By Heather Huggins
Every year, families come together for festive holiday dinners and to partake in cherished traditions. While this year might be different with smaller celebrations for some due to COVID-19, the men and women deployed overseas always know what it feels like to celebrate apart from their loved ones.
Whether it is a prescheduled video chat or thoughtful gifts sent well in advance, service members are always looking for creative ways to connect to their families during the holidays.
The USO takes pride in developing such opportunities for military families separated throughout the year – and especially during the holidays. There are phones and free Wi-Fi amenities at almost every USO center, ready to keep service members connected to family, home and country. There are also programs that help these service members experience the same time-honored traditions they would have partaken in back at home. Some of the most beloved holiday programs center around decorating the tree or baking holiday treats. These small but poignant moments are the ones that service members miss the most.
So, for the first time ever this year, the USO established a worldwide 5K. The USO’s Trot for the Troops event helped bridge the 7,000-mile distance between married couple Benjamin and Nicole Guido. Separated since November last year, Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Guido was deployed to Afghanistan seven months before the birth of their first child.
The distance was easily the most difficult part of deployment, as finding ways to connect and support each other were far and few between. When Benjamin and Nicole found out that they could both participate in the USO’s inaugural 5K, they knew it would be a fun activity to do together for Thanksgiving.
Having already shared how much fun it was to participate in all the USO events during his deployment, Benjamin was excited to get his wife involved and to share in one of the experiences. The fun run was an opportunity for them to get outdoors, stay active and partake in another adventure together.
Luckily, the USO at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan, where Benjamin was deployed, was one of the few locations in Southwest Asia hosting the USO Trot for the Troops event. By mere happenstance, it was to be hosted on Thanksgiving morning. Benjamin and Nicole were excited for the perfect timing.
“We were so pumped to do something together on Thanksgiving, especially since we couldn’t share in our first family dinner of the season,” Benjamin said.
Thanksgiving morning, Benjamin woke up just as Nicole was going to bed. He geared up for the 5K and joined the 230 other service members that gathered for the event that day. Benjamin made quick work of the run and was one of the first to cross the finish line.
Knowing that Nicole would be completing the 5K later that next day with their son Griffin, who was born two months into Benjamin’s deployment, Benjamin made sure to get his USO Trot for the Troops shirt on and to video call his wife during her 5K walk. He was so surprised to find that his wife had invited her sister to join in on the adventure. Their dog Nani even made it out for the occasion and it became a whole family affair. Everyone was happy to see each other and to support Benjamin while he was away.
“It was fun filling out the custom bib and showing it off while we walked around the neighborhood,” Nicole said.
While this would have been their typical time to chat during the day, sharing a common experience such as the USO’s Trot for the Troops 5K not only enhanced their daily conversation but also helped them connect on a day that they would normally be celebrating together.
Benjamin and Nicole cherished how the USO’s involvement initiated a common bonding experience over such a distance. It was nice for them to connect, share and accomplish a common goal together. The USO’s Trot for the Troops was a fantastic program that not only connected Nicole and Benjamin, but hundreds of other military families and service members overseas.
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