Photos: USO Volunteer who Won Contest Receives 2014 Jeep Wrangler

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Two months after winning an online contest, USO volunteer Norm Hallowell watched as Pam Horton – manager of the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. – pulled his new Jeep Wrangler up to the curb.

Hallowell stood in front of the recently opened center Friday afternoon with a small group of USO staff and volunteers and received the keys to his new Jeep from USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore Chief Operating Officer Cheryl Laaker Hall.

The contest was part of the USO’s ongoing relationship with Jeep, which include’s the automaker’s  Operation Safe Return initiative.

Liberty USO, Phillies Provide Surprise Holiday Moment for Two Recently Deployed Troops

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Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eileen Smith’s eyes filled with tears. Capt. Bud Evans shared a long embrace with his son. No matter where you looked, one thing was clear: Liberty USO had created another USO Moment.

The Phillie Phanatic – in his Phanta Claus outfit – handed holiday stockings to two service members who recently returned from Afghanistan on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. In each stocking was a free trip to Philadelphia Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Fla., including US Airways travel vouchers, hotel accommodations, an informal meet-and-greet with Phillies players and first pitch honors at a game. (Check out video of the event here.)

In addition to the surprise, Phillies personnel, Liberty USO staff and board members and host John Brazer assembled the final Operation Stocking Stuffer (OSS) care packages, which will go to troops serving overseas. The OSS shipments will bring USO Liberty’s care package total to more than 5,000 in 2013.

The Power of a Phone Call Home from the Battlefield

Alexander Carpenter with his daughter, Chloe, shortly after his third and final deployment as a Marine. Photo courtesy of Alexander Carpenter

Alexander Carpenter with his daughter Chloe shortly after his third deployment as a Marine. Photo courtesy of Alexander Carpenter

Six years ago today, then-Marine Alexander Carpenter was going on long patrols in Iraq in the aftermath of the bloody Battle of Ramadi. But the dangerous fighting he and his fellow Marines encountered wasn’t the only stressful situation on his mind.

In this edited email to the USO, Carpenter recalls a phone call made from a USO in December 2006 that changed his life:

I got back from a 12-day-out rotation. It was close to midnight in Ramadi. Our staff sergeant told us to clean our weapons and then we could shower, eat and have some time off. I cleaned my [weapon] so fast … because, my baby girl was to be born that day. I frantically cleaned my [weapon] and got a buddy to go the USO call center with me. (I skipped the chow and skipped the shower.) I called three or four different people and no one answered. I was so scared, I didn’t want to go back out without hearing my baby girl’s cry. Finally, I call one more time and I get an answer. She has been born!!! Ten fingers, 10 toes, healthy and kicking! … I shouted “I’M A DAD!” No one said shut up. No one told me to be quiet. But [the others in the USO] clapped and congratulated me. Tears streamed down my face. I spent six more months of patrols and firefights with my brothers by my side. I came back to the USO every 12 days to call home to hear my daughter. I made it home and saw my baby for the first time May 26, 2007 (she was born Dec. 2006).

I fought from that first phone call on not for oil, not for WMDs, not for Bush: I fought for my brothers to my left and right so we could all see our babies. The USO made that call possible for me. And to this day I have never said thank you. … Thank you USO.

Troops deployed across the globe rely on free calls home from USO centers to celebrate the seminal moments of their lives, connect with family members or just let people back in the States know they’re doing OK. Find out how you can help keep these phone calls free for America’s troops here.