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

‘A Much Needed Shot In The Arm’: Navy Commander Talks About the Impact the USO has on Deployed Troops

USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Cromer and his wife,

USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Cromer and his wife, Laura, last week in Washington. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Even bona fide heroes can use a pick-me-up.

Troy Cromer has an Army Commendation Medal, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Valor, a Combat Action Ribbon an is credited with saving multiple lives during his 2013 deployment to Afghanistan with Navy SEAL Team 10.

Last week, the petty officer first class added 2014 USO Sailor of the Year to his trophy case at the 2014 USO Gala. According to his commanding officer, it was a timely show of appreciation.

“Last week [the] USO lived up to my own personal memories of your dedication to our troops,” Navy Cmdr. Matthew Andrews wrote in an email. “EOD1 Cromer and his family are extremely appreciative for the opportunity to participate. Troy has given so much of himself, and I know that the burdens of his personal sacrifices are shared by his family. It is absolutely phenomenal that the USO recognized Troy, and even more impressive that you were also able to include [and] recognize the critical role our families play.”

According to his gala program citation, Cromer — an explosive ordnance team leader — directed suppressive fire against enemy forces while neutralizing an improvised explosive device planted between two of his team’s vehicles during an ambush in Afghanistan. On another mission, he led four vehicles through an area littered with IEDs, dismantling three of the bombs. And on a third mission, he located a system of caves, destroying the weapons inside and then making sure enemy forces couldn’t use them any longer as underground bunkers.

For Andrews, who also attended the USO Gala, the recognition brought back memories of a USO moment he had during a deployment seven years ago.

“Before this event, my most vivid experience with the ’21st Century USO’ was the reception I received at the Atlanta airport on my mid-deployment R&R layover back in 2007,” he said. “Words would not do justice to the amount of gratitude I felt for the tremendous outpouring of sincere care [and appreciation] as we marched through the airport to resounding applause. That was an extremely tough deployment for me, and that was a particularly tough time during that long deployment. USO provided a much needed shot in the arm. Thank you.”

“The support [the USO gives] the families and forward-deployed guys is above and beyond all,” Cromer said at last week’s USO Gala. “It’s a phenomenal organization.

Deployed Guardsman Witnesses Birth, Builds Relationship with Child, Thanks to USO

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When his Marine father deployed during Desert Storm, 3-year-old Joseph Rainbolt had no idea he would one day nearly miss moments with his own child.

“He was in Saudi Arabia for nine months when I was only 3, so I can only imagine,” said Rainbolt, now a 26-year-old sergeant in the Louisiana National Guard who might have missed the birth of his first child had it not been for the USO.

Knowing his wife Brittany would be giving birth just five months into a year-long deployment, Rainbolt told the USO and his command of his situation when he arrived in Afghanistan. When she went into labor, the USO set him up with an Internet-connected computer and Skype.

“I was able to stay [at the USO] for hours and be with my wife and see my daughter,” he said.

April Rose, now 8 months old, didn’t just get to see her father the day she was born. Rainbolt also took advantage of the USO’s Tiny Tots program and the USO/United Through Reading Military Program for the seven months that followed, allowing him to keep a presence in his daughter’s life.

“The [Tiny Tots] gift bag was fabulous,” said Brittany Rainbolt, a 26-year old high-school English teacher. “It came with some really awesome stuff. There’s some soap in there, a USO bib, a onesie and some other general baby care products. We used all of it.”

In fact, little April-Rose has even worn the bib immediately before going on stage at a “Red White and Blue” beauty pageant, where she took first place.

“It’s her lucky USO bib,” Brittany Rainbolt said. “United Through Reading was also fabulous. We got so many books for April before she was born and after she was born and I think hearing his voice helped her to make a connection with him. When she saw him the first time she went straight to him. I was like, ‘go to Daddy’ and she held out her little arms for him. It was so cute.”

“Being away was really hard,” Rainbolt said. “As National Guard, I’m usually home. Being away is not my thing. But through the USO we definitely got to have a relationship together.

“I got to talk to her every day, not just every now and then,” he added. “We’ve come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s. The USO was great in helping us be able to keep communicating. Even though I wasn’t there, I still got to feel like I was involved in her life, and that meant everything to me.”

Joan Rivers, the San Diego Padres and a Soaked 5K: A Look at USO Events Around The Globe

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As the summer draws to a close, USO centers around the world were busy hosting events to lift the spirits of troops and their families. Here’s a look at a few of the fantastic moments from USO centers around the world:

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Joan Rivers visits USO Denver. USO photo.

Joan Rivers Makes Surprise Visit to USO Denver
Long-time USO supporter Joan Rivers paid a surprise visit to USO Denver last Wednesday morning and made sure each guest, volunteer and staff member knew how much she appreciated them. Rivers was the 2001 USO of Metropolitan New York’s Woman of the Year.

“Thank you for your service,” Rivers told the group.

Military Kids Hit the Field at the Be a San Diego Padre for a Day Event
The USO partnered with Petco Park and the Padres to give military kids a Major League experience. Several local kids from military families spent the day practicing baseball fundamentals, talking with former Padre Damian Jackson and learning all about what it would be like to be a Major League Baseball player. Check out the video from the event here.

Sixth Annual Clark After Dark in Chicago
The USO of Illinois took to the streets Thursday night for its sixth annual Clark After Dark block party. Thanks to the support of Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd Ward, Boss Bar and other USO partners, partygoers enjoyed live music, military vehicle displays and plenty of food. Despite the rainy weather, Chicagoans came out in full force to support their troops and show appreciation.

Heidi Murkoff smiles with an expectant military mother. USO photo.

Heidi Murkoff smiles with an expectant military mother. USO photo.

USO/What to Expect Special Delivery Baby Shower in Fort Drum, New York
On Friday, the USO and the What to Expect Foundation, founded by best-selling author Heidi Murkoff, delivered a special baby shower to expecting military spouses and service women stationed in Fort Drum, New York. The moms-to-be enjoyed an afternoon filled with shower games, food, a raffle and a question-and-answer session with Murkoff, who wrote the best-selling book “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

Second Annual H2GO in Okinawa, Japan
There aren’t many stickier places on the planet than the South Pacific in the summer, where near-100-degree temperatures are coupled with crippling humidity. To help troops and their families stationed in Okinawa beat the heat and stay in shape, volunteers at USO Kadena created H2GO, a 5K foot race with water-themed obstacles along the route.

The H2GO race let participants enjoy slip-n-slides, water cannons and the soaking power of over 20,000 water balloons.

Girls show off their nails and face paintings at Sun and Fun day with Kaiserslautern USO. USO photo.

Girls show off their nails and face paintings at Sun and Fun day with USO Kaiserslautern. USO photo.

Sixth Annual Sun and Fun Day in Kaiserslautern, Germany
As the dog days of summer come to an end, Kaiserslautern USO and TKS hosted the sixth annual Sun and Fun Day for troops and their families to help them enjoy the last of the warm weather. Despite some rain, over 2,300 visitors came out to enjoy the five-hour event that included food, raffles, live music and search-and-rescue dog demos.

Troops Get Their Game on at Camp Buehring Volleyball Tournament
Service members rallied their way to victory at a volleyball tournament Saturday night in Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Troops were able to form teams of six and compete for prizes — all while jamming out to the beats of DJ Break One. The winning teams were even awarded victory T-shirts!

Troops Churn Up Homemade Ice Cream at USO Camp Marmal

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Nothing says summer like a eating a bowl of cold, delicious ice cream.

And while troops at Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, can’t exactly head to a grocery store and pick up a pint, they can head over to the USO.

After hearing that the base cafeteria only served ice cream once a week, USO Camp Marmal staff members decided to start monthly homemade ice cream nights.

“We gave it a try and it’s been a big hit since then,” said USO Camp Marmal Center Manager Michael Eyassu.

With a few zip bags, milk, ice and a lot of shaking, troops can whip up a batch of homemade ice cream within a matter of minutes. USO Camp Marmal even provides service members with a number of syrups and toppings to enhance their homemade ice cream creations.

“Troops love it because it’s a fun and interactive event they can participate in with their fellow troops,” Eyassu said. “The end result is delicious, so it’s a win-win!”

If you want to try making homemade ice cream like the troops, check out the recipe below:

In a gallon zip bag:
1/2 cup salt
Ice to fill bag 2/3 of way full

In a quart zip bag:
1 cup of half and half
2 table spoons of vanilla extract
Flavored syrup (optional)

Place ice and salt in a large gallon zip bag. Set aside. Place half & half and vanilla in quart zip bag. Seal tightly and place inside gallon zip bag. Seal gallon zip bag. Shake until ice cream is solid or at consistency of your choice — roughly 10 minutes. Remove quart zip bag from gallon zip bag. Scoop contents of quart zip bag into bowl, add desired toppings and serve immediately.

Want to help the USO bring more unique programs like this to troops deployed troops around the world? Consider supporting the USO today.

Making the Perfect Care Package: How You Can Help USO Bagram Stock Up for Troops

A group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based airmen  help the USO distribute Girl Scout Cookies. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

A group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based airmen help the USO distribute Girl Scout Cookies. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

It’s easy to take the little things for granted. For most Americans, stocking up on snacks, baby wipes and Kleenex is as simple as heading to their local convenience store.

But for troops stationed an ocean away at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, stocking up on every day commodities can mean waiting on, or rationing from, care packages shipped from the United States. However, even the most thoughtful — and jam-packed — of care packages eventually runs empty.

Luckily, USO Bagram is there to help.

Thanks to the generous donations of supporters from around the world who provide USO Bagram with food, toiletries, and other personal care items, troops can head to the USO pantry to stock up on every day items they might need. In order to provide the troops with the supplies they need, the USO Bagram relies heavily on donations of food and personal care items sent to the center from USO supporters back at home.

Right now, USO Bagram is hosting a care package drive to stock up on snacks and toiletries to hand out to troops over the coming months. The USO Bagram staff has even created a wish list of their most needed supplies to help anyone who wants to create the ultimate box of goodies for the troops. Remember, even just one package worth of supplies can brighten a service member’s day!

USO Bagram Care Package Wish List

  • Healthy snacks: Jerky, trail mixes, granola bars and fruit snacks
  • Drink mix packets: Gatorade, lemonade, iced tea and crystal light packets
  • Microwavable food: Easy Mac, popcorn, Cup O’Noodles, Chef Boyardee, oatmeal and other snacks that come in their own bowl (dining ware is scarce in Afghanistan)
  • Non-perishable food: Tuna cans or packets, fruit cups, peanut butter, Nutella, soups and other canned foods
  • Chocolate: Wait until the winter months to send chocolate, as it will melt in the mail if sent now
  • Toiletries: Travel-size shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash, wet wipes and hand sanitizer (Please send these in separate boxes from food — no one likes shampoo-flavored oatmeal!)

Please send all care packages to the following address:

USO Bagram
Pat Tillman Memorial Center
APO, AE 09354