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

USO and Team Red, White, and Blue Help Troops and Veterans Scale New Heights at Rock-Climbing Camp

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ESTES PARK, Colo.—For many people — especially those scared of heights — scaling a 50-foot mountain wall is the last thing they’d want to do on a warm August afternoon.

But for a group of adventurous transitioning troops and veterans who attended a special three-day rock climbing camp in Colorado, climbing along the steep peaks of the Rocky Mountains seemed like the perfect way to spend a long summer weekend.

The camp, hosted by the USO and Team Red, White, and Blue, taught leadership skills and built confidence among attendees while scaling new heights. The two organizations began partnering last year to deliver an environment for troops, civilians and veterans to come together, share their stories and to build a foundation for healthy, active living.

The camp was led by climber and Wheaties athlete Tommy Caldwell and his father, Mike Caldwell, a climbing guide with over 30 years of experience. For the second year in a row, the pair helped participants scale 50-foot-plus tall mountain walls in Jurassic Park and Lumpy Ridge.

“I didn’t have people to keep in touch with when I got out,” said camp participant and veteran Antonio Ruiz. “I wish this situation was available for me back then. It would have made a big difference in my life.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers receive instruction during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

During the three-day session, Tommy Caldwell shared his personal story of overcoming a traumatic experience with the camp participants in hopes of inspiring them to conquer life’s challenges.

In 2000, while on a climbing expedition in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, his group was held hostage at gunpoint for six days before Caldwell seized an opportunity to overpower the kidnappers, allowing for their escape. Once home, he struggled to cope with the memories of his captivity. One day, while doing home repairs, Caldwell accidentally sawed off his finger. Unable to reattach it, doctors prepped him for the possibility that he’d never climb professionally again.

“At one point a doctor told me I should really think about what I wanted to do,” Caldwell said during his speech to attendees. “I got mad because how could he not believe in me? And that inspired me even more. I left the hospital and immediately went to the gym to train.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers gather during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of outdoor climbing, campers participated in a leadership seminar lead by Team Red, White, and Blue Director of Operations J.J. Pinter.

“Think about all that leadership experience,” Pinter said, according to a Department of Defense story on the seminar. “There’s no reason that you can’t go back in your communities and be the leaders that our country is drastically needing.”

USO Communications Manager Sharee Posey contributed to this post from Estes Park, Colorado, and USO Multimedia Journalist Sandi Moynihan contributed to this post from Arlington, Virginia.

USO Arizona Volunteer Sacrifices Sleep so Stranded Troops and Families Have a Place to Stay

When Michelle Selby showed up to volunteer at the USO Arizona center at the Phoenix International Airport last week, she had no idea it was going to be an overnight shift.

But after a large sand storm (called a haboob) blanketed Phoenix — and stranded many traveling service members and their families overnight in the airport — Selby decided to make sure they had a comfortable place to spend the night.

“It makes you feel good when you can do something like that,” Selby said.

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USO Arizona is normally open to service members and their families daily until 8 p.m., unless special extended hours are requested ahead of time. But Selby chose to stay up all night so the USO Arizona center could stay open for the stranded military travelers.

“I just kept thinking, I wouldn’t be able to sleep when I got home,” Selby said. “As tired as I was getting, I couldn’t get myself to leave.”

Initially Selby thought she’d be able keep the center open until 10 p.m. But before she knew it, it was midnight, so she decided to keep the center open for as long as she could stay awake.

“I just didn’t have the heart to go wake them all up and say ‘You guys have to go sleep on the floor out in the airport, I’m going home to my comfy bed,'” Selby said.

Selby, whose son serves in the Air Force, hopes her actions inspire others to volunteer for the USO.

“My whole incentive when I’m at the USO is to try to treat people like I would want my son to be treated and taken care of,” Selby said.

Quiz: Can You Answer These Five Questions About the USO?

Think you know your USO and military history? Take this week’s USO quiz. (Answers at the bottom.)

1. The USO had an official mascot at one point during World War II. What was it?
A. a service dog
B. a mongoose
C. a fruit fly
D. a bugler

Library of Congress photo

Bob Hope. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

2. Bob Hope first performed for a military audience at what location?
A. Nome, Alaska
B. March Field, California
C. Love Field, California
D. Hickam Field, Hawaii

3. USO shows today are free to all service members. But that wasn’t always the case. How much did it cost in 1942 for Army and Navy troops to get into a USO Camp Show?
A. 1 to 5 cents
B. 10 cents
C. 15 to 20 cents
D. 25 cents

4. Which former Apollo Astronaut was once a member of the USO Board of Governors?
A. Neil Armstrong
B. John Glenn
C. Michael Collins
D. Frank Boreman

5. In 1982, then-USO President William G. Whyte personally accepted a $10,000 contribution to the USO from which of these celebrities?
A. Woody Allen
B. Reggie Jackson
C. E.T.
D. Shamu the Killer Whale

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. B; 2. B; 3. C; 4. C; 5. D

Fresh off the Plane: USO Fort Drum Volunteers Try to Think of Everything When Welcoming Home Troops

FORT DRUM, N.Y.–After a long flight – and a longer deployment – a little Febreze sounds like a good idea.

While no one is recommending it as a substitute for proper hygiene, it’s a viable – and apparently welcome – quick fix for troops who’ve just returned from their deployment and don’t have the luxury of showering before reuniting with their families.

These are the things USO volunteers George and Alice Barton prepare for when they are among the first civilians to welcome 10th Mountain Division soldiers home.

George Barton receives a certificate of appreciation for his USO volunteerism at welcome home events from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard on July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

George Barton receives a certificate of appreciation for his USO volunteerism at welcome home events from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard on July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

“We tell them ‘OK, arms up for a shower before you see your family.’ And we give them a quick squirt,” a chuckling George Barton said July 15, a few hours before welcoming 293 10th Mountain troops back from an Afghanistan deployment. “They get a kick out of that.”

The Bartons have been greeting returning troops at Fort Drum for more than three years. George – a retired airman who also worked for U.S. Customs and Border Protection – welcomes troops with a hearty handshake the moment they clear customs while Alice helps facilitate the snack table, occasionally weilds the Febreze bottle and trades playful barbs with the men and women who’ve just returned from deployment. A host of other USO volunteers are on hand as well, doing everything from ringing a cowbell and yelling “Welcome home!” on the tarmac as troops stream off the plane to making sure those service members have plenty of distractions, coffee and snacks while they kill time before their official return ceremony.

USO volunteer Alice Barton mans the snack table as troops wait for their welcome home ceremony July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

USO volunteer Alice Barton mans the snack table as troops wait for their welcome home ceremony July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

“It’s like being a mother to every one of these kids,” Alice Barton said before the July 15 ceremony. “I’m glad they’re back. It’s wonderful.”

“I appreciate what they’ve done because I know what they’ve done,” George Barton said. “I’ve been over in Iraq and Afghanistan and I know what it’s like over there and I know what they’re going through. I was only over there two, three weeks at a time. They were over there for a full year. So I appreciate when they come home, they’re glad to see green again most of the time.”

The Bartons – who spend their winters in Las Cruces, New Mexico – volunteer at USO El Paso as well, working with the USO Mobile program.

“For me the retirement’s great,” George Barton said. “And working with the service people – you couldn’t be with better people.”

Music Room at USO Camp Buehring Helps Deployed Musicians Keep the Beat

For musicians serving in the military, finding a way to keep their musical skills in tune during deployments isn’t easy.

But for troops at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, like drummer and guitarist Lance Cpl. Jonathan Thompson, finding a place to grab a guitar and relax with a jam session is as simple as heading to the USO.

“Every chance I get I try and go to the USO,” Thompson said. “I can’t really tote guitars around with me on deployment, so the USO is the only way I get a chance to keep up with my music.”

USO Camp Buehring’s music room— which is stocked with acoustic and electric instruments — is an oasis for deployed musicians looking for a place to practice their skills or rock out with their friends. According to Thompson, he and his friends regularly have impromptu jam sessions like the one above, which they recorded and posted to Facebook recently.

“I actually wasn’t playing a song,” Thompson said. “I told my buddy Willie to just play some chords and I was going to just run with it for a bit and that’s what happened. I was not expecting people to actually watch it or think anything of it, we were just messing around, and my buddy Thomas decided to record it.”

Thompson also noted that service members who can’t carry a tune can still use USO Camp Buehring’s other programs and services like computer stations and telephones that connect them back home.

“For a lot of us, the USO is the only way we can call and talk to or see (via Skype) wives, husbands or newborns,” Thompson said. “In my case, the USO was the only way I could talk to my father [who] was hospitalized the past few days. Its about more than music at the USO.”