By Tech. Sgt. Dana Cable
Every time a service member opens a USO Care Package, they are reminded of all those thinking of and supporting them back at home. It’s a special moment, and one that the USO is proud to make possible over and over again.
On Nov. 11, this typically memorable moment was made even more meaningful for a group of service members deployed in East Africa, one of whom received the 3 millionth USO Care Package during a visit from the USO Camp Lemmonier team.
“It’s exciting to expand the USO support across the Horn of Africa and just in time for the holidays, the most challenging time to be separated from loved ones,” said Holly Coffer, USO Camp Lemonnier manager. “We hope this trip leads to many more and that we’re able to continue expanding USO support across the region.”
Coffer and Navy Command Master Chief Alex Hebert, the senior enlisted leader of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, were able to present the 3 millionth care package during a night of bingo and trivia provided by the USO. The recipient of the package was Army Spc. Kayla Lystad, a Minnesota National Guardsmen deployed with Task Force Bayonet in support of CJTF-HOA.
“The USO helps with so many aspects of morale,” Lystad said. “You guys put in so much work and effort and have to travel to some not-so-nice places and always have a smile on your face—so I just want to say thank you.”
Supporting Service Members In East Africa, and Beyond
The USO at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, has been supporting military members throughout East Africa since they opened their doors on base in 2015. The USO Camp Lemonnier center is the only physical location on the continent of Africa and handles a large area of responsibility. Coffer said this is the first trip that has been made to other sites in East Africa in quite some time due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s a privilege to be with them in these remote locations and it allows us to bring a touch of home in some of the most far-flung corners of the world,” Coffer said.
“We celebrate connections in so many ways — from roasting s'mores in the mountains of Afghanistan, to helping a deployed dad surprise his daughter on her graduation day, to hosting a virtual wedding ceremony for service members separated by COVID. We’re in these remote locations to make their deployment and separation from family, home and country a little bit easier.”
For many service members receiving a care package is more than just a gift — it’s a reminder that someone cares about them and that they are not forgotten.
“I have been on many deployments and every deployment I have been on, the USO has had a footprint where I have been at,” Herbert said. “It brings that part of home to you that you can’t find while on deployment and brings a sense of normalcy in the middle of conflict.”
Hebert and Coffer both agreed they hope this is the first trip of many more throughout East Africa.
“Our goal is to connect service members and create morale-boosting activities and engagements that help alleviate some of the stress brought on by being in the military,” Coffer said. “We focus not just on the service member but the whole family.”
An Expeditionary Visit to Support the Whole Military Family
In addition to the delivery of care packages during the recent trip to East Africa, the USO was able to provide forward deployed service members the opportunity to utilize the Bob Hope Legacy Reading program.
“The USO took our reading program mobile and set up a location where service members can record themselves reading a book to their children,” Coffer said. “The USO will then mail the book and the recording home at no charge to the service member. It’s a great way for the service member to keep reading those bedtime stories to their children no matter where in the world they’re located.”
According to Coffer, working with the USO is a rewarding experience and a wonderful opportunity to show service members how much appreciation she has for what they do and the sacrifices they make.
“This represents almost 80 years of the USO standing side-by-side with America’s military no matter how far from home they serve,” Coffer said. “It also represents the countless staff members and volunteers who’ve shared their time, talents and treasures in an effort to let our military know we stand behind them every step of the way. Where they go, we go.”
This story originally appeared on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org.
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