In a Year of Unprecedented Challenges, USO Volunteers Stepped Up for America’s Service Members

By Betsy McWhirt

There’s an old adage that says: “You can’t keep a good man down.”

Some believe it has its roots in Proverbs, others attribute it to a 1950s song. We believe that its true origins lie within our worldwide USO family where, it can be argued, you can’t keep a good USO volunteer down — even during a pandemic!

When, like the rest of us, USO volunteers found themselves stuck at home socially distancing, video chatting with family and friends and pivoting from the “old normal” to some semblance of a “new normal,” many refused to give up supporting service members and their families simply because USO centers were temporarily closed.

In a time of global upheaval, conflict and turmoil, thousands of USO volunteers pushed themselves beyond their technological and traditional comfort zones and embraced opportunities to try new things, take calculated risks and go the extra mile – all in service of our military. The following examples of their creativity only skim the surface of the many everyday miracles so typical of these volunteers and their passion to serve:

USO Volunteer Denise Wilson, aka “Bugga,” of USO New England (along with her stuffed animal helper, Wolfric) gave a masterful performance virtually reading “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak to military children.

Determined to keep the USO’s youngest constituents engaged, Bugga and Wolfric brought a whole new dimension to Sendak’s classic with a heart-warming, homemade video that could move even the gruffest of pandemic-hardened viewers.

Where The Wild Things Are from Ashley Twigg on Vimeo.

USO Volunteer Dean Maskell of USO Dallas-Fort Worth also gave great character to his reading of “Frank the Monster Who Wanted to Dance” by Keith Graves. Even an adult listening to his rendition could imagine themselves as a child again, at the knee of their favorite grown up listening to a bedtime story.

Bugga and Dean were not the only volunteers putting newfound technology skills to virtual use. USO Volunteer Tiffany Harper at USO Dallas-Fort Worth used her professional experience in health and wellness to create several soothing videos on relaxation, which were posted on the USO Dallas-Fort Worth Facebook page.

Photo credit USO Guam

USO Guam Volunteer Shonda Nichols demonstrates a fitness move.

Volunteer Candice Bailey at USO Camp Walker in Korea promoted calligraphy classes and USO Guam volunteer Shonda Nicholas came up with the idea to record fitness videos (with her husband Air Force Master Sgt. Aaron Nichols and USO volunteers Stephanie Moore, Risa Walden and her daughter Mili making special appearances) and called the series “U-SO Fit,” which the USO Guam team posted on their Facebook pages as a virtual program offering.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, USO Gaming programming also started to take root with volunteers helping to manage virtual, and some in-person, gaming tournaments like the one at the D.C. Armory to support the National Guard as they mobilized to the Capitol.

Photo credit USO/Ross Ledford

Service members enjoy the temporary USO Gaming Center.

These are but a few examples of the hundreds of virtual reading programs, cooking courses, craft projects, bingo nights, Trivial Pursuit nights, coffee chats and other activities volunteers led or participated in during this past year. Although we have all faced unprecedented uncertainty, sadness, grief and loss, the one constant for the USO has been the unmitigated resolve of our USO volunteers who have navigated accelerated change with determination and grace.

There may still be a few wild things and dancing monsters out there, but with volunteers like Bubba, Wolfric, Dean and others, our members of the military and their families can rest easy knowing that the USO will always be by their side.

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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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