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.

No Dodging a Good Time with USO Basrah

Who's up for a game of dodgeball? (Photo by USO Basrah)

Basrah, Iraq –  Tonight was filled with fast feet, flying balls, and high stakes competition as USO Basrah teamed up with the 2515th Naval Air Ambulance Detachment to bring an exciting spin to typical base intramural sports.

Depending on your elementary school experience, ‘dodge ball’ either brings up fond memories or brings you back to getting pegged in the head in 6th grade.  Either way, putting those same foam balls in the hands of soldiers puts a new ‘spin’ on things, and this week’s event proved dodge ball is far from child’s play.

Over the course of the night, 16 teams raced their way to the middle line, snatched what they could, and gave their best throw, and when the dust settled….everyone enjoyed some barbeque. With such a large turn out, this tournament is the start of something good, a first installment of a base-wide favorite.

Below are some highlights of the night. For more pictures be sure to search for us on Facebook at “USO Basrah.”

One team player surveys his options before letting 'em fly... (Photo by USO Basrah)

"If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball." (Photo by USO Basrah)

It's only a game...or is it? (Photo by USO Basrah)

USO Baghdad Supports the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault

USO Baghdad Duty Manager Robin Symes (l) hands out USO Care Packages and Girl Scout cookies to smiling Troops. Enjoy a Trefoil for us!

Operation USO Care Package is one of our most popular programs here at the USO.  In the past few months we’ve created exclusive care packages for female Troops, and introduced a new program of care packages just for families.  For those of us who pack these goodies into the bags and boxes, it’s great to know that what we’re sending off is received and greatly appreciated on the other end. (Not that there was any doubt!)

We were thrilled to receive word this weekend that the Female Care Packages, in particular, are being utilized as part of a larger program of support in Baghdad.  Here’s a great note from our center there…

Care packages designed just for female Troops were packed last November on Capital Hill and are still making their way overseas!

USO Baghdad Duty Managers Megan Lynch and Robin Symes took Operation Cookie Drop and the USO’s Operation Care Package to Camp Victory’s Hope Chapel to support the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault. SASA is a unique program to combat Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the military. It is focused on Senior Female Leadership providing mentorship to our future generations of military female leaders.

During monthly meetings, women and men come together to share experiences and build the skills necessary to combat alarming statistics of harassment and assault during deployment. This month, CSM Williams spoke to the group addressing the theme “Your Best You.”  Afterward, everyone had a chance to mingle and walk away with a USO care package!

A standard USO Care Package contains items like pre-paid international phone cards, toiletries, periodicals, and a deck of cards, among other oft-requested items.

For more information on the Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault please visit their Facebook page.

A $25 donation sponsors one USO care package and allows you to include a personal message of support and appreciation.  Click here to request a care package for a member of our troops.

USO Baghdad Gets Ready for Some Football!

The staff of USO Baghdad shows their team spirit as they gear up for another great NFL season. (USO photo by Courtney Haueter)

Baghdad, Iraq – For the second season in a row, the NFL has chosen Baghdad USO on Sather Air Base as a location for its NFL Live Package. Guests of USO Baghdad will get the privilege of being able to watch any of the games being played around the league both live and replay. If we have a large contingent of fans from a particular area of the US, we’ll play their home team or we can chose the best match up for the week to watch. Missed the games due to sleep, work or flights? No problem, the NFL Package can replay any game played this year and we can also fast forward to the best parts.

The staff of the USO Baghdad will be wearing NFL jerseys from their hometown favorites and classic players. Duty Manager Frank Stinson is taking bragging rights with his home state Saints while Megan Lynch of Buffalo, NY stands by her Bills. Originally a Los Angeles Native, Richard McCarty wears a throwback LA Rams unit and Robin Symes salutes “Mean” Joe Greene, all-pro Steelers defensive lineman. The 9ers, Dolphins and Jets will be represented by Ernie, David and Ian and we look forward to a lot of trash talking every week.

Stephen Colbert Salutes the Troops…Again

Actor/comedian Stephen Colbert (center) of Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" performs for U.S. military personnel at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Sunday, June 7, 2009. (USO Photo by Steve Manuel)

We hope you enjoyed yesterday’s clip from The Colbert Report‘s special “Been There: Won That: The Returnification of the American-Do Troopscape.” (Yes, that’s the actual title!)

Last night the special included an interview with Brent Cummings and Josh Bleill, two injured veterans who “appreciate the support they’ve received from the American public after their tours in Iraq.”  Check out the fun interview below and be sure to scroll down to see John Legend’s special performance of “Coming Home,” dedicated to the veterans in the audience…


This Week’s Snag Film: Inside Shock and Awe

This week’s FREE documentary from Snag Films looks back at the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and serves as a prescient reminder of the service and sacrifice of our military as we welcome home the combat Troops who served.

For the first time, get a detailed inside look at what happened during the Shock and Awe bombing campaign that launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. Using spectacular exclusive imagery, CGI and powerful survivor interviews, National Geographic investigates the planning, execution and outcome of the most intense bombardment in history—putting it into the context of history’s most dramatic bombardments and providing an inside look at what was going on in Baghdad at the time.

Get an insider’s view of the technology that allows overwhelming firepower to be accurately targeted and learn how exotic missiles, like the thermo baric ‘’bunker busters’’ work. And explore the latest weaponry that may change the future of warfare. Includes Special Bonus Program: Warship.