The USO is a mission-first organization. Being by the side of our troops and their families to comfort, support, connect and entertain has been a core priority from our earliest days. Over the years, USO staff and volunteers have become an integral part of the lives of our troops and families, always by their side around the world.
From the moment new service members join the military, through numerous deployments, and even as they return and plan for what comes next, the USO is there, demonstrating this nation's unwavering support and gratitude. It happens more than 30,000 times every single day at locations from Jacksonville to Djibouti.
USO centers, innovative programs and celebrity entertainment tours are the heart of our organization and help us deliver on our mission. No other organization does more to earn the trust of troops and military families. And as the needs of our military change, the USO will continue to deliver on our promise to always be by their side.
Always by their side. Just four words, but so much meaning. This phrase lays out our promise to our troops and their families: The USO will be there for them, no matter where they serve. Our USO centers and mobile units are a big reason why we can say this. Why do troops and their families search us out? Simply put, USO centers provide them with VIP-level service and support around the world, offering them a home-away-from-home feeling, a chance to connect with their loved ones via free phone calls or Internet access and a place to relax, regroup and recharge during deployments or while travelling to their next destination. Most of all, USO centers provide troops and their families with a safe place where they know they're always welcome.
No two USO centers are the same. Each offers a unique experience designed specifically to meet the needs of local troops. But every center delivers the same warm hospitality and respect for the military that walk through its doors. And our centers are visited quite often.
In 2014, our 160 USO locations worldwide logged more than 8 million visits by troops and family members. So we must be doing something right. In our annual TellUSO survey, 95 percent of troops and families members agreed the USO shows that America supports them. So they know, no matter where home really is for them, the USO will always be there.
“I think this will give someone a place to kind of sit back, reflect, relax, work on themselves just on a personal level — a worry-free zone in a sense.”Medically retired Army Sgt. Kevin Gatson, a former patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, on his experience at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda
What does it mean to troops serving overseas when a USO entertainer visits them? Overwhelmingly, the reports we get back say these encounters make real, positive differences in their lives. It's a sign their service matters. The time and attention these celebrities take to perform a concert or stand-up comedy routine – or shake hands and eat a meal with the troops – not only lifts their spirits in the short-term, but also provides a once-in-a-lifetime memory.
The USO's tradition of delivering top-quality entertainment around the world continued in 2014, with 102 entertainers making the lives of 289,000 troops and military family members a bit brighter by performing at 440 events in the U.S. and 17 foreign countries. Now, you can see inside those experiences.
“The idea that you can put a smile on their face … that’s why you’re doing it. Their face lights up. And you’re like ‘Wow, I am making a difference for these [troops].”NBC’s Al Roker talking about his October 2014 trip to Afghanistan
Some service members can't get to a USO center. But that will never stop us from serving them all. Our military knows the USO is just a phone call away. And when we're called upon, we make every effort to deliver the support, programs and services that help troops do their jobs and keep their spirits strong.
When crises surface around the world, our troops respond. From earthquakes and tsunamis to disease outbreaks, the U.S. military is often the first on the ground. And the USO is quick to react to their needs. During these intense times, the USO delivers critical support to recharge our troops when they need it most.
Last year, the USO sent more than 1,300 shipments – including games, snacks and even furniture – to troops deployed from Africa to the deserts of the Mideast and all the way to Darwin, Australia.
“We want the USO donors to know how much we appreciate this because we can tell that this system is expensive and it must take a lot of donations to make something like this happen. We make jokes that the conventional Army gets the good stuff and the operators get the hand-me-downs, but this is one of those things that lets us know that we aren’t forgotten.”Capt. Brian Hargis, Army Chaplain Corps, talking about USO Mobile Entertainment Gaming Systems (MEGS)
Military families must confront a vast set of unique stresses on top of the same problems their civilian counterparts face. These challenges affect all ages, from the youngest military child to military spouses and caretakers. They know its part of their service but the strain it causes requires special attention. The USO works to keep these families strong with targeted programming that offers guidance and support in a variety of the situations.
In 2014, the USO brought more than 70 USO/Stronger Families workshops to military couples, helping them rebuild relationships that have been tested by deployments and injuries. ,
For military kids, fitting in at a new school or finding a role at home can be hard. The USO is addressing these specific needs through programs like The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families. Classic Sesame Workshop characters, including Elmo, talk through the ups and downs of being a military child in front of a live audience. The tour teaches valuable lessons to kids, showing them they're not alone.
“While I never want to do another [deployment] again, I know we probably will, and knowing that the USO has all of these things available for the service members makes it so much easier. And I feel like I can get through another deployment, with kids, if we have everything we had this last deployment.”Laura Whitefield, military spouse
The lives of troops and military families are in constant flux, and no transition is a greater challenge than leaving the service. The USO is committed to providing a smoother reintegration process for the generation of post-9/11 troops that is currently making that daunting move.
USO transition support constantly evolves. With our broad access and knowledge of the military, the USO connects troops and their families with programs that help them successfully move into new careers and communities.
The impact is already substantial. The USO facilitated nearly 120 USO/Hire Heroes USA events last year for transitioning troops seeking civilian careers. We also hosted multiple USO Caregivers Conferences, where families of wounded, ill and injured troops learned valuable stress-relief and coping strategies. The USO will continue to expand the scope and scale of its programming to assist troops and families transitioning out of the service.
“[At USO Caregivers Conferences] you’re going to meet somebody, you’re going to talk to somebody or you’re going to listen to somebody speak who is going to give you that little bit, maybe that little tool, that maybe you can pull out another time and maybe get through another day."Justin Larsen, caregiver and Afghanistan War Veteran