Bringing the Taste of the Holidays to Service Members Around the World

By Sydney Johnson

The holiday season means enjoying time with family, decorating your home and celebrating the year coming to a close. Warm blankets and holiday music are clear signs of the most wonderful time of the year, as are the tastes and aroma of pumpkin pie, hot cocoa, turkey and homemade cookies.

That’s exactly why USO locations around the world make it a point this time of the year to serve up festive treats to help service members and their families enjoy a bit of the season, no matter where their service takes them. From serving up warm hot chocolate to troops out on patrol during a chilly December night, to welcoming military families (safely) to enjoy holiday cookies at a socially-distanced event, the USO is committed to being a (tasty) home away from home during the holidays for our Armed Forces.

Here’s a look at some of and festive holiday food-related programming at a handful of USO centers around the world in 2020:

USO Europe

Trees and Treats at USO Kaiserslautern, Germany

For many, the sight of Christmas trees means the start of the holiday season. That’s exactly why USO Kaiserslautern in Germany teamed up with local community partners to host its first-ever “Trees for Heroes” event for military families to select and chop down their own holiday tree.

In case attending military families worked up an appetite while chopping down their tree, the USO was ready with festive refreshments like homemade crepes, hot chocolate and “kinderpunsch” - a German, non-alcoholic Christmas drink - making it an afternoon to remember.

Holiday Dinner for On-Duty Service Members in USO Incirlik, Turkey

At USO Incirlik in Turkey, Thanksgiving holiday cheer looked a little different this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USO staff had to adjust its original plans to abide by health and safety precautions while distributing goodies to troops.

So, they opted for a fan favorite: pies! Volunteers and staff surprised on-duty workers on base with a few of these tasty treats, spreading holiday cheer and making service members smile.

USO Pacific

Pies for All at USO Naval Base Guam

More pie, coming right up! USO Guam provided an assortment of pies – key lime, pumpkin, apple, pecan, lemon meringue, chocolate cream and banana cream – to more than 200 deployed Seabees.

Rotational Seabee battalions, like the one they served on Thanksgiving, often find themselves on the island of Guam, far away from their homes and families. These pies served as a morale boost on a holiday when people are usually surrounded by loved ones.

Hot Chocolate Delivery at USO Camp Humphreys, South Korea

Whipped cream mustaches are so much more satisfying when they are over a smile, right? USO Camp Humphreys served hot cocoa to hard-working service members at the Motor Pool of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys.

These motor pools, where service members inspect and work on military vehicles, are all outdoors, so service members are exposed to the harsh, winter weather of South Korea. That means that this Monday hot cocoa pick-me-up both warmed up our troops and lifted their spirits.

USO Southwest Asia

Turkey Time at USO Al Asad, United Arab Emirates

In the United Arab Emirates, USO Al Asad had a long day of festivities on Thanksgiving. In the morning, more than 100 people participated in the USO Trot for the Troops 5k – the USO’s first-ever annual race – and in the evening, the center hosted a bingo night.

The day after, the USO continued the celebrations with a pancake breakfast for 29 airmen who were on an outreach trip. The breakfast was a hit, and many service members even claimed that they were some of the best pancakes they’d ever had.

Cookies and Costumes at USO Erbil, Iraq

To get everyone in the holiday spirit, USO Erbil staff members dressed up as Santa Claus, a Christmas tree and other holiday characters while decorating the USO center porch with festive flair. When they were outside decorating – still in costume – a group of service members spotted them from a distance and made their way over to the center because they wanted to get a photo to send home.

Service members enjoy holiday festivities in Erbil, Iraq.

In addition to posing for the photo, the USO Erbil staff served batches of homemade cookies to these eager service members.

USO Stateside

Cookies galore! Over in Alaska, USO staff and volunteers delivered thousands of cookies to the more than 2,600 service members who will be living in the barracks on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson during the holidays.

The USO put out a call for bakers and delivery volunteers to make it happen, along with strict guidelines for packaging and social distancing to keep everyone safe while the joy was spread.

Bob Hope USO, California

In sunny California, Bob Hope USO hosted military families from Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow to kick off the base’s “Trees for Troops” event.

Along with enjoying a visit from Santa Claus and a virtual performance from the USO Show Troupe, military families in attendance were gifted holiday trees while enjoying sweet treats and beverages like cookies and hot chocolate.

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