Little Things Often Mean the Most: How One Wounded Warrior’s Day was Brightened at the USO

Army Maj. David Keithan

Army Maj. David Keithan

After a brief surgical stay to repair the shoulder he injured during a 2006 tour in Iraq, Army Maj. David Keithan stopped into the USO Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany. He just wanted to “chill out and taking a break for a minute” before walking the rest of the way to the Fisher House where he was staying.

After signing in, Keithan spotted a jar of spaghetti sauce and a packet of ramen on the counter and it transported him back to his childhood.

“I saw it and I just thought, ‘Man that looks good,’” Keithan said. “I know it sounds really, really weird but I used to eat that as a kid. I’d always throw the packet of flavoring in the Oodles of Noodles away because it was too salty and I’d put spaghetti sauce on it instead. It’s a quick meal and growing up I used to eat it that way all the time.”

Whether it’s the smell of fresh cooking, a familiar brand of coffee or just the “howdy” of an American volunteer, it’s often little things inside each USO center that connect troops to their communities back home.

Keithan, who has been in the Army more than 18 years, asked a USO volunteer if it was okay if his wife – who was traveling with him – cooked him some spaghetti the way he likes it.

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“It wasn’t anything gourmet, but it was exactly what I wanted at that moment,” he said. “It’s like chocolate chip cookies made by Grammie. Grammie loves her American service members, and when you eat that cookie you feel connected … and you love her like she’s your own grandmother. I don’t care how young and how tough these soldiers think they are, they all have mothers and grandmothers and they know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Being from a small town in Maine, Keithan says it’s the little things that continue to bring him back to the USO. On one USO visit, he found his favorite local brand of coffee from Boston, which reminded him of home. Another time he was just comforted by hearing a friendly northeastern accent.

“It comes from everywhere,” Keithan said. “We all have different cultures in the States and all these little things come from the people who donate to the USO and as little as those things are — it could be a packet of sauce from your favorite local fast food chain — it brings you back home in that moment.”

USO2GO Shipments Help Troops Take a Load Off in the Middle East

Troops in Qatar pose with  some gear from their USO2GO shipment. Courtesy photo

Troops in Qatar pose with some gear from their USO2GO shipment. Courtesy photo

The master sergeant really wanted chairs.

The video games, TVs and snacks were great, too. Still, years of deployments, bad weather and overall wear and tear had left the furniture at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar in bad shape.

New folding chairs were actually a pretty big deal.

“I use one of your chairs almost every day to relax outside and enjoy my cigar and destress from the daily workload,” Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Rude wrote in a May 2 email to the USO.

The folding chairs – along with bigger-ticket items like video game consoles and televisions – were part of a USO2GO shipment Rude requested earlier this year.

“When I got to my deployed location [in January], I wanted to see what I can to take care of my troops,” Rude wrote in a May 5 email. “I went to the USO website and started doing some research about what [the USO] had to offer [and] I stumbled upon the USO2GO program.”

Troops play video games - part of their USO2GO shipment - and use other USO2GO gear in Qatar. Courtesy photo

Troops play video games – part of their USO2GO shipment – and use other USO2GO gear in Qatar. Courtesy photo

USO2GO delivers some of the USO’s most popular services to troops in remote and restricted areas around the globe. Service members in remote areas can go to the USO’s website to see their options: anything from snacks, coffee and toiletries to board games, video game consoles and sporting goods.

Rude was immediately drawn to the electronics and furniture offerings. He said the younger airmen in Qatar have personal electronics with them at all times, even though they don’t always have reliable Internet. However, many of the base’s communal video game consoles had been damaged by ubiquitous sand, intense heat and constant use.

“The main attraction to deployers is electronics,” Rude wrote. “I knew that my squadron could use consoles, especially since they double as [DVD players].”

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Once he’d narrowed down his wish list using the USO2GO online menu, Rude emailed USO2GO program manager Cristin Perry to coordinate the shipment. Rude submitted the final paperwork in mid-March. Two weeks later, the shipment was filled and on April 22, Rude’s unit started receiving packages.

“It is definitely difficult to explain how amazing it feels when several boxes of equipment come in from the USO,” Rude wrote. “I guess I can explain it best to ask someone ‘How did you feel when you seen all the presents under the Christmas tree as a child?’

“I thought the packages [the USO] had setup were perfect in efforts to help bring my guys together and get to know one another. It is also a positive distractor, especially being away from loved ones.”

Alabama Baseball Tournament Unites Community, Raises More Than $60,000 Over Three Years for the USO

The check presentation. USO photo

The Hits for Heroes check presentation. USO photo

Each spring in America, colored stirrups are excavated from the bottom of sock drawers, hardened orange clay is knocked loose from cleats and home plate is dusted clean so the local baseball diamond – and community – can come to life.

In Dothan, Alabama, the game has evolved beyond America’s pastime to become the way this small town says thank you to the men and women who protect their freedom.

Organized by a self-proclaimed stay-at-home wife who “couldn’t stay at home while service members sacrificed,” Hits for Heroes Director Angela Dunning brought more than 20 teams together in her local area to participate in a two-week baseball tournament to raise awareness of the sacrifices America’s troops make and to raise money so the USO can provide them more comforts when they’re away.

Players and coaches wore camouflage Hits for Heroes jerseys at each game. And during the fifth inning, Dunning invited everyone who is a veteran or military family member onto the field to be honored.

“Our community has just wrapped its arms around it,” said Dunning, who canvassed Dothan to gather corporate sponsors and participants.

“It’s more about the cause than it is about baseball, but because you’re including baseball, we get so many more people participating. And since every single person in America needs to thank our military, it has … become the way this town says ‘thank you.’

“And when it comes to the best vehicle in which to deliver that message of thanks, the USO is a no-brainer.”

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This year’s Hits for Heroes tournament raised $23,000 for the USO, bringing the three-year total donation to more than $60,000.

“I’ve yet to meet a single person who has a relationship with the military — either through their spouse or themselves — who doesn’t have a great story to tell about the USO,” Dunning said. “So we feel honored to partner with the USO and hope we can continue this effort for years to come.”

A Lifetime of Service: Officer-Turned-Businessman Talks About Supporting USO

When retired Army officer Tom Kilgore decided it was time to give back, it was clear which organization he would support.

“I became active with the USO shortly after my retirement [from the Army],” said Kilgore, who now heads risk management for ArcLight Capital Partners in Boston. “It was one of the organizations while I was on active duty which provided great value, I thought, to my soldiers and to my family.”

At West Point, Kilgore was taught that graduates engage in a lifetime of service.

“One of the ways in which you can continue a lifetime of service is to continue to give back to the organizations [that] have taken care of us while we were on active duty,” Kilgore said. “The USO affords me an opportunity to live up to the goals that were set for me as a young man, and the goals that I embrace and continue to hopefully embrace and live to this day.”

Congress, USO Pack Healthy Snacks for Troops on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON—Wednesday’s USO Congressional Service Project at the Rayburn House Office Building offered a unique opportunity for members from different sides of the aisle to support the troops together.

Elected officials spent part of their morning assembling healthy snack packs the USO will then distribute to service members and their families.

The snack packs are a direct result of requests from the TellUSO survey and contain items like oatmeal, dried fruit, pretzels and nuts. The snacks were donated by Harris Teeter, a USO partner that has raised more than $1 million for the USO since partnering with the organization in 2012. The 1,500-plus snack packs created Wednesday will be distributed at the USO centers around the Washington metropolitan region.

“On behalf of nearly 20,000 associates who work for our stores, we’re so proud to be a part of this,” said Rodney Vines, Regional Human Resource Manager at Harris Teeter. “We want to be partners with the community that we serve, and we thank the USO for giving Harris Teeter the opportunity to thank our troops and serve them as members of our community.”

And The Winners Are: Top USO Centers Announced at the TellUSO Awards

A service member signs in at the USO Las Vegas center at McCarran International Airport.

A service member signs in at the USO Las Vegas center inside McCarran International Airport.

What’s your favorite USO center? The USO asks troops and families to pick their favorite center each year through the TellUSO Survey and announces the winners at the annual USO Leadership Conference.

This year’s top overall center went to USO Las Vegas. It’s the second year in a row the Las Vegas airport center took home top prize. They earned the award for receiving the highest overall survey scores in categories like satisfaction, staff helpfulness and value.

But Las Vegas wasn’t the only center to take home a trophy last week. Here are the other winners by category:

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