By Eric Brandner
The best military stories come up when you walk into one of our centers and start talking to people.
So for the next six months, that’s what we’re going to do.
To mark the USO’s 75th anniversary, we’re heading out on a road trip we’re calling USO Route 75. And we want to bring you along. (Well, we’ll bring you along virtually. We may have overpacked our Jeep™.)
Starting Feb. 5, you can follow this map and our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds as we drive around America to learn more about the USO, explore issues like the military-civilian drift and military transition and try to answer these questions:
We’re going to meet a lot of people we don’t expect. What will their stories be?
Like any reporting trip, we have some concrete goals. (Because who’s driving from Phoenix to El Paso, Texas, just to say hi?) But our favorite stories usually come up when we’re reporting on other things. Like the time we met USO Fort Drum volunteers who regularly Febreezed sweaty service members returning from Afghanistan in a hangar moments before they reunited with their families.
So while we can guarantee daily dispatches while we’re on the road – including a flurry of Tweets, a travelogue on USO.org and our best shots on Instagram – we won’t always know what they’re going to be about ahead of time. And given our experience, that’s a really good thing.
What do you want to know about the military?
We could talk all day about what the USO does. It’s a big part of our jobs, and it’s pretty easy to do when you have so many selfless volunteers working to make the lives of others better. But this road trip is a chance to tackle big topics, too. We’ll be looking at several angles of military transition, including how service members and military families handle the assimilation into a society that has trouble understanding what they’ve sacrificed.
So if you have a question, email us at email@example.com or send it to us on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to tag it #USOroute75.
Will our waistlines be killed with kindness?
USO centers are famous for feeding their guests. Smiling volunteers point visitors to the snacks and coffee before they’ve finished signing their names in our guest books. That coffee, those protein bars and those Chick-fil-A sandwiches (we’re looking at you, USO of Georgia) are huge pick-me-ups and great budget preservers for military families.
But our band of storytellers will be spending roughly five hours a day in a car. How are we going to get through the trip – or even one leg of it – without packing on 10 pounds? To head this off, we put out a call to some overseas USO centers we can’t reach in our Jeep™, and they returned with some great road workout plans. We’ll incorporate those throughout the trip and will post the results so you can follow along (and try them out, too).
OK, so that’s not a question. But you don’t get to do reporting trips like this without a backer, and Jeep™ is ours.
As part of their 2016 partnership with the USO, Jeep™ is donating two vehicles – including a 2016 Jeep™ Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition – that we’ll be driving along USO Route 75.
If you see us on the road, take a photo, hashtag it #USORoute75 and post it on social media. We’ll keep an eye out for you.
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.
Stories in this Series
Dec 14, 2016
Here’s How the USO and RP/6 Created a ‘Movement’ in San Antonio
When USO-RP/6 scout Cedric Brown retired from the Navy, his transition to civilian life was a challenge. He shares his personal story with every one of his clients so they know they’re not alone – and that there’s a community waiting to help them along the way.
Nov 16, 2016
‘You Just Feel at Peace’: How USO North Carolina - Jacksonville’s Beirut Room Serves as a Space for Reflection and Healing
In light of the deep impact the 1983 Beirut bombing had on the Jacksonville community over the years, the USO center, with help from Lowe’s Home Improvement, created a special room in its center to honor the victims, survivors and family members affected by the bombing. The space – known as the “Beirut Room” by center staff and volunteers – features a granite wall monument, stained glass angels and several other photos and mementos memorializing those killed in the bombing.
Nov 1, 2016
‘It's Unbelievable’: USO of Illinois, Blackhawks and Boeing Team Up to Salute Service Members and Veterans During National Anthem
Robert Canchola, Vietnam veteran, was recently honored on-ice at the United Center during the National Anthem as part of the Service Salute Partnership between the USO of Illinois, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boeing.
Oct 10, 2016
They’ve Gone Down That Path’: Retired Soldier Explains How the USO and RP/6 Put Him on the Road to a Successful Transition
Tim Beninato wore an Army uniform for 25 years. Now he wears a suit and tie to work at USAA. Here’s how the USO and RP/6 helped him make the leap from soldier to civilian.
Aug 15, 2016
Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families Looks at Transition
Military families stationed here in Minot, North Dakota -- 50 miles south of the Canadian border -- don’t get many VIP visitors. So when the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families kicked off its 2016 tour at the base, it was a big deal.
Jul 29, 2016
Military Bride-to-Be Says Yes to the Dress Thanks to the USO at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
As soon as Melissa Wrisley put on the satin white gown, she knew it was “the dress.” Just a few months earlier, when she was first engaged to her now-husband, Marine Pfc. Brandon Wrisley, Melissa was wondering if she would even be able to find a dress – let alone a designer dress – that would fit their tight wedding budget.
Jul 20, 2016
Storytime Brings Families Together at Fort Drum USO
At the home of the 10th Mountain Division in upstate New York, winters can be long and lonesome. That's why volunteers there began to organize Storytime at the local USO, where military kids can socialize and do arts and crafts with their family.
Jul 14, 2016
It’s Never Too Early for Chili Cheese Dogs at the USO
German troops headed to nearby Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for training had heard about the American delicacy all the way back in Germany. They stopped at the USO center in St. Louis – which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – at 7 a.m. to find out what the buzz was about.
Jun 9, 2016
Service Members Get Their Game On at USO Center on Wright-Patterson AFB
Some of our best ideas come from the service members we support. Here's what happened when two airmen at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who love video games came to the USO of Central and Southern Ohio with a big idea.
May 6, 2016
‘Made All the Difference’: USO Helps Coast Guard Family During 12-Hour Flight Delay
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Trevor Hughes and his young family were headed to Disney World when they were suddenly faced with a 12-hour flight delay. Unable to go home without his children’s car seats, Hughes headed to the USO, where his family spent the whole day napping, watching movies and eating snacks.
Apr 22, 2016
USO, RP/6 Help an Army Veteran Land a Job Right Next Door
Michael Leebarze, who had ambitions to launch a career in the criminal justice/homeland security field, spoke with RP/6 staff members about his resume and transition plan. Several hours of career counseling later, Leebarze, now an Army veteran, left the center with a job interview for a position at the company right next door to the USO center.
Apr 8, 2016
Air Force Dad Became a USO Volunteer After Son's Call
How did you find out about the USO? For Tom Flagg, it was a phone call from his Air Force captain son during a layover in Denver. Years later, Flagg - a Broadway actor - and his wife both volunteer at the USO of Metropolitan New York.
Mar 7, 2016
USO at San Antonio MEPS is a Stress Reliever for Recruits and Families
The MEPS process is tense for the young men and women who’ve signed up to serve our country. They often spend many hours waiting for exams, tests and lots of paperwork, but USO is working to relieve some stress with locations inside processing stations around the U.S.
Mar 4, 2016
A Tasty Competition: USO Fort Campbell's Cupcake Wars Bring Military Families Together
Nothing brings people together like food and healthy competition. That’s the idea behind Fort Campbell USO’s Cupcake Wars, a fierce (and tasty) cupcake competition that takes place every at the center every summer.
Feb 28, 2016
From Biker Bars to Coffee Shops, USO El Paso Volunteer Opens Doors of Support for Service Members
Mallo is a USO center director’s dream come true. She’s marched into multiple businesses to ask if they’d like to support America’s service members and walked out with gift cards, mountains of candy and pallets of batteries.
Feb 27, 2016
Hattiesburg USO was a Sanctuary During World War II
The words of World War II-era USO volunteer Vermell Jackson echo the sentiments of the photos and encased USO artifacts at the African American Military History Museum. The building that now houses the museum was once home to a unique USO wartime center.