By Gayle Melges

DENVER – “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” is the last thing anyone expects to hear on a 96-degree day in Denver. For about 180 active-duty military recruiters, that’s exactly what followed the sound of sleigh bells as Santa Claus himself walked into their offices on July 24.

USO Denver’s team has a special relationship with Santa, who happened to be vacationing in the Centennial State. I joined Santa and USO volunteers Christina Campbell and Art Quintana on a journey around the Denver area, bringing small gifts and gigantic smiles along with them.

The USO Denver team met up with Santa in the morning. From there, the sleigh, complete with air conditioning (Santa is not used to the heat) and festive music, traveled to Armed Forces Career Centers in Aurora, Smoky Hill, Parker, Lone Tree, Littleton, Lakewood, three headquarters offices in downtown Denver and, finally, the Denver Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), where they connected with soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen, as well as applicants and their families.

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USO volunteers and staff joined Santa on a journey around the Denver area, bringing small gifts and gigantic smiles along with them.

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USO volunteers and staff joined Santa on a journey around the Denver area, bringing small gifts and gigantic smiles along with them.

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USO volunteers and staff joined Santa on a journey around the Denver area, bringing small gifts and gigantic smiles along with them.

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USO volunteers and staff joined Santa on a journey around the Denver area, bringing small gifts and gigantic smiles along with them.

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USO volunteers and staff joined Santa on a journey around the Denver area, bringing small gifts and gigantic smiles along with them.

A military recruiter’s job is to find qualified candidates for their respective service and provide the candidates with information about joining the military. Their offices are not located at a traditional military installation, and sometimes the physical separation can make them feel left out. This is where the USO, the Force Behind the Forces, comes in to make sure every service member feels the support of America’s citizens.

Santa’s magic red bag was filled to the brim with comic book action figures, yo-yos, scented bubbles, squishy toys, card games, marbles, paratroopers, mini kites and more. When he handed out gifts to recruiters and wished them a Merry Christmas in July, the stress of the job faded away for a moment and childlike joy shined bright.

At USO Denver’s MEPS center, the final stop of the day, Santa greeted a Marine just like he had everyone else all day. However, the real magic happened when the two of them video chatted with the Marine’s 7-year-old son who was excited that his dad was visiting with Santa.

USO Denver’s Christmas in July program wasn’t about the toys or the candy canes that were handed out. The magic of the adventure was they were hand-delivered by Santa and the team. It was about connecting on a personal level with each military member, acknowledging them, seeing faces light up with smiles and laughter and making a Monday a little bit easier to get through.

– Gayle Melges is USO Denver’s center operations and programs manager.

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.