere at any point in time.

“In that moment and in so many others, USO volunteers made a grieving family feel more comfortable and gave them such care during a very difficult time,” said Bonnie Carroll, President and Founder of TAPS. “It’s the perfect example of why and how our organizations rely on each other to care for military families during their most difficult moments.”

His sister Autum set up a peer support foundation called Coreysadventuresfoundation.org, to memorialize Corey by connecting veterans with each other and by connecting the families dealing with the aftermath of PTSD-related suicides. Corey believed in “Faith, Family, Friends, and Freedom,” but at his heart he was an adventure-seeker who believed in the brotherhood of one soldier to another. The Smiths believe the key is to facilitate outdoor adventures and activities where veterans and families can meet and connect.

“I miss him very much,” Kathy Smith said. “But there are still Saturdays when I wake up thinking Corey’s going to call today.”

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 USO.org/donate 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  USO.org/donate 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.”

‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

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

USO Operation: That’s My Dress! and Sherri Hill Create Cinderella Moments for Jacksonville Military Teens

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida–It was an afternoon filled with fairytale moments and Cinderella transformations.

Just in time for the holidays, USO Operation: That’s My Dress! gave 400 Jacksonville-area military teens day filled with glamour, pampering and fun while they each selected a formal dress designed by Sherri Hill.

“We hope they’re thrilled,” Hill said. “Some girls have never tried on a dress like this. So it’s almost like playing dress-up”

In addition to leaving with a new gown, teens also received Stella & Dot jewelry, L’Oreal make-up and hair products and other beauty items to complete their outfit. Teens could even get their hair and make-up done as well as consult with celebrity stylists and pageant contestants about their new look.

“My biggest wish is that these women leave feeling empowered, that they feel like they can do anything and accomplish anything they want to,” said Ray Kennedy, Vice President of Programs for USO of Metropolitan New York. “I want them to feel like they are rock stars and whatever dream they have, it can be attained.”

Before the beautification process, teens also enjoyed a fashion show featuring Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state titleholders, as well as a performance by the USO Show Troupe.

But that’s not all.

To help the entire family get in on the fun, the Greater Jacksonville Area USO expanded USO Operation: That’s My Dress! to include the entire family Homecoming Football Party, including a tailgate, a football game viewing and giveaways for the whole family courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars, ESPN and L’Oreal.