I have been so fortunate to spend the last few days working with our staff and volunteers supporting America’s brave men and women in uniform serving in the Southwest Asia region. Some of my time was spent at the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center in Bagram, Afghanistan and the remainder with my colleagues at the Southwest Asia Regional Conference.

After spending nearly a week in the region, I know that my friends and colleagues back home will inevitably ask me, “What did you learn?” I am having a hard time linking together words that will even begin to illustrate the challenges, sacrifices and rewards that those in the region experience on a daily basis.

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Evenings in Afghanistan bring an influx of service members to USO Centers in the region. The service members have finished their duties for the day and look forward to connecting with friends and family back home. My first night at the USO Center in Bagram I watched hundreds of service men and women connect with their families using the free phone lines and computers. The center was packed with people, but that didn’t phase the troops. Cup after cup of coffee was dispensed, more than 1000 cups that evening, as the men and women waited their turn for the phone or computer. For some, a place to sit and the free USO Wi-Fi connection was all that was needed to connect them to their lives back home.

The next morning we toted a large duffel of mail to the Post Office and unloaded package after package of United Through Reading’s Military Program recordings. Each package contains a very personal recording- a service member connecting to their child or children through reading. These recordings were all made in the past few days. The little hearts drawn in a rainbow of colored markers on the outside of one of the packages destined for Hawaii caught my eye. “Isn’t that great?” said Cathe Ganley, Pat Tillman Memorial USO Duty Manager. “She comes in frequently to read to her children.”

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The remainder of the day we prepared chicken soup in crock pots, handed out messages of thanks from the states, swapped stories and jokes and of course, served cup after cup of coffee. My time in the region, although short, taught me that every smile, every handshake, every kind gesture makes a difference. Thank you to those brave men and women serving our country and thank you to the staff and volunteers of the Southwest Asia region for helping troops stay connected to their lives back home and bringing a touch of home to some of the harshest areas of the world. - Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager