What is a Blue Star Family?

By Sydney Johnson

The minute someone takes the oath to serve in the U.S. military, both their life and their family’s lives change forever. All the things they heard about and prepared for – the moves, deployments, the time apart – all become a reality and life is never the same again, not only for the service members, but for their children, spouses and parents.

When they join the military community, some military families choose to display a Blue Star service banner or flag in a window of their home to signify a loved one is an active duty service member.

This special flag, displayed only by military families, is where the phrase “Blue Star Family” comes from and refers to the immediate family members of an active duty service member.

The Blue Star Family tradition is rich in history and dates back to World War I. These families are still honored for their sacrifice today and the USO has many programs in place to help them stay connected to their loved ones during their service.

The History of the Blue Star Service Flag

The Blue Star service banner originated in 1917 during World War I, when a U.S. Army captain designed and patented it to honor his sons who were serving on the front lines of the war. The banner features blue stars on a white background for each active duty service member in the family. There can be, at most, five stars.

Photo credit Staff Sgt. George Davis

Ohio Army National Guard Spc. Jamel Givens holds a Blue Star Flag following a call to duty ceremony in Cincinnati.

The Blue Star service banner quickly became popular amongst other parents whose children were also serving in WWI, and in September of its origin year, an Ohio congressman declared it an official service flag, stating: “The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother: their children.”

During World War II, the Department of War - the predecessor to the Department of Defense (DoD) - formally specified measurements of the flag so that it could be manufactured and distributed to military families. It also identified when the flag could be flown and who could fly it.

Later, on Dec. 1, 1967, the DoD officially authorized the Blue Star service flag and the corresponding service lapel.

How the USO Supports Blue Star Families

Blue Star Families sacrifice a lot. Their loved ones are often far from home and not easily accessible. Luckily, the USO has programming that can keep them connected to their service members and help them maintain a sense of normalcy while they are away serving our country.

Here are just a few ways the USO does just that:

Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program

Story time is an intimate and inherent part of many childhoods, in which children bond and learn from their parents. The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program is the USO’s way of making sure that military children and their parents don’t have to miss out on this special experience, even when their service member is on a mission away from home.

Photo credit Spc. Angel Ruszkiewicz

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Claudia Battle reads a book to her children via the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program at Erbil Air Base in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program – inspired by Bob Hope’s dedication to bring military families together – is the result of a partnership between the USO and the Bob Hope Legacy Foundation. The program offers children a way to connect with their active duty parents virtually through reading while they are away from home. Deployed parents can read bedtime stories to their children via recorded videos, allowing them to stay connected to their loved ones while they’re still young.

In 2019 alone, the program connected more than 39,000 military families all over the world.

Operation Birthday Cake

Having a family member in the military can feel even tougher on special landmark days, like birthdays. That’s exactly why many USO locations have a next-best-thing solution: Operation Birthday Cake.

USO volunteer Alisha Shadow delivers a birthday cake to soldier in Guam. | Photo credit USO Guam

This program, which is offered in several (but not all) of the USO’s 250+ locations, allows parents and family members to send a cake to their active duty loved one. If this program is offered in their service member’s location, all military family members need to do is contact the local USO center with their loved one’s information and the USO team will try their very best to deliver them a cake.

Successful cake deliveries never fail to make a service member smile on their special day.

USO Coffee Connections

Imagine having to pack up your entire life and relocate in just a few weeks because your active duty spouse has been reassigned to a different location. You have to meet new people and start all over in a place where, perhaps, your neighbors may not understand what you are going through as a military spouse.

Enter USO Coffee Connections. This program allows military spouses to meet with other spouses at their local USO center, where they can enjoy casual or guided conversation over a cup of coffee.

USO Coffee Connection host Elizabeth Lee moderates virtual discussion via Facebook. | Photo credit USO Photo

Additionally, the USO offers USO Coffee Connections Live, which is a virtual extension of the USO Coffee Connections program and allows spouses that cannot make it to an in-person coffee meetup to access insightful conversations and learn from other military spouses about a variety of topics online.

Through all their sacrifices, the USO is there to support Blue Star Families. Whether it’s by tracking a service member down on their special day to deliver a birthday cake or providing a space for military spouses to engage with one another, the USO makes sure Blue Star Families have access to the resources and services they need and deserve.

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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