Thanks for Thanksgiving!

Let’s talk turkey.

The basic annual pay for junior enlisted troops comes in around $25,000.

It’s on this salary alone that many are supporting an entire family. During the holidays, these dollars can get extremely tight. So tight that a traditional Thanksgiving dinner might end up “off the table.”

In Kaiserslautern, Germany, there is a USO program that has kept that dinner on the table for the past 14 years, and more and more enlisted troops and families are fed each year.

It’s called Thanks for Thanksgiving, and this year it fed a record 600 junior enlisted and their families!

Junior enlisted troops were individually selected based on their family size and financial needs to receive a full Thanksgiving dinner, complete with stuffing, cranberry sauce, and even a movie to watch with the family. USO photo

“It’s the USO’s way of saying “Thank You” for their service during these past years of multiple deployments, long separations of families, and to assist in taking some of the financial stress off their shoulders,” wrote Colleen Lynch, USO Kaiserslautern Area Operations Manager in an email reporting the program’s most successful year to date.

Each year, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the USO partners with Army Community Services, the Vogelweh Commissary, and several other community organizations to provide a full, traditional Thanksgiving meal to deserving junior enlisted service members and their families.
According to USO Europe, this year’s dinner was also the most generous to date.

Of course, the meal included a sizeable turkey. But in addition, troops received a grocery bag with two boxes of stuffing mix, two cans of green beans, two cans of cranberry sauce, a can of sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, dinner rolls, a can of fruit, a box of hot chocolate mix, 12 Nestle ice cream sandwiches, and a Stars and Stripes newspaper and calendar.

Senior enlisted leadership from each participating unit and the Sergeants Major Association worked together to assemble the bags for their troops at 7 a.m., prior to the first families arriving.

“The program is really about seniors caring for juniors,” said Michael Lewis, Director of Operations for USO Europe. “They personally prepared the bags and personally delivered the groceries to their troops, along with a heartfelt ‘Happy Thanksgiving.’”

The USO mobile canteen was on site serving breakfast burritos, coffee, hot chocolate, hot cider and orange juice, and commissary employees cooked eggs and sausage non-stop from 5:30 am until the end to keep the canteen supplied.

Service Credit Union came through with $25,000 worth of in-kind donations to support the program, including a $25 Visa gift card for each of the families. Once families received their dinner they had the opportunity to select a DVD for each family thanks to Disney and the USO.

“I believe that we have achieved our goal beyond our expectations this year thanks to everyone involved,” wrote Lynch. “On behalf of the USO I would like to express our thanks to each and every one of you involved for making this event so successful and I look forward to continuing the tradition next year! – Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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We Offer Up Delicious Dishes and Bowling Parties!

We’ve been busy around the world – as usual! – and a few events seem to be particularly popular, no matter where in the world our Troops and their families are enjoying a USO Center.

Case in point: bowling.  Who knew it was just as popular in Iraq as it in in Italy?

Baghdad Duty Manager Courtney Haueter was talking to a group of soldiers who told her they’d been stuck here for 2 days using the USO computers, phones, Play Station 3 games and had each drunk a gallon of coffee. They had run out of things to do, so Courtney suggested they all go bowling. At first they thought she was joking because they had just come in from a small FOB and there was definitely no bowling center there. So Courtney loaded them up since the next chance at a flight was still 16 hours away. Off to Club Baghdad they went!

After waiting two days for a plane to take them on R & R, these Troops combat boredom with bowling. Looks like they did pretty well!

USO Vicenza thanked its volunteers by throwing a bowling party for them in honor of National Volunteer Appreciation Week on Thursday, April 23.  Two of USO Vicenza’s Core volunteers and one of USO Vicenza’s Special Events volunteers were present to celebrate.  U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza’s Arena sponsored two bowling lanes and shoe rentals for the USO to use. Pizza, soda, and a great time were had by all!

A volunteer at USO Vicenza waits her turn to hit the lane during a bowling outing in celebration of National Volunteer Week.

On that same day the USO Warrior Center hosted a BBQ sponsored by the Stuttgart’s Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS).  Along with the good food, the BOSS volunteers brought warm smiles and great conversation. During the visit there was one wounded warrior who had not been able to get out of his hospital room. He was very thankful to have the opportunity to leave his hospital bed and eat a good meal around friendly faces. Wounded warriors attended – 115.

One hundred fifteen Wounded Warriors chowed down on hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, and sausages courtesy of Stuttgart's BOSS program.

On April 24, the USO Warrior Center hosted a Chicken Dinner sponsored by the Theta Rho International Chapter.  Along with the good food, the Theta Rho International Chapter served the warriors with smiling faces and kind words. One warrior commented that the chicken was so delicious he didn’t want to return home, he wanted to stay here if he could keep eating this type of wonderful food. Another warrior commented “I just had to try the sweet potatoes; they are out of this world.”

One hundred thirty Wounded Warriors enjoyed a delicious chicken dinner with all the fixin's - yum!

USO Naples’ “Got Talent,” a Visit from the Mobile Canteen, and a Chili Dinner at the Warrior Center!

On February 26, USO Naples – with support from United Airlines – hosted a talent show – and did the talent come out in force!  The winners received two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the US.  Check out the coverage from AFN:

USO Kaiserslautern was at the Ramstein Commissary on Saturday March 20 from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm with the Mobile canteen to support the commissary’s “March Madness Club Pack Sale” and show appreciation to the Kaiserslautern Military Community.  Thanks to the generosity of DeCA and other sponsors, USO Kaiserslautern gave out free hot dogs, chips, popcorn, drinks, cookies, books and magazines to more than 800 loyal customers. USO volunteers and staff handed out children’s DVDs and small toys to each child that was present. The event was very successful with smiling faces and donations to support the Troops.

Learn more about our USO Mobile Program!

Military families line up at the USO Mobile canteen for snacks, courtesy of USO Kaiserslautern.

On March 21, the USO Warrior Center hosted three amazing chefs from the States. Blake Powers from Soldiers’ Angels and the ladies from Yellow Bowl Bakery, Molly Greenwood and Katy Gunderson (Manager of Operations/Founder of Bakers without Borders) prepared an awesome Chili and Dessert Dinner for 125 wounded warriors.

The wounded warriors were very impressed by the spread the chefs prepared.  One wounded warrior asked the chefs who cooked the desserts, when Molly and Katy replied that they both made them he said, “I know that it’s illegal, but I would love to marry both of you!”

This was an awesome night with wonderful food and great company.  The USO Warrior Center would like to give a very special thank you to Blake, Molly, and Katy for coming out and cooking for the wounded.

(L to R) Chefs Blake "Laughing Wolf" Powers, Katy Gunerson, and Molly Greenwood show of their certificates with Melissa Parkins of the USO Warrior Center