By Trey Smith
As we enter the holiday season and Americans across the country look forward to spending time with family and loved ones, service members who are deployed overseas or on duty over the holidays – often under stressful conditions – will not have that luxury.
With the military serving our country around the world, spending the holiday season far away from home, here are five ways you can support the troops by delivering a piece of home to them during the holidays.
1. Send a Care Package to Troops Overseas
Being separated from family, loved ones and the comforts of home during the holiday season can take its toll on service members deployed far away on the front lines. That is why something as simple as a care package might seem small in light of the challenges of deployment, but for many service members, a care package serves as a reminder of home and that they’re not forgotten – which can make all the difference in boosting their morale and keeping spirits high on the front lines.
One way to send a care package to service members is through the USO. Aside from our standard USO Care Packages, which contain snacks or toiletries, the USO Holidays Care Packages have festive, seasonal treats and goodies that help bridge the gap between home and the front lines during the holiday season.
The contents of USO Holidays Care Packages vary every year, but can include everything from seasonal snacks (such as hot chocolate, candy canes, microwaveable cake mixes and more) to playing cards, a postcard to write home with or hand-warmers to keep them toasty in cold climates. Regardless of the care package’s contents, each one delivered to service members overseas helps connect service members to the festive spirit of the holiday season.
Assembling and delivering these USO Care Packages is no easy task, and we rely on donations from our supporters and efforts of our volunteers. You can support and donate to the USO to help fund the delivery of a USO Care Package overseas, or volunteer at “stuffing events,” which are a great way for military supporters and our partners to connect to the USO’s mission by assembling a sign of gratitude from the American people that will soon be in the hands of service members around the globe.
In 2021, the USO delivered nearly 200,000 USO Care Packages and 50,000 USO Holidays Care Packages to service members in more than 270 locations – many of them remote and on the front lines.
2. Give a Service Member the Chance to Call Home
Staying connected to family is especially important during the holidays, but can be difficult for service members stationed overseas. It can be especially difficult for those in or near combat zones such as Eastern Europe or the Middle East, where being able to make a simple phone call to a family member or friend can make all the difference in the morale of our forward-deployed troops during the holidays.
Through Operation Phone Home, the USO has established call centers, pre-paid phone cards and Wi-Fi for service members to use completely free of charge at USO centers. These call centers use a secure telephone network that allows service members to safely connect to home during the holiday season, no matter where their service takes them. For those deployed in remote locations far from a brick-and-mortar USO center, the USO has deployed our expeditionary team to set up call centers wherever they’re needed – even if it means calling mom from a tent just a few miles away from a conflict zone.
This ability to reconnect with loved ones back home is especially important for service members who recently deployed to Eastern Europe in support of our NATO allies, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many of these service members were rapidly deployed and ordered to leave behind personal communication devices such as laptops and cellphones, leaving them with limited ways to reach loved ones. For those who do have personal devices, internet access or cell service can be spotty in these remote locations.
Not being able to speak to friends or family members can be especially difficult for service members overseas during the holidays. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the USO can offer resources to keep service members connected to those they love most, just when they need it most.
3. Give a Service Member a Home Away from Home at the USO
What better gift could you give to deployed service members than a literal home away from home during the holidays?
Being far away from home during the holidays, a time filled with traditions and loved ones, is difficult – but it can be even more challenging for service members stationed or deployed overseas, who are not only far from home but also dealing with the stress of life on the front lines.
In these locations, how can service members feel at home? How can a stark, remote outpost in Niger, Africa, feel comforting, safe, or even festive, when everything feels unfamiliar? And how can you, as a military supporter, give them that feeling of a home away from home while they’re deployed?
This is why USO centers are designed to feel like a home away from home for troops. At more than 250 locations around the world – from Alaska, to Poland, to Iraq, to South Korea – service members know that they can turn to the USO for a familiar, comforting space. Most USO centers, many of which are located on military bases for easy access, are outfitted with comfortable seating, televisions, gaming consoles, libraries, snacks and more. They serve as a place of respite and an environment in which service members can unwind, which is especially crucial during the holiday season, when service members may need a morale boost or a sense of community and tradition to boost their spirits. Here, service members can bond with each other over video games, participate in a USO center activity, call home, or even just take a quiet moment to themselves.
USO centers also support military trainees who are traveling home for the holidays at USO airport lounges around the country, such as USO South Carolina at Columbia Metropolitan Airport or the USO of North Carolina at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. USO airport center staff and volunteers hand out water, snacks and USO Care Packages, and assist service members in finding their departure gate. This allows these new service members to relax and unwind before the next leg of their journey, providing them with their first taste of home after being away from family for months.
By supporting the USO, you help ensure that we can continue our mission of always providing the military community with a place to turn to, no matter where in the world their service takes them.
4. Give Service Members the Gift of Holiday Traditions Through USO Holidays Programs
One of the most delightful parts of the holiday season is gathering together with loved ones to celebrate age-old traditions and seasonal activities. However, for service members stationed or deployed overseas, getting to celebrate holiday traditions is never a guarantee. So, as a military supporter, how can you deliver holiday traditions to military members around the world?
By supporting the USO, you can help our organization provide USO Holidays programs. This goes beyond the USO’s traditional programming that we provide to service members and military families year-round. Each holiday season, the USO ensures the military community still feels connected to the things that give meaning to their service by delivering warmth and festivity to military members and military families all around the world.
Through USO Holidays, programs and activities can include providing holiday meal baskets for military families stationed in places like Spain, where turkeys and other ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal are not readily available. USO employees will drive hundreds of miles across Europe to deliver pies to service members stationed in Eastern Europe near the Ukrainian border this Thanksgiving, where Thanksgiving pies are not commonly found. Service members deployed to Kuwait over the holidays can beat the heat of the desert in the air-conditioned USO center, where they can partake in gingerbread house-making competitions. Some USO centers organize holiday-themed movie nights, games or arts-and-crafts activities. At a “Trees for Heroes” event, active-duty military families can partake in the timeless holiday tradition of selecting the perfect Christmas tree for their home and family.
No matter the program or event, service members and military families all over the globe can still find a way to celebrate the holidays with a little help from the USO. Giving the military community a piece of holiday traditions does more than just provide them with something familiar – it reminds them that Americans back home are thankful for them and the sacrifices that they make every day.
And all of this is made possible thanks to the support of our generous donors.
5. You Can Deliver a Piece of Home by Supporting Your Local Military Community
Supporting the troops and providing them with a sense of home can go beyond physical gifts of support. One of the most meaningful gifts you can give to the military community is the simple act of letting them know that you support them and that you’re thinking of them.
The holiday season is always an essential time to reach out to service members and the military community to let them know you appreciate their sacrifice and everything they do on the front lines and overseas to keep Americans safe back home. This can be anything from a phone call to check in on a military spouse living in your neighborhood, or sending a card to a service member deployed overseas to let them know that you are thinking of them, or preparing a meal for a military family whose service member is deployed, to help alleviate the pressure of solo parenting for nine months to a year.
According to the 2021 Blue Star Families Lifestyle Survey, 37% of active-duty families say that the amount of time away from family is a top issue affecting them and only 33% believe that civilians truly appreciate the sacrifice made by local military and veteran families.
You can also volunteer in your local military community. If saying “thank you” doesn’t feel like enough and you are looking to turn your gratitude into action, you can become a USO volunteer at a nearby USO center. Volunteering with the USO means that you can get involved in a hands-on way that is rewarding, where you will see your impact within your military community firsthand.
The holiday season can look very different for service members and military families who must celebrate while separated from loved ones and home in all corners of the world, but no matter where they are or the season, Americans will always find a way to express their gratitude and appreciation by finding ways to deliver to them a piece of home.
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