Celebrate #GivingTuesday With the USO Wishbook

“We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals….Wouldn’t it be great to have a day for giving back?” #GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

If you wish to support the troops and their families this holiday season, consider shopping the USO Wishbook today! With gifts to suit every budget, the USO Wishbook offers items to support deployed troops, wounded warriors and military families, priced from $15 up to $5,000 for extraordinary gifts. For $25 or less, you can purchase a care package that helps get a service member through the initial days of deployment, a kit to help a military child cope with the stresses of military life, or a calling card to keep a service member and their family connected.

A perfect gift for anyone on your list, help us lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families for the holidays!

Christmas in Afghanistan

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit our troops overseas and see firsthand what it’s like for them to spend this special time thousands of miles from the people they love most. I’ll never forget the selfless heroes I met. That’s why I feel so strongly about the USO’s Christmas Convoy.

With your help today preparing the way, this very special convoy — loaded up with everything the troops need for a much-deserved respite from the rigors of war — will reach our troops serving in remote and hard-to-reach forward operating bases in Afghanistan in time for the holidays.

It’s part of a larger USO effort to give our troops everything they need this holiday season. The logistics of such an undertaking aren’t easy. It takes time to put together. And to get the job done, we need to raise $100,000 by October 20th.

Will you join me in making sure the USO has the resources to reach as many troops as possible this holiday season?

The Christmas Convoy is especially close to my heart because it reaches troops in some of the most isolated front line outposts, where the small comforts of home are especially hard to come by.

It’s the centerpiece of our ambitious effort to bring a touch of holiday happiness to more troops than ever. And everything we do — from care packages, to free phone calls home, to special holiday meals — requires vigorous support from folks back home like you and me.

So I’m hoping the thousands of troops who’ll spend the holidays on the frontlines dreaming of home and family can count on your loyalty the way you count on theirs.

Make a gift to help make the 2012 Holiday Season a special one for our troops serving in Afghanistan and around the world.

Some October thoughtfulness from you can pave the way for wonderful holiday moments for our troops. Please join me in making this happen.

Happy (Early) Holidays,
Joan Jett

USO President Visits Afghanistan

In December, USO President Sloan Gibson and SVP of Operations Alan Reyes visited the Middle East, including a NATO hospital and Southwest Asian USO Centers such as recently recognized USO Kandahar! Check out some of the great pictures here and read more about the Christmas Convoy at USO.org!

Op Thanksgiving Eagle – “Brings A Beat To Our Military Children’s Hearts”

‎”Mrs. Fink–I loved your songs. Your beat is in my heart.” - Sammy, Kindergarten, Wetzel Elementary School, Baumholder. Father is currently deployed and in danger’s way. (The Assistant Principal led Sammy to me after the show so he could share his powerful words with me.)

Operation Thanksgiving Eagle at the USO Warrior Center in Germany

Be still my heart. Sammy and I then hugged, and had a priceless conversation about the power of music. Yes, with a five-year-old. I told him his words were the highlight of my day, and were worth traveling to Germany to hear.

The 450 students at this morning’s two performances at Wetzel ES were stellar. The principal, Ms. Simmons, and her assistant principal lead and educate these children lovingly and enduringly. Their students are 100% Army (so of course we wove the Army anthem into the script!), and over 90% currently have a parent deployed and in harm’s way.

Debbie Fink plays during the Operation Thanksgiving Eagle Tour at Vogelweh

As Ms. Simmons said (I am paraphrasing), “there’s a specialness to these kids. What they are dealing with is beyond the call of duty. They do their best, and are simply–special.” The assistant principal shared how she feels so privileged to work with them, and to help them with all their individual and collective needs. Looking at the upside, she shared that these are happier times right now, because the majority of their deployed parents are coming home before the New Year.

Yet, I wonder, how does it feel inside a child’s heart to see “all” the other parents come trickling home, when yours does not? Don’t we all remember a time when our parent was the very last to pick us up from school, or didn’t pick us up that time at all? Multiply that by a million, and that’s my civilian guess for how it feels. Add to this the possibilities that such a child might feel jealousy, anger, or resentment for the classmates whose parents DO come home. And top that off with those kids who then may feel badly or ashamed or embarrassed that this is how they feel, when they “should” feel happy for their peers’ long-awaited-for family reunions.

It’s comforting to know that these brave Wexler students are in a school environment that understands them, supports them, comforts them, and stands by them. It’s comforting to know that as Sammy holds the beat of our OTE performance’s music and message in his gentle heart, that he is in a space which will one day soon place drumsticks in his hands. May Sammy’s heart continue to sing; may his soul continue to dance; and may his father soon return home safely to swoop Sammy up and swing his son in his strong, heroic arms. – Debbie Fink, Acclaimed Author, Educator, Speaker & Performer

See more updates from the tour at Debbie Fink’s Facebook Page. Note: the child’s real name was changed to Sammy for reasons of confidentiality.

Stockings in Southwest Asia

By John Hanson, Senior Vice President, USO

Every year, the USO’s direct mail campaign includes an appeal that carries the message, “There are no stockings in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Well, of course, there probably ARE stockings there. I can report to you that there are inflatable Santa-in-a-Sleigh yard decorations there. Today’s troops do what American troops at war have always done. They do their best to make their situations as home like as possible.

But, they aren’t home.

These brave men and women are anywhere BUT home, working over every holiday to keep us safe and to secure a nation half way around the world. And, Americans send them things to let them know we honor that sacrifice. They’ll get cakes and candy and the kinds of things we put in stockings, even if the troops don’t have a stocking handy.

Several years ago, I was on a USO holiday tour hosted by the Sergeant Major of the Army. The tour lasted ten days or so, and we were going to arrive home on Christmas Eve. The tour was exhausting. We stopped at Balad, Iraq, and when we walked backstage during the sound check, we noticed that there were small stockings on the wall. Nurses at the military hospital there bought the stockings, wrote the performers’ names in glue and glitter and put a single candy cane in each one. I will never forget the looks on the faces of each person, nor will I forget the glee and wonder each expressed at the thought of someone taking the time to say, “Merry Christmas” in that way. Stockings have power.

Offer “Thanks From Everywhere”

As we approach Veterans Day, November 11, it is important to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans of the past, present and tomorrow—those men and women who, upon their return home, become living, breathing testaments to duty, honor and selfless service and sacrifice.

To offer your thanks and support, the USO has a new program for Americans to send thanks from across the United States to our troops and their families for their service and sacrifice. Visit the newly redesigned USO.org to send your personal messages of appreciation to those who so deserve it, and the USO will place a pin on the US map, displaying these messages based on geography . Our goal is to COLOR THE MAP between now and Thanksgiving with thousands of notes, as Americans send THANKS FROM EVERYWHERE. Go to USO.org/thanks now to send your note today.