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Top Five Gifts for Troops this Holiday Season

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

From staff reports 

Want to give to America’s troops this holiday season but don’t know exactly how to go about it? Here’s five easy ways you can make a difference right now for American troops protecting your freedom around the globe.


1. Phone calls home 

Six years ago, 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 at the end of his 12-day-out rotation. 

Once back on base, Carpenter skipped both the shower and chow hall and made a beeline for the USO, where he frantically dialed his family in the U.S. to find out if his first daughter – who was due that day – had been born.

“I called three or four different people and no one answered,” he wrote in an edited email to the USO. “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!’ … [Others in the room] 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.”

The U.S. presence may be drawing down in the Middle East, but troops deployed across the globe still 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 during the holidays.

2. Long-distance bedtime stories  

Navy Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup couldn’t always call home during deployments at sea and to the Middle East, but he found other ways to communicate with his two young sons.

“It’s tough for little people to stay engaged for too long [on the phone],” Stroup wrote in a March email from Afghanistan. “That’s another nice thing about [United Through Reading] though: you can put in the DVD and it grabs their attention for a longer period of time.”

The USO’s partnership with United Through Reading’s Military Program allows troops to record themselves reading a book and send that recording – and oftentimes the book itself – to their children back home. It’s a creative way to let kids see their parents’ faces every night, even if they’re deployed halfway around the world. And just like USO Volunteer of the Year Jeremiah Johnson says in the video below, it’s an easy program to support this holiday season.


3. Comfort food package  

Think of your fondest holiday memories. Chances are they involved a great meal. The USO understands this, and we do our best to create those moments for troops who are both serving in harm’s way and who are stationed at bases far from home. 

USO No Dough Dinners are a great example of how the USO can put a smile on a service member’s face with a hot plate of food. These dinners also have the added benefit of giving young military families who are stretching their paychecks – especially during the holiday season – a way to have a stress-free meal on us.

Find out how to give the cheer of a holiday meal to our troops this season.

4. The USO Christmas Convoy and holiday boxes  

An annual tradition, the USO pushes its Christmas Convoy through the most dangerous spots in the Middle East – where troops have little hope of experiencing holiday cheer – to deliver both presents and messages of thanks.

See our video from the 2012 USO Christmas Convoy below, and learn how you can support that project – along with other USO holiday programming for troops far from home – by clicking here


5. USO2GO Airdrops  

“It was like Christmas.”

It was a few days after Thanksgiving, to be exact, but Army 1st Sgt. Michael Carlan’s sentiments about receiving a brand new palate of recreational gear after a small U.S. outpost in Wardak province, Afghanistan, was attacked by a truck bomb would be enough to make anyone smile.

“It took us about three weeks to come out here and rebuild,” Carlan said. “I emailed [USO2GO Program Manager] Cristin Perry and I told her I’m trying to run down a TV because there were no TVs. … And within eight hours or so she sent an email back saying ‘I’m sending you two TVs on Monday.’ And then she sent everything else, too.”

USO2GO airdrops – seen here on – are an effective way to get the basics troops would have at a traditional USO center to troops stationed in remote bases in the Middle East.

Learn how you can support this program that gives a little R&R to troops at the tip of the spear.

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