USO Rhein Main Gives Gaming Troops The Ultimate Ticket to Gamescom 2014

Troops smile outside of the gamescom convention. USO photo.

Troops smile outside of the Gamescom convention. USO photo.

It’s no secret troops love video games. In fact, if you step inside any USO center, one of the first things you’ll likely see is a service member sitting in front of a TV, controller in hand, battling enemies in the latest blockbuster releases.

So when USO Rhein Main staff members heard about Gamescom, a German convention devoted to the latest and greatest innovations in the video game industry, they knew that they had to find a way to get troops there.

“Gaming ranks highly on most troops’ list of hobbies, so why not take them to experience that largest gaming convention in Europe?” said USO Rhein Main Area Operations Manager Ashley Grassl.

As part of its Food and Fun for Free program, which focuses on providing free programming for single and unaccompanied service members,  USO Rhein Main sent 20 soldiers to Gamescom 2014 in Cologne, Germany, earlier this month. From its popular Taco Nights to quarterly cultural tours to explore Germany, the Food and Fun for Free program gives troops a chance to step outside their barracks and enjoy their local surroundings.

Although the trek required troops to wake up early on a Sunday morning, Grassl said they had no trouble filling up the 20 van and bus seats, and even had a waiting list for the trip. Once the service members arrived at Gamescom, USO volunteers gave each of them a wrist band — which allowed them to play any game available — explained the layout of the convention center and let them loose to explore.

“Gamescom boasts that visitors will experience ‘the next generation of gaming,’ and our service members got to experience all of that and more,” Grassl said. “They had the opportunity to experience hands-on game play of games that won’t come out until later this year like ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,’ ‘Borderlands,’ ‘Battlefield’ and ‘Destiny.’”

From participating in multiplay online tournaments to stocking up on promotional freebies, Grassl said Gamescom offered something to keep any gaming enthusiast entertained.

“Gamescom was amazing. The masses came out for a great event. There was seriously something there for everyone,” said Army Spc. D’Lexis Cooley, president of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. “BOSS soldiers said that they were going to get their nerd on by gaming. And they did. “

Snow Problem? No Problem: Some USO Centers Stay Open Late for Troops Despite Weather

You may have heard it snowed yesterday on the East Coast. While news of cancelled flights and videos of dogs-playing-in-snow likely snuck into your Facebook feed, we noticed a different, heartwarming trend. Our Facebook feed turned up several photos and notes about tireless USO volunteers and staffers at centers that were able to stay open taking care of stranded troops. Here’s a sampling:

From Liberty USO, which serves Philadelphia International Airport:

The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore was able to help stranded troops at Dulles International Airport thanks to three dedicated volunteers. (The center at Reagan National Airport stayed open overnight, too, hosting seven stranded troops):

And in Fort Drum, N.Y. – where the temperature was 8 below zero at noon today – the USO continued business as usual by welcoming home returning troops earlier this week:

Like what you see? You can help America’s troops, too, by donating to support USO centers and programs.

A New Site for Wounded, Ill and Injured Soldiers

The USO Warrior and Family Center is missing its final beam!

Last week I had the honor of joining servicemen and women, donors, construction representatives, and USO staff to enjoy the topping out ceremony for the new USO Warrior and Family Center in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

Most topping out ceremonies celebrate the completion of the building’s structure, a milestone for the construction team. Our ceremony was more than that. We weren’t just celebrating the halfway mark of the building’s construction. We were celebrating what the new center will be for wounded, ill and injured (WII) troops, their families, caregivers and families of the fallen.

Come January, the large skeleton of the USO Warrior and Family Center will be transformed into a place where our country’s WII troops can go to escape the hospital, relax, and have fun during their journey to recovery.

The USO Warrior and Family Center will offer a caring environment where the healing that has begun, can accelerate. It will be a focal point for support; a place of respite and recreation; a place of normalcy to bring family together; and a place to prepare for a happy and fulfilling life ahead.

The final beam is placed into the USO Warrior and Family Center.

As I saw the final beam lifted into the sky and lowered into place atop the center, I couldn’t help but smile as I envisioned the center being utilized by WII troops every day. Many of the proud faces around me were delighted, too, and I thought they must be thinking the same thing.

Did you know?

  • Since the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 40,000 troops have been visibly wounded began, and more than 300,000 troops suffer from invisible wounds.
  • Only 12-14% of WII patients are injured in combat.
  • Many WII patients are injured during training.

The Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Center:

  • Inside: communal kitchen, dining area, game room, theater, classroom, business center, study areas, community room, therapeutic enrichment room, respite lounge, and more.
  • Outside: grill area, terrace, and healing gardens
  • This center is designed for warriors to have easy access and mobility throughout these spaces.
  • The USO Warrior and Family Center in Ft. Belvoir is the first of two centers specifically for our nation’s WII troops. The second center will be built near the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

To join the USO in supporting these heroes please visit www.uso.org/oec

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Never Missing a Moment: USO Programs Help Military Family Connect During Birth of First Child

Chuck and Mel Hubbell. Courtesy photo.

Their first child was just one month out, and everything was going according to plan for Air Force Staff Sergeant Charles (Chuck) Hubbell and his young wife, Melissa (Mel).

They were decorating the nursery in pastels at their home in Rapid City, South Dakota. They knew a little girl was on the way. Her name would be Madelynn Rae Hubbell—Maddy for short—and she was already a daddy’s girl. At night Chuck would read her stories and press gently on Mel’s belly. Maddy would push right back. It was their goodnight exchange.

Then the phone rang. It was the 28th Munitions Squadron—Chuck’s command. He was ordered to drop everything and deploy to the Middle East in just three weeks.

The news was a blow to the young family.  In the four years the Hubbells had known each other, they’d only spent one Christmas together.

“This would be our third deployment as a couple,” said Mel, “so we were used to it. But this time it was different. Our family would be starting off without him.”

Less than a week before the baby was due, Chuck kissed his wife and pressed a soft goodbye on her tummy as he boarded a plane.

While on a layover at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he stopped at the USO Center and recorded a message to his unborn child using United Through Reading’s Military Program.

The USO’s partnership with United Through Reading® gives active duty troops the opportunity to stay connected with their children. Troops read a book aloud while being recorded on DVD, then send the DVD and book to the child and family back home.

“In the last week before Maddy came along, I missed him so much,” said Mel. “When I couldn’t hear Chuck’s voice, I would play the recording. Maddy recognized his voice too.”

Thanks to a Skype connection, Chuck was there in the delivery room on the day his daughter came into the world last August.  Doctors and nurses passed Chuck’s floating head around the room so the camera on Mel’s laptop could pick up the action.

But that wasn’t the only way Mel planned to share the memory with Chuck. She didn’t tell her husband, but when she received the United Through Reading® DVD in the mail, there was also a coupon inside for a free photo album.

Through a partnership with RocketLife, LLC, the USO Photo Book program gives military families a chance to build and send their loved one a free, soft-cover photo album, small enough to fit in a uniform cargo pocket.

Mel took pictures of everything—from Maddy’s short stay in the Intensive Care Unit to her first bath, first meal and first outfit—all with the USO Photo Book in mind.

“What seems like every day things to us—your child rolling over or trying a new food—aren’t so mundane to a new dad 5,000 miles away from his first born,” said Mel. “Every event is a huge deal. They want to know about these things. They want to be in the loop and show their buddies pictures.”

Mel created the book online in less than an hour. Two weeks later, Chuck was flipping through pictures of the newborn daughter he’d never seen.  He took it with him everywhere. He showed everyone at his base in Qatar.

“Having pictures of my baby girl that I could look at any time… made my time apart from her so much easier to take,” said Chuck. “Technology is great, and while I was excited to be there on Skype with my wife through 15 hours of labor, that photo book put the icing on the cake.”

Staff Sgt. Hubbell returned from deployment in late February and met his daughter in person for the first time. She is now seven months old, and even though he sees her every day, he still carries his picture book with him everywhere he goes. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Madelynn Rae Hubbell. Photo by Amy Zochol Oyler of Legacy Photo and Design