The USO has been by the side of America’s troops for 73 years. But there are a lot of things that you may not realize about the organization.
In honor of our 73rd birthday Feb. 4, here are 73 items you may not know about the USO.
The USO traces its roots back to six other organizations. The Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board all pooled resources to help start the USO at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Our organization derives its name from the generosity of six groups. The USO stands for United Service Organizations. (Don’t forget the “s” in “Organizations.” We get sensitive.)
A lot of people think we’re a government organization. We’re not. The USO is a private 501 ( c )( 3 ) organization that supports America’s troops and their families thanks to the support of our generous donors.
The USO’s push to help wounded, ill and injured troops isn’t a new thing. The USO was sending artists – like Lila Asher – performers and musicians to entertain recovering troops during World War II.
In fact, you probably know us from our entertainment tours.
Particularly, those by a guy named Bob, who performed his first USO show just three months after the organization’s founding.
Bob Hope entertained troops for 50 years, making his last overseas trip in 1990 during the Gulf War.
The USO center at Los Angeles International Airport bears his name today.
The USO worked with Congress to designate Hope as first honorary veteran of the United States armed forces. Can you name the other one? (It’s this distinguished fellow, whose organization the USO partners with regularly.)
Speaking of USO centers, can you name the southernmost USO location? (OK, it’s sort of a trick question.)
Answer: The USO day room in Darwin, Australia, is another example of how our organization goes wherever the troops go, making sure they have all the comforts of home (or, at the very least, a good Internet connection and a TV to watch after a long day of training).
The USO has more than 160 locations worldwide. How many visits do you think those centers logged in 2012?
The answer: Nearly 9 million. That included roughly 170,000 logged visits per month in Afghanistan, where troops are still seeing combat situations.
We have 15 locations in Southwest Asia – 13 of which are full centers – where thousands of American troops are still deployed.
Country star Kellie Pickler visited several USO locations in Southwest Asia on her recent tour.
Pickler’s tour also linked up with the USO Christmas Convoy, which visited multiple bases in Afghanistan this holiday season, spreading gifts and cheer to troops who couldn’t be home for the holidays.
The convoy isn’t possible without our donors. They’re people like Lee and Suzanne Carrick, who said seeing photos of troops downrange opening boxes “was the best Christmas gift we could have ever gotten.”
USO donors are changing lives every day, especially those of our wounded, ill and injured troops. USO donors gave generously the past few years to Operation Enduring Care, which helped build the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., and the soon-to-open USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda, Md.
USO Warrior and Family Centers are a home away from home for recovering troops and their families. They’re full of opportunities these folks won’t find other places on the hospital campus.
The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., has a learning center and a business center equipped with dozens of computers and distance learning technology. Recovering troops and their families can take college classes there, research their transition or just log on to pay the bills.
Another little-known fact: The USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda, Md. – which will open this spring – will be dedicated in honor of Prescott Bush, who was influential in raising funds for the USO during World War II.
His son grew up to be President George H.W. Bush. And his son grew up to be President George W. Bush (who spoke at the 2008 USO Gala.)
Both men served as honorary chairmen of the USO during their time in office. The current honorary chairman is President Barack Obama.
Those USO Warrior and Family Centers are just part of the big picture of USO Warrior and Family Care.
Another part is education and employment training. The USO partners with nonprofits like Hire Heroes USA. Together, we helped Marine Reservist Anthony Mannino start a new career. (And veterans like Sudheer Banala, Ahmad Burse and Paul Hendricksen, too.)
While the USO/Hire Heroes USA partnership helps troops get hired, the USO partnership with Georgetown University educates troops on how to start their own businesses.
Transition isn’t just about finding a new career. The USO helps recovering troops deal with relationships once they get back home through our partnership with Stronger Families.
“We went to the [USO/Stronger Families] seminar for the weekend and it really just changed our wholeoutlook,” said Stacy McMahon, wife of medically retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chris McMahon. “We always felt like we had the perfect marriage. … We just learned a different way of resolving things.”
The USO established Caregivers Conferences to help spouses and other full-time caregivers learn strategies to deal with stresses and other challenges involved with caring for service members dealing with life-changing injuries.
“My healing to me ishelping others,” said caregiver Melissa Novoa, who attended the February 2013 USO Caregivers Conference at Camp Pendleton, Calif. “[I tell] them ‘You know what? It’s OK to be normal. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to maybe feel sorry for yourself for a bit but you’ve got to nip it in the bud. You’ve got to make your situation better. You’ve got to find answers.’”
Post-traumatic stress disorder – and how to care for someone who has it – is a heavily discussed topic at the conferences.
Chaplain Laura Bender, who experienced PTSD after a deployment, often counsels soldiers going through the same ordeal: “Oftentimes I have counselors come in my office and, because they know that I’ve had a like experience, the men will tell me what happened,” she said. “And I said ‘Have you shared that with your spouse?’ [They say] ‘I couldn’t let her know. She would not maybe think of me in the same way again.’”
The Caregivers Conference focuses on uplifting topics, too. Presenters like Steve Shenbaum of game on teaches positive reinforcement strategies to approaching problems that are bound to arise. “As we interact with people, I think it’s important to show [we care] before we say it,” he said.
Speaking of caring, there is a subset of the military family that often gets overlooked: children. The USO partners with Trevor Romain and The Comfort Crew to produce With You All The Way materials and a free worldwide speaking tour that help children from military families understand how to deal with deployments, reintegration, bullying and even grief if a loved one were to die while serving their country.
“When children have come up to us after [presentations], really what they needed was validation of what they were going through, instead of somebody trying to fix it for them,” Romain said last year during a USO event at Fort Belvoir, Va. “There was a young boy recently who came up to us and just started crying. I said ‘Are you OK?’ And he said, ‘I am now’ and turned around and walked away. He needed that place to feel comfortable.”
We don’t forget the younger kids, either. The USO/Sesame Street Experience has entertained 400,000 troops and family members since its inception.
Sesame Workshop created a special character named Katie for their USO tours to relate to younger children in military families. The workshop uses Katie to explain dilemmas like moving and making new friends.
The USO also helps families who lose loved ones, like Don Blanchard, who we supported during his coast-to-coast motorcycle ride to honor his son, a soldier who was killed last year.
USO volunteers like Julie Webb – who lost her son in a pre-deployment training accident – do everything from meeting families of the fallen to the airport gate to helping them coordinate travel with airlines and even giving them a private place to rest between flights.
And the USO center on the flight line at Dover Air Force Base, Del., has supported every dignified transfer for the last two decades.
Many people think the war in Afghanistan is basically over. But don’t tell that to the thousands of American men and women who are still on the ground there. The USO still provides scores of services downrange, including …
The USO/United Through Reading Military Program, which lets parents record themselves reading children’s books and then sends the recording and a book back home to their families.
“I enjoy knowing that my kids will be able to connect with me whenever they like through reading while I’m away by asking to have a DVD turned on at home or in the car,” said Lt. j.g. Matthew Stroup, who used the program heavily during deployment.
There’s also the simple pleasures like getting to call home. Then-deployed Marine Alexander Carpenter did just this at a USO center, getting to hear his newborn daughter’s first cries days after the Battle of Ramadi.
Speaking of newborns, more than a few dads have seen their children’s first moments at the USO via a Skype connection, which virtually brings them into the delivery room from thousands of miles away.
And USO2GO shipments – which consist of boxes of entertainment products, furniture, games and snacks – can give the most remote combat outpost a few signature USO comforts. Troops can apply for the program online, too, meaning they’re just one Internet connection away from having a small USO shipped – or even airdropped – to their camp.
A scary story with a good ending: On Thanksgiving 2012, a small combat outpost that housed American troops in Wardak province, Afghanistan, was bombed, destroying all its recreational supplies. Thanks to a quick call by a first sergeant, the USO was able to quickly help them out.
In all, the USO delivered 327 tons of supplies through the USO2GO program in 2012.
Our power to partner with large organizations also benefits troops downrange. On fall Sundays, service members can come to a USO center in the middle of nowhere and watch football thanks to the NFL’s donation of free NFLGame Pass access.
Improvisation is key downrange. During the recent drawdown, the USO at Forward Operating Base Sharana found away to give troops a hot breakfast after the dining facility on their side of the base closed.
While the USO will never stop supporting the deployed troops who need us most, we also provide programs and support at our 100-plus centers outside combat zones.
Some of the simplest things we do turn out to be the most powerful. A free cup of coffee and a friendly ear when a stressed service member needs to talk. A recliner to take a nap between domestic flights. A TV break between 24-hour shifts as a base gate guard.
If you’ve been to one of our centers, you realize food is a big part of what we do. Beyond the coffee and snacks, USO No Dough Dinners held at bases around the world keep younger enlisted troops with families to feedout of the red in the lead-up to payday.
And for all the activities we plan for troops and their families, some of the best examples of our service have been when we respond to special requests like evacuations and disaster relief efforts.
Just last week, our center at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport stayed open around the clock for a few days to host troops and their families who were stranded because of an ice storm that shut down travel in the region.
In November, the USO hosted Jennifer Cruz for a somber, touching visit she’ll never forget. RM2 Angela Santos – Cruz’s older sister – was killed in a terror bombing while volunteering at USO Naples in 1988. The USO held a memorial in honor of the five victims, and also gave Cruz a tour of the since-abandoned scene of the bombing.
And last fall, the USO came together with Renovating Hope to upgrade retired Marine Cpl. Cory Howard’s home, giving his young family a fresh start after injuries in Iraq.
We wouldn’t be able to do any of these great things without our volunteers. How many volunteers do you think the USO has?
The answer: 27,000. Those volunteers gave a total of 1.35 million hours to the USO in 2013. Last June, Rear Adm. John Kirby was so inspired by watching USO volunteers take care of new sailors returning from boot camp that he wrote us an email saying, in part, “[A]ll of them were made to feel welcome and proud. All of them were treated like war heroes by the staff there. And it was the middle of the night.”
The 2013 USO Volunteer of the Year is Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, who did everything from running the USO/United Through Reading Military Program setup to cooking during center events, preforming handyman work and even recruiting new volunteers during his time stationed on Okinawa.
On the home front, USO Fort Drum volunteer Suzy Hicks – a former service member herself – takes time to welcome deployed troops home. “It is an honor to personally welcome home and thank our troops for a job well done. I can’t think of a better organization to be a part of,” she said.
And in Landstuhl, Germany – the first stop for injured troops coming from Afghanistan – civilians and service members alike volunteer at the USO Warrior Center. “The staff have become my parents and the soldiers and volunteers have become my brothers and sisters,” wrote volunteer Patrick Jenkins in April 2013. “I always say ‘If I’m not working or at school you can find me at the USO Warrior Center volunteering,’ as I like to think of it as going home (I just have to leave every night).”
The USO has a robust set of programs that promote getting outdoors, both for donors and troops. TEAM USO is a great way to support America’s service members while also staying in shape. Whether it’s running a high-profile marathon or toughing out a Rugged Maniac obstacle course with your friends, TEAM USO has a race that fits everyone.
USO Warrior and Family Care extends incorporates outdoor, physical activities into the rehab process for wounded, ill and injured troops. Events like Ride-2-Recorvery Challenge Races test endurance and drive while also helping these men and women build new relationships.
In 2013, the USO sponsored medically retired Army Sgt. Margaux Mange on the Walking With the Wounded South Pole Allied Challenge. Mange – who tells her heartbreaking story here – was one of three previously wounded American troops to reach the South Pole on the expedition.
Mange also participated in the 2013 USO-sponsored Warrior Games, where she won multiple medals.
Before each Warrior Games, the USO sponsors the Marine Corps Trials in San Diego, where 50 wounded, ill and injured athletes qualify to represent the Marines in the main competition.
While the USO has placed a special focus on transitioning troops, we’ve developed customized, meaningful programs and events for their families, too. The USO has partnered with the What to Expect Foundation for Special Delivery events, where bestselling author Heidi Murkoff meets with military moms-to-be for a creative, mass baby shower.
And the USO’s partnership with Joining Forces – the White House’s initiative to create opportunities for military families – is stronger than ever. This past Sept. 11, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir to do an art project with children from military families.
The USO/Joining Forces campaign also hosted a care package assembly event timed for Mothers Day in 2012, where the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden helped Congressional spouses assemble packages for the mothers and spouses of deployed troops, including personalized notes from their loved ones serving abroad.
Speaking of the Bidens, Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Biden mingled with troops and their families at two USO events in 2013: a USO/TAPS Good Grief Camp Out at Camp Pendleton,Calif. (for families of the fallen) and a barbecue for troops and their families stationed in Hawaii.
And President Obama himself attended a USO concert on his front lawn, when troops and their families were welcomed to the White House on the Fourth of July last year to watch the band fun. preform.
No matter how you look at it, the USO is always by the side of America’s troops and their families. And we couldn’t do it without you, the American people. Thank you for fueling our service to America’s troops the last 73 years.
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