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

Keeping Fit, Far from Home

Troops from across the branches recieve instruction before the Strong Man Competition begins. (Photo courtesy mitstephens' Flickr; all rights reserved)

Bagram, Afghanistan: Never a dull moment for the Pat Tillman USO.  Between Hail and Farewells, Cross Fit Challenges, Strong Man Competitions and United Through Reading we are always on the go.  This was not a week for the weak.

With two fitness events happening on the same day you might would think you were at muscle beach!  Service Members on BAF competed in either a Strong Man Contest or the Cross Fit Challenge. With representatives from all the Branches of Service competing it was a sight to behold.

The gym at Pat Tillman USO. (Photo courtesy of mitstephens' Flickr; all rights reserved)

For those who don’t know what Cross Fit is, it’s a strength and conditioning fitness methodology that promotes broad and general overall physical fitness. CrossFit combines weightlifting, sprinting, and gymnastics.  CrossFit is used in nearly 1,700 gyms worldwide and by many fire departments, law enforcement agencies and military organizations.  It was an exciting challenge, for sure.

The Strong Man Contest consisted of a bench press and dead lift, with both men and women competing for prizes from the USO.  The Service Members on Camp Alpha set out to show who was the true strong man/woman.  Congrats to all of the winners!

The runners were off to a fast start as soon as they heard the starter pistol. (USO photo courtesy of USO Baghdad Facebook page)

Baghdad, Iraq: On a beautiful Saturday morning, USO Baghdad teamed up with Sather Air Base MWR in sponsoring the end-of-summer “Fahrenheit 10K.”  This morning’s run was the second tune-up run for the upcoming US Air Force Marathon which will take place in Dayton, Ohio on 18 September, 2010.

The runners stretched in between jokes with MWR and USO staff as the remaining competitors signed in for the race.  Other USO staff and volunteers were on hand to cheer on the runners.  Despite the less-than-ideal running conditions, the fastest men and women finished the 10K in remarkable time and with enough energy to smile!

Thanks to all who participated ~ it was a great morning!  And good luck at the upcoming Sather Air Base Marathon on 12 September, 2010….we’ll see you there!

The top three male and top three female runners each received a certificate to commemorate their achievement. (USO photo courtesy of USO Baghdad Facebook page)

Pat Tillman Memorial USO Unplugged

Bagram, Afghanistan – The Pat Tillman USO has had an array of talented guest walk through the front doors. Everyone from NFL players and coaches to musical stars to members of the government. We are always happy to host these groups of celebrities and elected officials but some of the people right here on Bagram are the true stars.

Music plays an integral part of life at the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center, as this impromptu gathering of musicians and singers performing in June 2010 illustrates. (USO photo)

On any given night there are as many as 100 plus service members here. They are talented at the jobs and positions they hold and do it with out any hesitation but that is not the only talent they possess. Many nights service members come in a watch a movie, use the wireless internet, call home, or just sit and get away from the outside world. On one such night two service members got together, an airmen and soldier, grabbed a guitar and started belting out tunes for the guest here. That started a fire in the duty managers to get more of these type performances for everyone to enjoy. We are putting together an “Unplugged” night where members of the military can come and play.

On one such occasion we were privileged to listen and record Joseph from 455 ESFS and Brandon from 4ID. These two guys got together as one strummed on the guitar and the other sang quips of songs until they finally put it together and put on an impromptu performance.  Here is a clip from the unplugged show.

The first of many to come!!!

A Special Shoutout from Bagram to Florida!

A look at some of the USO amenities available at Bagram AB. (USO photo/Facebook)

Bagram, Afghanistan – The 69th MP company here on BAF received care packages from the Jacksonville USO.  The Unit is in charge of one of the facilities on Bagram that has a satellite USO run completely by Military Volunteers.

The Pat Tillman USO works very closely with the satellite USO, providing Big Screen TVs, gaming systems, DVD players, and many other resources to continue the mission at hand. We here at the Pat Tillman USO along with the 69th MP unit appreciate the generosity of the Jacksonville people, volunteers, and USO for all their support.

P.S. – If someone you know is serving at Bagram, be sure to “like” USO Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan on Facebook!

Roger that Radio

We love sharing stories from the field and this is a good one.  The Pat Tillman Memorial USO at Bagram Air Base found a creative solution to a vexing problem…

Picture a dingy room gazing into fields of nothing, each room has a different view. Your job is to stay awake for 10-12 hours and stare and watch for anything out of the ordinary. You are not allowed to bring your iPod a book or anything that could distract you from your job.

Keeping morale high could be a hard thing, right?

Well…that’s where the Pat Tillman Memorial USO stepped in. We were notified by a volunteer, A1C S. who works in Charlie Sector, that they really could use the USO’s help with procuring radios. I asked him how many towers where in Charlie Sector. There the plan was hatched. We then hit the on base PX and ransacked the electronics department (now when I say department I mean 3 shelves) and purchased the corresponding number of Radios for each tower. Those apparently turned out to be all the radios on the shelf.

After the purchase we loaded up the truck and blazed the main road on Bagram Air Field going a full 25 KPH! (Max on-base speed limit.) We traveled on the pot-holed filled roads around the perimeter (at times there was no road) to get to each Charlie tower.

Surprise! You just received a radio courtesy of your local USO! The Airmen at each Tower were ecstatic and very appreciative of this delivery.  It was like Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa all over again.  These radios have the capacity to play CDs, MP3s and of course your local radio stations. Since it has MP3 capability, Airmen can download music or lectures onto thumb drives and plug it into the radio, thus filling the hours of previously stale air with their favorite jams or podcasts to help keep their eyes attentive and spirits lifted.

After all…improving morale is a USO specialty.

The USO in Afghanistan

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

In just a few months USO will open its newest center.  It will be a large tent at the U.S. base in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  It’s a sprawling base, and our center couldn’t come at a better time.  Coalition troops in that part of the country are seeing some of the fiercest fighting in the country.  Troops move to and through the base every day, so providing them with a place to relax; to watch TV or to get online or on a free phone call home is more than just nice – it’s critical.

To emphasize the situation there, we recently received an email from the director of the Kandahar center.  In part, she says:

“We had some rocket attacks here this week—we had to make a run for the bunker today and stayed there for 2 hours with all of our new neighbors.  (Rockets) hit close enough we could all hear them.  This place used to be really quiet; the whole environment is changing quickly.  Oh, yeah, then it started hailing, we got lightning and then pouring rain.  Awesome.”

Awesome, indeed.  Then she got to the best part:

“However, really what we have found is that there are thousands of infantry troops around the USO who have absolutely nothing.  They have to walk for 20 minutes to get to any form of distraction.  You have never seen such a happy group when we told them we were opening in spring.  We’ll be busy 24 hours a day.”

She’s right.  We’ve learned from experience that our centers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait are busy around the clock.  Troops line up outside, even when the centers shut for an hour or so for cleaning.  It’s that important to them.

These centers are heavily used.  The conditions are awful – sand, heat and cold take their toll.  The furniture gets worn, our computers break, the TVs can’t be repaired, and so they have to be replaced.  We do our best to provide upkeep, but it’s an continuing struggle.  I don’t know how our folks do it.

The front of the soon-to-be USO Center in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Our centers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait are very thinly staffed – as are our centers around the world.  We depend on volunteers.  Getting volunteers in Germany or Okinawa is one thing.  War zones present certain challenges.  Our volunteers there are U.S. troops, giving us the little amount of free time they have.  Sure, it helps them deal with the stress and boredom, but it’s more than that.  They’re paying something forward.  They are our customers and to ensure that the centers can operate for everyone at a base, they help us keep things running.  Volunteers from the volunteer force.

In addition to this new operation in Kandahar, we will likely expand what we’re doing at Bagram Air Field – our oldest location in Afghanistan.  The current center – the Pat Tillman Memorial USO – was built with the financial assistance from the National Football League.  I was there in November, and it’s really crowded all day long.  We are looking at finding a site across the base, so more troops can take advantage of our services.

This weekend, troops will gather at all of our centers in the region to watch football and movies; to play video games and maybe to record a children’s book to send back to a son or a daughter.

It’s a routine that’s repeated every day at more than 140 places around the world.  Troops show up; volunteers and staff help them.  Every day.

The inside will soon be filled with USO programs and services...and Troops!