By Danielle DeSimone
Life in the Armed Forces can be challenging – and especially for military children, the youngest members of our nation’s military community.
After all, military children are often faced with constant change and uncertainty. From their family’s PCS moves every two to three years, to finding their place in a new school with each new duty station, to their service member parent deploying suddenly for months – or even years – at a time, these realities of military life can take a toll on “military brats.”
Although they don’t wear a uniform, these military kids still “serve” in their own way, and as members of the military community, they deserve our support. Thanks to the support of our generous donors, the USO is committed to supporting service members and their military families, which includes the nearly 1.2 million military children of active-duty service members.
Here are 5 ways the USO supports military children.
1. The USO Helps Military Kids Stay Connected to Their Military Family Member Through Reading
As a child, sometimes there’s nothing you want more after a long day at a new school than for your parent to read you a bedtime story. However, sadly, for many military families, this is not always possible. When a military kid’s service member parent has been deployed, their absence around this bedtime routine is a painful reminder of how far they are from their family.
Luckily, through the USO, military children and their deployed parents can remain connected through reading via the USO’s Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. This program is a two-way street – on the one hand, a service member can walk into a participating USO location where they are deployed, record themselves reading their child’s favorite story and have that recording emailed to their child – and a copy of the book shipped home.
On the other hand, the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program also allows military children to share books with their military parent as well. The children can, in turn, record themselves reading a book on camera, adding that book to their personal collection and sending the recording to their deployed father, mother, brother, sister or other family member.
This ensures that no matter where in the world our service members or military children are, they can always find each other through the pages of a book.
The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program also offers story-time hours and reading events at local USO centers, where military children can spend time with other kids who are not only their own age, but are also entrenched in the military lifestyle. This can include everything from virtual story time during the COVID-19 pandemic to a community-wide gathering of military kids, military spouses and service members at USO Wiesbaden in Germany.
2. Military Children Can Bond with Their Military Family – and Each Other – at USO Programs
The USO offers programs and services to military children and military families at many of our more than 275 USO locations around the globe. The USO aims to create aim to create events that help strengthen military families by bringing them closer together – which can be especially important after a parent’s return home from deployment – or allow military children to meet and connect with other military kids their age.
USO programs for military children can include everything from arts and crafts activities to family game nights, to virtual cooking classes to scavenger hunts.
No matter what activity they are engaged with, USO programs are designed to give these children a little fun so that they can forget, even if for just a moment, the stress of life as a military child.
3. The USO Supports Military Children – and Their Moms – Through USO Special Delivery®
Technically, the USO supports military children before they are even born!
That is, through USO Special Delivery® presented by Johnson & Johnson, military parents-to-be around the globe can take advantage of these USO-hosted baby showers alongside other expectant military parents and military spouses. The events, hosted both virtually and in-person, include baby shower games, local guest speakers and raffle drawings for traditional baby shower gifts.
However, for these expecting military community members and their spouses, USO Special Delivery is so much more than a baby shower. Military life can be exceptionally difficult during pregnancy and in the first few months – or even years – following birth, as these moms-to-be are often far from loved ones and support networks at their current duty station.
USO Special Delivery provides these parents with a touch of home during a challenging time, and also offers them the ability to bond with other soon-to-be parents who understand the unique difficulties they are facing. When military parents are supported by the USO and their local community, they can feel better equipped to face both military life and parent life – setting our military children up for success down the road.
4. Military Kids Can Feel Appreciated and Still Connected to Home Through USO Entertainment
Military kids are also supported by the USO through one of the organization’s best-known services: USO entertainment. USO entertainment tours still traverse the globe as they once did in World War II, entertaining troops in far-off places, but today, many also include family-friendly events that military children can participate in.
From NFL handshake tours, to community concerts, to virtual meet-and-greets where they can talk science with Bill Nye the Science Guy, through the USO, military kids have the chance to meet some of their biggest heroes and connect with a piece of home – all as a thank you for their own personal sacrifices as military brats.
5. Military Brats Always Have a “Home Away from Home” to Turn to at the USO
Since 1941, the USO has served as a “home away from home” for America’s military. Designed with comfort in mind, USO locations are often outfitted with plushy sofas and chairs, a kitchen full of snacks, plenty of books and programs and services that keep the military community connected and entertained.
These USO centers are not just for service members – they are also for military spouses and, of course, military children. When stationed far from everything familiar, especially in distant locations overseas, military kids can turn to their local USO center as a place of comfort and fun, where they will be surrounded by a supportive community and other military children who understand the unique challenges they face in their lives in the military.
This is especially important during times around the holidays, when the USO Holidays program steps in to offer military families bonding moments such as visits with Santa, cookie-decorating or arts and crafts, so that they know, no matter where they are in the world or how far away they might be from their own loved ones and traditions, they can still turn to the USO for a little piece of home.
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