By USO Staff
While many Americans travel over the holidays to visit family and friends, our nation’s service members travel the world to protect our freedoms. There’s no more difficult time to be away from home than the holiday season. Deployed service members set aside treasured family traditions, give up gatherings with friends and miss the tastiest treats of the year. The USO recognizes the sacrifices they make for us all and, in turn, hosts events throughout the holiday season to celebrate with them — especially with traditional holiday foods that remind them of home.
Military Families Overseas Celebrate with USO Holidays Cookie Week
You can’t imagine Santa going without cookies, and our service members shouldn’t either. In this year’s first-ever USO Holidays Cookie Week, taking place Dec. 4-11, 2022, USO centers all around the world celebrated the time-honored tradition of baking and decorating cookies, putting service members and military families in the holiday spirit all across the globe. Some centers hosted specific, one-day events, while locations such as USO Sasebo in Japan and USO Stuttgart in Germany have hosted daily cookie decorating activities for nearly a week straight.
Service members and their families could also participate in USO Holidays Cookie Week through USO MVP events, where they could learn tips and tricks from world-famous chefs such as Sohla El-Waylly and Joel Gamoran.
It is important to remember that military spouses and military children, in many ways, also “serve” as members of the military community. They too are stationed far from their family members, friends and hometowns during the holidays, or far from their service member on deployment during the holidays. That is why it is crucial to support the entire military community.
These USO Holidays events for military spouses and children stationed overseas show the military community that their sacrifices are also appreciated. Through activities such as USO Holidays Cookie Week, USO center employees and USO volunteers help military families build their own, new holiday traditions and make fond memories, even while far from home.
Deployed Service Members Receive a Taste of Home on the Front Lines
In the deserts of Kuwait in December, it’s a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the arid desert that surrounds the base doesn’t look very much like Christmas to a service member from Michigan.
In the dense forests of Poland, just miles from the war in Ukraine, snow falls on the tents that service members are living in as they prepare to spend the holidays far away from their wives, husbands, children, parents and other loved ones.
But when they wrap their hands around a warm cup of cocoa, or sit down for a dinner with all the trimmings, service members are immediately brought back to their childhood hometowns or the kindness of the loved one who made those holiday treats for them when they were young. For just a moment, they can relax and forget about the stressful realities of life on the front lines.
That’s why the USO is spending this holiday season bringing a taste of home to troops deployed down range.
In addition to preparing full Thanksgiving meals for service members deployed all over the globe, USO teams in Europe also drove across multiple countries’ borders to deliver traditional pies to service members deployed to Poland this past Thanksgiving, as ingredients for things like pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie are not readily available in their remote locations.
As one service member who received a piece of pie said in Powidz, Poland, “It didn’t truly feel like Thanksgiving until now.”
On the island of Guam, hundreds of deployed service members and recently arriving – or departing – military families were staying in a hotel during the Thanksgiving holiday. It can be difficult to feel festive and partake in your usual traditions when living out of a suitcase in between moves to a new duty station. So USO Tumon Bay arrived with platters and platters of food, and this military community, many of them strangers to each other, came together to celebrate Thanksgiving. Even under the fluorescent lights of a hotel, far from the comfort of their homes, these service members and military family members were able to celebrate the holiday and have a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving.
Meanwhile, on Camp Buehring in Kuwait, service members recently enjoyed the USO’s hot cocoa bar – decked out with all the best marshmallows, candy and whipped cream – at the base’s annual tree-lighting celebration, which brings a festive flair to this Middle East location.
In Poland, USO team members braved snowy roads to travel to an outreach location, where there is no permanent, brick-and-mortar USO center. Here, service members came in from the cold for the hot cocoa bar and holiday cookies, but they stayed for tree decorating and the opportunity to write letters home. Through these activites, service members were able to make their own holiday memories on deployment, even if they weren’t with family and friends.
The USO also delivers hot cocoa to service members in the field. It’s a small surprise that improves morale when service members know we’re thinking of them, no matter how far away. Even if just for a moment, they’re connected to home.
In other locations such as USO Erbil, Iraq, or USO Humphreys, South Korea, service members were able to indulge in both something tasty and creative — and sometimes competitive — with gingerbread house decorating competitions.
Deployed service members at USO Incirlik, Turkey, have combined the holiday spirit with a competitive one, first with service members baking their favorite recipes for the winning title of “Best Cookie on Base” and next at an upcoming ugly sweater competition on Christmas Day.
In addition to homemade treats, the USO will also deliver approximately 50,000 USO Holidays Care Packages this year as a way of showing our service members that they are not forgotten, even on the front lines and in remote locations. Holiday care packages can feature special seasonal items like hot chocolate, candy canes, microwaveable cake mixes, warm socks, beanies and more. They can also include popular American snacks and portable beverage mixes. Many of these treats are difficult – if not impossible – to get on the front lines, making them particularly special to service members who are missing home.
As the holiday season continues, USO centers all around the world are preparing more home-cooked meals and treats for service members and military families overseas.
No matter what sweet treats or family favorites the USO delivers to our deployed service members and military families, the sentiment is the same: You matter to us. Your service is appreciated. And no matter how far that service takes you, we will always find a way to deliver a taste of home to you during the holiday season.
“I couldn’t be home … so you brought home to me,” a service member shared after a homemade meal in Japan. “Thank you for everything you do, USO.”
More Stories Like This
5 Ways Americans Can Deliver a Piece of Home to Troops During the Holidays
Every holiday season, service members stationed around the world are serving their country while far from loved ones. If you are asking yourself how you can deliver the holiday spirit to the men and women in uniform thousands of miles away, here are five ways you can deliver a piece of home to troops during the holidays.
Operation Cookie Drop: How Service Members Working on Christmas Still Received Holiday Cheer
Each year, service members who must work on Christmas Eve and Christmas day are delivered a little holiday cheer, courtesy of a team of USO staff and volunteers dressed as holiday characters.
Easy Ways to Give Back to the Military During the Holidays Through the USO
Have you ever wanted to support our troops, but weren’t quite sure how to help? You don’t need to write a huge check to make a difference – here are nine easy ways to give back to the military during the holidays through the USO.
More from the USO
Sep 11, 2023
We’re With Victoria: A 9-Year-Old Military Kid Adjusting to Her Latest New School
Meet Victoria: nine years-old, her favorite subject is recess, loves making new friends and is a military child. With her dad in the U.S. Navy, Victoria has already moved three times, but right now she calls Yokosuka, Japan, "home." Life overseas can be challenging for military kids like Victoria, but through the USO, they have a constant source of support.
Sep 11, 2023
We’re With Brett: A Father Staying Close to His Kids Throughout Deployment via the USO and Their Family’s Love of Reading
Meet Brett: a father, an avid reader and a soldier. This is his first deployment since he and his wife have had children, and it's been difficult to stay in touch with his family while in Kuwait. But through the USO, he has been able to connect with his children through their shared joy of books, making the distance and time apart feel a little less difficult.