By Joseph Andrew Lee
Each holiday season, USO volunteers and staff organize a series of Christmas celebrations for thousands of service members stationed in South Korea.
Just before Christmas, roughly 5,000 service members received stockings, meals and other gifts thanks in part to Operation Give, which sent 10 pallets of holiday stockings valued at more than $50,000. USO Korea staff and volunteers distributed the stockings to the USO’s six centers around the country.
“Something as simple as a stocking during the holidays does a lot to brighten a service member’s day,” wrote USO Korea Programs Manager Michelle Zamora-Trilling about the program they call Operation Christmas Cheer. As a reservist and a military spouse, Zamora-Trilling knows what it’s like to be away on mission during the holidays.
“Each time I received a gift, it was so wonderful to know that someone was out there thinking of [me],” she wrote.
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USO Korea staff and volunteers put together a plan to distribute the stockings in a variety of ways to reach the most single and unaccompanied service members possible.
In 2012, one soldier was so grateful for the gesture that he took the time to email the young stocking stuffer back in the U.S., whose email address was included in the stocking.
“The USO just came by our barracks roughly 30 minutes ago and gave myself and many other soldiers in our barracks a beautiful Christmas stocking with all kinds of goodies,” the soldier wrote. “Thank you for making my lonely holidays better. This will be the sixth Christmas I spent away from my family, so the more times I spend away from my family the harder it gets to feel the ‘holiday’ cheer. But young Americans like yourself and the incredible USO volunteers make me feel much better.”
Last year, USO Korea received another heartwarming note from a service member.
“This great act of kindness brought a genuine smile to my heart,” the service member wrote. “I was very surprised that someone had come to the door to give me something. It wasn’t the gift itself that brought the most joy but rather the act. …
“I thank you all for thinking of the soldiers here. A lot of them are experiencing their first time away from home. Thank you for spreading some cheer and letting them know that someone is thinking of them.”