By Danielle DeSimone

Throughout 2019, your donor dollars have made it possible for the USO to continue its crucial work of supporting service members and military families all around the world.

Without your generosity, our work would not be possible, and the USO is grateful for all that you do to support our nation’s military community. Here are just nine moments your donation helped fuel in 2019 through the USO:

1. How a Puzzle and a Conversation Saved a Soldier’s Life

Army Sgt. First Class Julio Mella completes a puzzle at the USO Warrior Center. | Photo credit Sandi Gohn/USO

As liaison for the 101st Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, Julio Mella’s job is to help service members during their time recovering. But Mella never anticipated that would also mean saving a soldier’s life – let alone doing so while completing a puzzle at the USO location on base.

Mella’s kind words and willingness to listen stopped a solider from committing suicide, and safely returned him home to the U.S. Because of generous donors like you, USO locations around the world can keep their doors open for service members just like the one Mella helped.

2. When National Guard Troops Deploy for Hurricane Relief, the USO Is There to Help

When the USO says “we go where they go,” we mean it! When the National Guard responds to natural disasters across the country such as hurricanes, the USO, too, deploys to the troops’ side.

With its fleet of Mobile USO vehicles, which act as USO locations-on-wheels, Mobile USOs provide a place for troops to relax, connect with loved ones and recharge during downtime. They also provide service members with snacks and toiletries to sustain them during their disaster relief efforts.

3. Boot Camp, Deployments and Homecomings: How One Navy Family Leaned on the USO Every Step of the Way

The Orhvall family has handled all the ups and downs of military life – from PCSing to deployments to homecomings – but through it all, the USO has always been by their side.

“The USO has done so much for our military family – from boot camp graduation to our first duty station, to current location at Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois,” said Jenniver Orhvall, a Navy spouse and mother. “I am not sure where to start, since we have had so many amazing experiences with the USO.”

Thanks to USO donors, the USO was able to help Orhvall’s husband read a bedtime story to his children while on deployment, to help the family find a community through their local USO events and even assist in ensuring they made it home just in time to say goodbye to a loved one.

4. USO Supports the Coast Guard and Their Families During Government Shutdown

Of the five branches in the U.S. Armed Forces, the Coast Guard is the only branch that falls under the department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. Because of this logistical difference, most of the 42,000 active-duty Coast Guard members did not draw a paycheck and were forced to work without pay during this past January’s government shutdown.

The shutdown was the longest in U.S. history, leaving many Coast Guard families struggling to make ends meet. USO locations and supporters across the country rallied around the Coast Guard. Civilians and military donors alike donated canned goods, diapers, hot meals and monetary contributions to help ease the burden of our service members and their families.

5. Dark Knight Overseas: Batman Artists, Writers and DC Comics Actresses Visit Troops in Kuwait

In honor of Batman’s 80th anniversary, DC Comics and the USO brought an immersive Batman experience to service military members stationed in Kuwait, featuring artist Jim Lee, writer Tom King and actors Nafessa Williams, Candice Patton and Danielle Panabaker. Noted special guest: the Batmobile itself.

Bringing USO entertainment tours to troops stationed in places like Kuwait can make an incredible difference in morale among service members. Not only was Batman a reminder of home – the presence of so many comic book legends and actors in Kuwait showed these service members that people back home had not forgotten them. Without your generous contributions, experiences like this for our military would not be possible.

6. Sully H.W. Bush Enlists as a Walter Reed Service Dog at USO Bethesda Ceremony

USO Warrior Centers are crucial outposts for wounded, ill and injured service members at nearby medical centers. These USO locations provide support and morale-boosting programs throughout every step of their recovery process – and there is no better morale-booster than a wagging tail.

The famous Sully H.W. Bush, former service dog to the late President George H.W. Bush, was formally inducted as a Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s facility dog at the USO Warrior and Family Center in Bethesda this past February. Dogs like Sully are tasked with reducing stress and improving the well-being of patients and staff at the hospital.

Although they are trained as typical service dogs, these canines are focused on providing emotional support to service members as they rest and recuperate from visible and invisible wounds at the hospital. Much like the USO, these facility dogs are with our service members every step of the way.

7. Mother Finds Comfort in Son’s Deployment to Kuwait Thanks to USO and Batman

Army mom Beth Thomason was incredibly anxious as she drove her 20 year-old son Noah to the airport to leave for Kuwait on his first deployment. Then, the family met the USO BWI Airport volunteers at the check-in, who immediately welcomed the Thomasons. These volunteers provided Noah with snacks and supplies for his long flight, and a small bit of comfort for Beth and the rest of the family.

“They were such friendly faces to everyone and such a relief, as I was trying very hard not to cry in front of all the soldiers in line over sending my 20-year-old off to ‘the sandbox,’” she said. “Thank God for them. They were the highlight of a stressful and dreadful day.”

8. In Vicenza, Military Spouses Build Community and New Friendships at the USO

According to research, 48% of military families feel they don’t belong in their local civilian community, and 43% feel they don’t even belong in their military community. Military spouses are affected by this the most.

Military spouses build friendships at USO Vicenza | Photo credit Sandi Gohn/USO

Because of their constant moves, living far from home and family, challenges in maintaining a career and single-parenting while their spouse is deployed, many military spouses can feel disconnected and alone. That’s where the USO – and your donation – comes in.

Military spouses stationed in Vicenza, Italy, are far from everything familiar. That’s why USO military spouse programming, such as cooking classes, spouse socials or Military Spouse Networking events can make such a difference.

“Moving away from your family is very traumatizing, especially if you’ve been with them your whole life. So, coming here and being new is completely terrifying,” said Cristina Pease, a military spouse and the center operations specialist at USO Vicenza. “The Spouse Socials are an amazing way to meet people and get to know people. I think a lot of women really depend on them. These social activities that the USO puts on, it makes us feel welcome.”

Photo credit DVIDS/Marines Staff Sgt. Dengrier Baez

Marine Capt. Nathaniel T. Lemons sorts through children’s books for his child while deployed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

9. Forward-Deployed Marines in Afghanistan Connect with Their Kids Through the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program

Donations to the USO help fund programs such as the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, which is especially popular among service members deployed to the Middle East. Through this program, service members can record themselves reading a bedtime story to a special child in their life – son, daughter, niece, nephew, little brother or sister – and send the recording and the book back home to the child.

“You’re giving them a gift not only in the book but a gift of time as a parent as well,” said Marine Capt. Nathaniel T. Lemons, who was deployed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

For those serving in remote outposts, this reading program ensures that service members can still contribute to parenting at home through the simple act of reading a bedtime story.

Thank you for all of your support of the USO, our men and women in uniform and their military families in 2019. We look forward to continuing making a difference in the lives of our nation’s military with you in 2020, no matter where their service takes them.