A USO Birthday Wish

As the USO prepares to celebrate the big 7-0 this February 4, we’d like to hear from you! Tell us your fondest memories of your experiences with the USO, include a photo if you’d like, and you may see your name in our magazine – ON★PATROL – or on one of our websites. Be sure to share your story on USO.org by January 24.

Maybe while volunteering you met your current spouse, or perhaps you met Jay Leno when his tour came to your base! We look forward to hearing from you and what you remember about us over the last 70 years.

Remembering Bob Hope’s First USO Show

Audience reaction to Bob Hope show at Seoul, Korea October 23, 1950. (Photo by Capt. Bloomquist)

Can you believe it’s been 69 years since Bob Hope performed his first USO Show, at California’s March Field?  The words “thank you” are simply not enough when we talk about all he did for the Troops and the USO.

Hope toured with us for nearly five decades after that first show, culminating in a final USO tour in December 1990, when he brought laughter and Christmas cheer to troops participating in Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  In 1997, the USO successfully worked with Congress to designate Bob Hope the first honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces. And that same year  – at what was then known as the USO Holiday Gala – we unveiled the “Spirit of Hope” Award. It is a portrait bas-relief of Bob Hope, created by St. Louis sculptor Don F. Wiegand and Michael Fagin a major donor to the USO and carries on Hope’s legacy to this day.

We found this amazing fund-raising film that Hope created for the USO back in 1946, and in many ways it’s just as apropos today.  The USO continues to lift the moral of the Troops and their families to this very day and – even as we reflect back at the incredible legacy of supporters like Bob Hope – look forward to all that we’ll do in the future…

One Army Reservist Tells It Like It Is

Yesterday we celebrated the 102nd Anniversary of the Army Reserves.  To honor that anniversary, sixty soldiers in the Army Reserve reenlisted at the fifth annual National Capitol Reenlistment Ceremony on Capitol Hill.  Visit the “My Army Reserve” for pictures and a special message from Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, Chief Army Reserve and Commander Army Reserve Command.

But what exactly is life like for the men and women of the Army Reserves?  We asked one Reservist – Ronald Cameau – to shed some light on his experiences…

USO: Army Reserve – it’s probably a term that people hear a lot, but what does it actually mean as far as where and how you serve?
Ronald Cameau: A reservist is a Service Member who serves in a branch of the military in a part-time capacity (minimum one weekend a month, two full weeks a year) or in a time of war (which is when you become “Active Duty”). With regards to location for the Reservist, we are typically assigned to a unit that is within 50 miles from our home.

USO: Why did you join in the first place?
RC: I wanted to join the Army Reserve without having a full-time obligation to the military, to learn IT skills that would help me be successful.  Being a part of the military is a means to make my resume look good, and lastly, patriotism.

Army Reservists Ronald Cameau flies over Camp Bucca, Iraq in 2005.

USO: What’s the toughest part about integrating back into your non-military life?
RC: I have two perspectives of integrating back into civilian life. My 1st deployment was in 2005 and I was single with no child, so my integration back into my full-time “civilian” life was somewhat normal. I guess my only issue was reintegrating with friends and figuring out what the latest style of clothes were.

My second deployment in 2008 I was married and just had a baby. My integration back was somewhat difficult. When I left, my son was 10 months (not talking or walking… and I missed his first birthday). When I get home he’s talking and walking. I had to reintegrate myself into my family who has already had a setup routine without me around. My son also only called me by my first name. This is sometimes the normal way of life for Active Duty military, but it was hard for us.  My wife wasn’t used to being a “military spouse” because my Reserve status kept me living a “regular” life.  But when the deployment came around, it was hard.  Transitioning was difficult.

My normal Reservist schedule is serving one weekend per month, and two weeks during the summer.  Its a really simple schedule. My family is used to it and we plan around it.

USO: What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had as an Army Reservist?
RC: Earning the skills and credentials that I can apply to the civilian world. I also really feel like I’m a productive citizen. The ability to serve my nation in response to the terror attacks of 9/11 (which I was directly affected by because I was in the Pentagon near a window on the side where the plane hit) also meant a lot to me.

USO: Any advice on those who are deciding between the Reserves and the “regular” Army?
RC: Active Duty = regular army. We are both Army…
If you if want to stay a civilian but serve your country I would do the Reserves. If you want travel the world and want to make a career out of the military as a full-time occupation, then do Active Duty.  There are pros and cons to both choices, but it really depends on the type of lifestyle you want for you and your family.

Ronald is the proud husband to USO communications specialist Patrice Cameau.  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Ronald Cameau nd do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

Happy Anniversary, USO! And Thank You to All Who Make it Possible…

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

“February 4 is the USO’s 69th birthday.  That’s not a meaningful milestone in itself (unless you’re 68), but it reminds me that in parts of 8 decades, this organization continues to deliver support for troops and families with compassion and relevance.

I’m also reminded that our corps of staff and volunteers around the world show up each day at large and small locations and they solve problems.  When a young soldier appears at the USO at Dallas-Ft Worth Airport after missing his flight, he’s told to relax, get a cup of coffee, it’ll be all right.  Sure enough, the USO volunteer at the desk arranges for the next flight and calls the troop’s next base to explain what happened.

From Chicago to Kuwait, the desk where staff and volunteers sit and greet Troops serves as the nerve center of any USO. (USO Photos by Dave Gatley)

I once saw a recent graduate of the Navy’s boot camp at Great Lakes walk into the USO at O’Hare Airport with her orders and ask what she was supposed to do when she arrived at her first real duty station.  It seems that step was omitted in her out-processing briefing, and it occurred to her on the way to the airport that she was taking the second airplane flight of her life to a place she’d never been and into an environment with which she was totally unfamiliar.  The former sailor behind the counter looked at her orders, looked up the location of the personnel office at the next stop and gave her specific instructions about how to report for duty.

I accompanied a USO entertainment tour through Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan a few years ago.  On the way home we stopped to put on a show in Italy.  I met one of our employees of our USO in Vicenza there.  She told me how important the shows were to the troops wherever we went, and she wanted to thank us for stopping in her country.  She went on to tell me that a deployment from Vicenza to Afghanistan just ended, and she mourned as she told me about her “boys” who didn’t return.  “It’s tough on everybody,” she said.  “The families, of course, but also the extended families – the troops who knew them.  It’s really hard on all of us.”

Volunteers at the DFW USO celebrate a USO Birthday with - what else? - a delicious cake in 2009.

She went on to tell me that one day she went into the kitchen at the USO to make a cake.  Soon, troops started coming into the kitchen to “help” her.  There they were, some of the finest soldiers in the Army licking spoons and beaters, helping out as they would back home.

She went on to make more cakes, but she only did it when the USO was busy.  She knew she’d get more help.  “After all,” she said, “it’s not about the cakes.  It’s about MAKING the cakes.”  It was about being with Mom in the kitchen.

In 69 years we’ve moved from providing letter-writing stations to providing free Internet connections.  Films projected onto sheets have become videos on large screen TVs.  There’s still coffee and magazines and comfortable furniture.  There’s still the respite from hard duty.  And, there’s still Mom in the kitchen making a cake.

It’s just like home.”