By Heather Huggins

The holidays are a time for family and tradition. For many, these holidays come alive with the sound of children laughing, the chimes of jingle bells and even the sweet smell of baked goods fresh from grandma’s oven.

For others, the holidays can be tough. Some families separated by military obligations do not get the same opportunities to be together or connect during this festive time of year. That’s where the USO comes in.

On a small, forward operating base in Afghanistan, Sgt. Nick Masi, a recently deployed service member, is working diligently to not only fulfill his duties as an Army soldier, but also his duties as a husband and a father to four children.

Knowing that he will not be able to spend the holidays at home with his family, he proactively seeks ways to make sure he is able to connect with his family in meaningful ways. The USO has played a large part in this through the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program.

Having spent time at their local USO several times well before his deployment, Masi and his wife identified the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program as an ideal tool to help keep their family connected during his time away. Upon arriving to Afghanistan, he was thrilled to see that he would be able to read to his children through the same program and wasted no time in recording his first reading session.

“It felt as though the reading program had transported me to be with my family, even if just for one story,” he said.

With the holidays kicking off these past few months, Masi jumped right into the festivities by attending the USO’s community tree-lighting ceremony, followed by a special holiday Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program event where service members were able to read “A Night Before Christmas” in front of a festive, fake fire in a costume of their choice.

Masi is excited for the Bob Hope Legacy Reading package, which includes the video of him reading the book as well as a copy of the book, to arrive on Christmas Eve so that his family will get a chance to still be part of a time-honored tradition, even during his absence. He knows his family will love seeing him in costume and will undoubtedly don Santa hats of their own while listening to their father read to them.

Getting to send a piece of himself home this season is something that Masi truly appreciates. He is also looking forward to participating in USO activities that allow him to take part in the same events or traditions from back home; he is able to share in the same excitement and experiences as his family. He signed up to compete in the USO gingerbread house competition this month and can’t wait to share his photos with his family to compare to the one they will make back home.

In Afghanistan and across the globe, our service members are making the best of the season side-by-side with the USO. Programs like the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program or gingerbread house competitions not only keep service members connected to their families during the holidays, but also keep soldiers connected to the idea of home through activities that mirror their holiday traditions back home.

Whether it’s a service member baking cookies for their military community on-base, or just providing a festive place to relax with a friendly smile, the USO is there to be their family away from family and bridge the gap to home, all year-long.