A Holiday Gift Guide for Our Troops

DOD photo

The holidays are here.

If you didn’t see them coming it before this week, a pile of mail with circulars and glossy catalogs probably brought them into focus. By Thanksgiving night, your inbox was stuffed with email sales pitches aimed to get you to do a little Christmas shopping while you’re riding out that turkey coma.

And while we think everyone should treat themselves to that new coat or gadget if they can, we do have one more holiday shopping suggestion. There’s a group of folks out there who protect our freedoms who can’t just decide to buy a plane ticket online and come home for the holidays. And for a little cash, you can give them a gift that can significantly benefit their lives.

Keeping Families Connected

The USO is a home away from home for deployed troops. But what gets lost in that phrase is the connection those troops get back to their families through our centers. Check out this video about a North Carolina couple who connected just in time for one of life’s most precious moments. This holiday season, it’s easy to support the USO’s efforts to keep troops downrange connected with phone calls home or online video connections back home from war zones.

Homecomings

The USO is also there for spouses back at home during deployment. Here is a story of how one spouse — who is also a USO volunteer — coped during her husband’s deployment in part by tapping into the USO community on Fort Drum, New York.

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USO2GO

Not every service member in the field has access to the basics, much less amenities to pass the time. That’s where USO2GO comes in. Service members like Army 1st Lt. Ben Lyman contact the USO directly from their forward operating base or combat outpost and put in an order to receive customized shipments of everything from furniture to snacks to sports equipment, TVs and even video games. You can donate toward great services like that here, or sponsor an entire shipment via USO Wishbook.

Families of the Fallen

Everyone reacts differently when the unthinkable happens. London Bell’s brother — Marine Staff. Sgt. Vincent Bell — died in Afghanistan in 2011. She was heading into what she thought would be a difficult holiday season in 2013 when the USO called, offering her a USO/TAPS getaway to New York City where she could bond with others who’d lost family a military family member.

“I started out on the journey as a lone traveler, but I left meeting several people who were really just like me,” Bell said. “It was a good way for me to bond.” It’s one of several ways the USO helps military families when they need us most.

A USO Moment: 13 Marines Get Impromptu Welcome in Chicago, First Class Seats for Final Leg of Journey

Lindsy Wadas, director of the USO of Illinois' center at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, poses with Marine Maj. Matthew Winkelbauer after he and 12 fellow Marines arrived in Chicago on Monday. The 13 Marines were treated to an inpromptu water-canon salute and gate greeting and all ended up with first class seats on their American Airlines flight to San Diego. Courtesy of USO of Illinois

Lindsy Wadas, director of the USO of Illinois’ center at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, poses with Marine Maj. Matthew Winkelbauer after he and 12 fellow Marines arrived in Chicago on Monday. Courtesy of USO of Illinois

Here at the USO, we’re lucky to get to do things on a large scale for America’s troops and their families. But it’s the little, serendipitous events that come together each day at USO centers around the world that keep us going.

On Monday, 13 Marines on the tail end of a five-day trip home from Afghanistan got a surprise they’ll never forget, courtesy of a web of people who’d likely never met and an enterprising USO of Illinois volunteer. In the course of a few minutes, the Marines went from a routine approach for landing at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to getting a water-canon salute on the runway and an impromptu greeting at the gate by members of Chicago’s police and fire departments, USO of Illinois volunteers and airport personnel. Once they were in the terminal, American Airlines offered up six first class upgrades to the Marines for free for their flight to San Diego. And when the Marine contingent boarded the plane, seven other first-class passengers gave up their seats so the Marines could sit together.

Read how one Marine’s fiancee, roughly 30 of Chicago’s finest, one USO partner, seven strangers on an airplane and a host of airport workers and USO volunteers – including 74-year-old former Marine John Colas, who coordinated it all – made this moment happen.