The USO’s Iraq Legacy: A Decade of Evolving Support for America’s Troops

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

While American forces have been out of that country for more than a year, the legacy of the war is still sorting itself out.


USO photo

With the absence of a draft, the conflict pushed America’s all-volunteer force to bear its greatest burden to date, with multiple deployments becoming a large concern on the home front. While the death toll was comparatively low when pitted against previous American conflicts, the extent of the injuries – both mental and physical – were unlike anything the country had openly dealt with before.

But while warfare evolved, one thing didn’t change. Through the last decade, the USO was by the side of our troops on the battlefield and their families at home.

We were there providing millions of phone calls home.

We were there delivering the comforts of home to desert battlefields.

We were there with a video connection to the delivery room when babies were being born.

We were there when the dread of losing a loved one came into focus in the form of a temporary casket being transferred on the tarmac at Dover Air Base, Del.

And we were there when America’s heroes returned, hosting happy homecomings at airports for the majority of troops who made it back unscathed and providing programs for others to deal with the physical and invisible wounds of war. To better confront these issues facing wounded, ill and injured troops, the USO conceived and constructed two Warrior and Family Centers to help them and their families both recover and get on the right track to rewarding lives and new careers.

Thanks to the generous support of the American people, the USO was always by the side of our troops and families during the Iraq War. And we’ll continue to be there, wherever they go.

–Story by USO Story Development

Special Delivery!

The USO is preparing our next big USO2GO shipment. It weighs a ton — literally.

That’s because it’s filled with the comforts of home — items that can help our troops transform remote forward operating bases in Afghanistan into a place where they can organize a pick-up football game, play guitar, or just relax in a beanbag chair.

We need your help to make this delivery possible. And, when you send a gift, we’ll add your name to a huge “thank you” banner that will be included in the shipment.

Help send a special USO2GO shipment and we’ll include your name on a banner so our troops know how much you appreciate their service.

The USO2GO shipment we’re putting together is more than a collection of items our troops can really use. It’s also a huge “thank you” from a grateful nation.

And this time, you can play a personal role in delivering that thanks by adding your name to our USO banner included in the shipment.

Imagine how our troops will feel when they unpack the boxes to find your name and the names of thousands of other USO supporters on a banner letting them know their country is standing proudly behind them.

And every day, as they enjoy some of the comforts of home you’ve helped provide in this USO2GO shipment, they’ll see your name and know there are people out there caring for them, supporting them and honoring their service.

Give our troops a one-of-a-kind USO2GO shipment and we’ll add your name to a banner that will be included in the shipment.

I know how strongly you stand by our troops and I hope you’ll take part in this great campaign today.

Thanks for all you do,

Kelli Seely, Senior Vice President, Chief Development Officer, USO

Bringing Comfort to Those Saving Lives in Afghanistan

Optimal levels of comfort achieved!

At a remote forward operating base in Afghanistan, a small team of medical officers, surgeons, nurses and corpsman stand in harm’s way, always at the ready to save the lives of our frontline troops

They live as close to the action as possible. It’s a life of hurry up and wait. But with few luxuries available in a combat zone, they pass the time sitting on tires, playing cards and eating MRE’s.

True to our mission, the USO recently provided much needed furniture, toiletries, energy drinks and entertainment to lift the spirits of the 629th Forward Surgical Team at FOB Orgun-E, on the eastern border of Afghanistan. The unit received a USO2GO shipment which included coffee makers, video games, bean bag chairs and more, bringing them a much-needed touch of home.

“We can’t thank the USO enough,” said Army Capt. Phyllis Thieken of the 629th FST. “We are a team of medics, doctors, CRNAs [Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists] and nurses who are devoted to taking care of the wounded, and it makes me feel good to know that with the help of the USO, we are able to help other soldiers here on the FOB.”

The medical team is using the care package to further pay it forward to Special Operators passing through their base.

“Some come here just to get a shower after being out on missions,” she added. “By supplying simple packets of Gatorade to these guys who have been eating MREs, we get such a good feeling. Their faces light up over Gatorade!”

“Little things like furniture—comfortable places to sit—are often taken for granted out here. Most every piece of furniture is hand built from scrap wood and sleeping mats. Outside we were sitting on tires, so with the folding chairs and bean-bag chairs you gave us, we’re now able to actually sit and be comfortable, especially when we have meetings or training as a group. It’s made a huge difference in our everyday lives.”

Right now the unit is engaged in a fierce Call of Duty tournament on the X-Box 360. The combat shooter has been a constant source of rivalry within the unit and gives them something to look forward to each day.

“That X-Box is hands down the most coveted piece of equipment in that box,” said Thieken. “If that thing broke we would have a riot on our hands. It’s our number one source of entertainment, and it really helps us pass the time.” –  Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Photos from the Field – September 2010

Periodically, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this latest installment of our photo essays!

(P.S. – if you know any of the photographers of images that don’t credit one, please let us know!)

A panoramic shot of the recently built center at USO Fort Riley. What a view! (Photo by Virginia Hagin of HaginPhotography)

A group of Marines serving in Afghanistan enjoy some comforts of home courtesy of their USO2Go kits. (Photo by their Command Chaplain)

Flyover in formation as part of Korean Air Force training for Armed Forces Day. (Photo courtesy of USO Korea Facebook page)

Morning rising above Sather Air Base, home of the USO Baghdad. (USO photo by Richard McCarty, via USO Baghdad Facebook page)

Soldiers Enjoy New USO at FOB Konduz

Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Division deployed from 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., enjoy a movie during their off time in the recently reopened FOB Konduz United Service Organizations. The building was recently remodeled and opened to the Soldiers. (U.S Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

By Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division Public Affairs

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KONDUZ, Afghanistan – When Soldiers deploy, what to do during the rare time off is not something many spend time thinking about.

But thanks to the work of Capt. Tony Hampton, chaplain for 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment deployed from 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y., and numerous volunteers, Soldiers have a spot at the FOB Konduz United Service Organizations to get away from it all, even if it’s just for an hour or two.

Long before members of the Soldiers stepped off the plane, coordination had begun to secure “a bit of home away from home” for the Soldiers.

“Before we left Fort Drum, I contacted the USO and asked if they would send us a USO2GO pack,” said Capt. Hampton. “When we arrived on the ground, boxes started appearing.”

Inside those boxes was everything a Soldier could ask for to be entertained.

According the USO’s webpage, inside of the USO2GO delivers the USO’s most popular services to troops in the remote and restricted areas. Included are beanbag chairs, snacks, and coffee, toiletries, DVDs as well as gaming platforms.

“Everything you see in the USO, came from the USO2GO packs that they sent us, said Capt. Hampton.

When Soldiers first arrived, the building set to house the USO had been left unattended and required several days to renovate. During that time the interior was painted, new furniture brought in and arranged in the building. Different areas were set up to accommodate numerous activities including a section to watch movies or play video game, a reading area, a ping-pong table, a foosball table and a music area complete with guitars and a karaoke machine.

“The greatest thing for me is just seeing the Soldiers coming and having a place to relax,” said Capt. Hampton. “They can watch a movie, play a and get something to eat. Just seeing them come in, get off their feet and relax is the biggest reward to me.”

The decision to update the facilities was an easy one for the chaplain.

“Part of my job description for the battalion is the morale and spiritual welfare of the Soldiers, said Capt. Hampton. “If they go out there and fight, when they come back in, they should have some where that feels somewhat like home, that they can come and relax.”

“They can come in here and watch movies or play video games, “said Pfc. Andrew Taylor, 1st Brigade, 87th Infantry Regiment medic, who volunteers his time to help run the USO.

“It’s like a slice of home in a way,” he added.