Care Package Stuffing Party at Beyond the Welcome Home Summit in LA

Thanks to everyone who participate in this successful stuffing party. (Photo by Shauna Bain Smith)

The Beyond the Welcome Home Summit – held in Los Angeles earlier this week – brought together a select group of talented and entrepreneurial participants from campuses and communities across the country.  Sponsored by Mobilize.org, ServiceNation: Mission Serve, MTV, the McCormick Foundation, and the Goldhirsh Foundation, the Summit included a service component – a USO Care Package stuffing party!

Summit participants and celebrities alike pitched in to create 7500 Care Packages to be distributed to Troops when they leave for deployment.  David Arquette, Antwone Fisher, Olivia Munn, Geoff Stults, and Mathew St. Patrick all create video messages for the Troops.  Arquette’s is below and you can see the rest by clicking on their names.  Keep scrolling for pictures, too!

Director of the USO Warehouse Ron Wise keeps an eye on the proceedings. Great job with the Care Package program! (Photo by Shauna Bain Smith)

A volunteer puts the finishing seal on a complete Care Package. (Photo by Shauna Bain Smith)

Seventy-five hundred care packages just like this one will be handed out to Troops. (Photo by Shauna Bain Smith)

To Infinity…and Beyond

USO Centers are located around the world, serving Troops and their families in over 140 locations. But is that enough? We recently asked ourselves, Is there a location not being served? Where can the USO boldly go?

One word: Space. How illogical not to serve those who serve us, even at an intergalactic level, we thought. That’s why we’re proud to announce two new initiatives: the building of a USO Center on the International Space Station (ISS) and the expansion of our USO2Go program to include USO2GO: Lunar Module.

NASA and the U.S. Military have a long history, with military training being one of the surest ways to get to pilot a spacecraft. Active duty military are some of the top recruits to the astronaut program. So it just made sense to extend our reach into space.

The new USO Center on the International Space Station will feature all the comforts of home, including iPod equipped space helmets.

Admiral Ackbar – current commander of the ISS – is thrilled at the prospect of a USO Center on board: “Many of our crew members are stuck all today conducting science experiments.  The chance to relax with the comforts of home – albeit in a zero gravity environment – is a huge morale booster.  We especially like that the USO will stock butter pecan – in addition to the traditional Neapolitan flavor – of Space Ice Cream.”

When deciding to expand our programs and services we consulted numerous experts, including world-renowned physician Dr. McCoy, who had this to say about the importance of serving every individual possible: “In this galaxy there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all that, and perhaps more…only one of each of us.”

USO2GO: Lunar Module ensures that when we colonize the moon in the future, inhabitants will have essential things like Guitar Hero and snacks.

General Grievous said he’d been asking for something like this for the astronauts and crew of the ISS ever since he first visited a USO Center in the 1970s while stationed in Southeast Asia.  “I feel like I’ve been shouting about this from the rooftops forever,” explained the General.  “But, as they say, in space, no one can hear you scream.”

Standard offerings like the USO Care Package will also be available to the men and women of the ISS and – eventually – the moon.  USO Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications John Hanson is thrilled at the prospect of serving more people with these renowned USO programs.  “I just hope that our space program can – like other offerings from the USO – live long and prosper.  We do rely on the generosity of individual donors to provide land- and space-based support, unlike Astronaut Barbie, who completely sold out.”

Astronauts unload boxes of care packages for the crew onboard. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku books can go a long way to combating space-related boredom.

Both programs are set to debut in December of 2012 or – as the Mayans call it – “the end of days.”  We have no doubt that these programs will come to be enjoyed by tens, if not dozens, of former active duty military and the occasional space chimp.  Admiral Ackbar summed it up best when he said, “This is one small step for the ISS and the moon, and one giant leap for the USO.”

So say we all.  So say we all.

Family Care Packages Will Keep Military Families Connected

Sloan Gibson - President and CEO of the USO - enjoys a light moment with employees of the Family Readiness Center at the DC Armory, Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Members of the DC National Guard prepare items for the Family Care Package stuffing party at the US Army National Guard Armory in Washington, DC, February 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Volunteers preparing for the stuffing party enjoy the antics of hoops&yoyo, Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Dr. Jill Biden spoke in support of the program, then joined volunteers in assembling the care packages, which will be sent to National Guard families in Florida whose loved ones are deploying this month. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

A completed Family Care Package includes items to facilitate communication and make the time go faster during deployment. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

All hands were on deck to accomplish the goal of stuffing 3,000 Family Care Packages on Feb 24, 2010. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Every Family Care Package included a journal for the family, with a special note on the inside cover from their loved one who's deployed. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Hallmark stars hoops&yoyo were on hand to entertain this military family while Dad is deployed. They're shown with Jodi Schade, the VP of Hallmark Properties (back left) and USO's Sloan Gibson. (USO Photo by Mike Theiler)

Share the Love this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a holiday to show loved ones how much you care.  Why not also take this opportunity to show our Troops how much you care, too?  The USO makes it easy; there are so many ways to show your support on February 14th and beyond.  Check out our Valentine’s Day suggestions, share your own in the comments section below, and

Share your Valentine’s Day message with our Troops! – It’s easy and only takes a few minutes to show the men and women of the U.S. Military how much you care this holiday.  You can even directly share your unique message with someone you love.

Make a Valentine’s Day donation! – It doesn’t take much to help our Troops stay connected with their loved ones during this and every holiday.  Phone cards, Skype, and our private telephone network are just a few of the ways the USO keeps loved ones in touch, no matter the distance.

USO Phone Call

Your support makes moments like this - a father hearing his baby for the first time - possible at the USO.

Go “shopping” – for a USO Care Package! – You might be snowed in, but visit Causecast & Huffington Post’s “The Goods” store andyou can send a meaningful gift by clicking on “USO Care Package For A U.S. Soldier.”  You can even select to leave a note for the recipient that they’ll receive on Valentine’s Day.

Check out activities at your local USO! – Members of an American Legion Auxiliary League created Valentine’s Day cards for Troops, to be handed out to Troops at the Bob Hope/USO Lounge at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.  Check out our location directory and see what your local USO might have planned.

Washington Nationals Show They Care

As their 2010 Winter Caravan rolled into Fort Belvoir, the Washington Nationals faced a daunting task: getting hundreds and hundreds of Operation USO Care Packages stuffed and ready to send to deploying troops. Luckily they had support in the form of Wounded Warriors, a JROTC group, USO Metro staff and volunteers and – of course – Screech, their mascot.

Prospects Danny Espinosa and Drew Storen, current player Ryan Speier, manager Jim Riggleman, Nationals Senior VP & General Manager Mike Rizzo, and Mid-Atlantic Sports Network Analyst Rob Dibble got the job done, dropping toiletries, snacks, games, and other items into the USO’s signature Care Package bags and showing their fans and new friends a great time along the way.

Here’s a photo essay recapping this great event.  Look for video soon!

The USO warehouse at Fort Belvoir is home to Operation USO Care Package. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Nats' players and prospects lined up next to Troops as they stuffed the care packages. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Screech and members of the Hayfield Secondary School JROTC get the job done. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

A view from the top as players and volunteers work the assembly line. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Screech takes a stretch while Espinosa keeps on going. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman is interviewed for On Patrol magazine. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

It didn't matter if you were wearing a baseball jersey or fatigues: teamwork was the spirit of the day! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

The Care Packages were flying fast and furious as volunteers whisked them down the line. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Colonel Jerry L. Blixt, the Garrison Commander at Fort Belvoir greets a JROTC volunteer. (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Boots vs. Cleats: who would win? We go with boots! (USO Photo by Em Hall)

Care Packages for Female Troops – A Response

We appreciate the feedback on the Care Package for female troops we’ve been seeing in the blogosphere.  Jessica Valenti of Feministing and Kate Harding of Salon.com in particular have offered critiques of the program.  Valenti even quotes directly from our own video of the event.  Additional coverage in Stars & Stripes yielded a strong editorial response.

This is a good thing.

You see, we’ve been hearing from women service members since our Care Package program – Operation USO Care Package – began (that was about 2 million Care Packages ago).  We listened carefully, and decided to try to create a package that answered their requests.  The Care Package for Female Troops in its current version reflects what women told us they would like to have while serving overseas.  Maybe we got it wrong, or maybe this is one of those good deeds that does not go unpunished.  Either way, we don’t intend to guess.  We routinely survey all Care Package recipients to find out what the troops actually want – not what we think they should have.  We have and will continue to make adjustments to the program.

We are about to offer one more variation on a theme.  Our Family Care Package will be sent to families of deployed troops.  We do a great deal for men and women who are deployed, and we realized we need to focus on helping out those they leave behind.  There will be a hiccup or two, but we will get it right.   We cannot simply do nothing at all.