As COVID-19 Reshapes the Holidays for Military Families in Germany, the USO Helps Them Put the Thanks in Thanksgiving

By Debbie Dyer

Comfort, joy and peace are just a few of the words used to describe the holiday season.

“Thanks for Thanksgiving” bags. | Photo credit Jade Nikkole Photography

They’re also exactly what the USO Kaiserslautern team in Germany tries to provide to service members and their families every day – especially during this holiday season when military members, spouses and children have to find new ways to celebrate far from their loved ones in the U.S., all while coping with a global pandemic.

Bringing a sense of peace to overseas military families in this critical time in history has been challenging, but USO Kaiserslautern has found creative ways to march on with its special holiday programs, including its annual “Thanks for Thanksgiving” event. Although this annual program was modified slightly due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was still a success and gave members a sense of comfort.

Photo credit Jade Nikkole Photography

A service member volunteer fills “Thanks for Thanksgiving” bags.

Now in its 22nd year, “Thanks for Thanksgiving” is an annual event hosted by USO Kaiserslautern in which junior enlisted soldiers and their families receive a bag, which is artfully decorated by local military children, and is filled with a free Thanksgiving meal.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s just a great help that is provided along with all the other programs that the USO provides for families,” said a military family member, who received a Thanksgiving meal for her family of four.

Casey Pizzuto. | Photo credit USO/Debbie Dyer

“Connecting service members to family, home and country is what makes this event important,” Kaiserslautern Area Operations Manager Casey Pizzuto said. “Even with the challenges of COVID, more than ever this year, we want to ensure that we are meeting our mission.”

This year, Casey and her team organized and executed this event to successfully feed a total of 640 meals to service members in the Kaiserslautern and Baumholder areas. An event like this brings everyone in the community together, including the dedicated volunteers at both Kaiserslautern and Baumholder. They came indefatigable, with their USO masks on, ready to cook in the canteen, load bags or admit patrons.

Photo credit Jade Nikkole Photography

Military families pick up their “Thanks for Thanksgiving” meals.

“I still want to come out and help. I am sure it is a huge morale booster for the troops. Both of my sons are Army and that is the main reason I am volunteering. They just brag about how much the USO helps them when they are in the country and going down range,” said Chris Harwell, a USO volunteer who was helping pack bags on the loading dock.

In addition to feeling the comfort, joy and peace of the season through USO events like “Thanks for Thanksgiving,” one senior leader, Sgt. Maj. Coleman, noted how events like this help him stay strong and remember two other virtues during this trying year: patience and resiliency.

Photo credit Jade Nikkole Photography

Service member volunteers help prepare meals to distribute.

These two words are infallible to the tenacity of not only USO Kaiserslautern, but also the troops and the families it serves. Patience is a petal on the stem of resiliency, with strength being the root, and our service members and their families are the essence of this lifestyle. At the end of the day, another USO “Thanks for Thanksgiving” patron said it best:

“[I’m] thankful - even though it has been a very tough year - I am thankful that we are healthy and together. It did ruin plans for us to go back home for the holidays, but we should always look at the positive of the situation.”

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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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