It started as an ordinary trip.

Army Staff Sgt. Jason Moore and his wife, Beth, traveled from Fort Hood, Texas, to Ohio for a wedding with their two young children in tow. After finding out a close family member in Ohio had been diagnosed with cancer, Beth and the two kids stayed a few days longer while Jason went back to his duty station to report for work. But when the trio went to catch their flight at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, nothing went as planned.

“First, the plane had some sort of maintenance issue which delayed us for hours,” she said. “Then it was announced it would be even a few more hours and then finally the flight was outright cancelled.

“Fortunately we were right next to the USO, so I was able to bring the kids in there and wait for who knows how long.”

Brooke Moore, the daughter of Army Staff Sgt. Jason and Beth Moore, sleeps in a makeshift crib at a USO center at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in June. | Photo credit Moore family

Thinking her husband would be there traveling with her for the duration of the trip, Beth left the family stroller at home and was ill-prepared to handle both the needs of a 7-month-old and a 2-year-old toddler.

Recognizing the needs of the overwhelmed mom, quick-thinking USO volunteer Peggy Littrell fashioned a makeshift crib from two chairs she found inside the USO lounge, facing them toward each other and lining the furniture with a blanket. Littrell watched the 7-month-old so Beth could take care of the 2-year-old. Littrell kept the USO center open until midnight, at which point she contacted airport security to help the family to their gate for departure.

“When I got home, my husband couldn’t believe it when I told him what happened,” Beth said. “He typically doesn’t share something like this on social media, but it really touched him that someone would take so much time out to care for his family.”

United Through Reading Helps Spark Military Child’s Love of Books

Guinevere Rock may not remember every moment of reading them, but she knows why the books are special.

Her mom, Air Force Staff Sgt. Colleen Rock, read each of the books to her while she was deployed to Iraq in 2007-08 thanks to the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading.

When each book and accompanying DVD arrived at the Rocks’ Texas home, not only did 3-year-old Guinevere get to see her mom on video, but Colleen got to be involved in teaching her daughter how to read from half a world away.

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“My husband said she would watch them every night before bed, just over and over and over again,” Rock said.

Through the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading, service members can record themselves reading a book aloud to their child or loved one back home. The DVD recording is then packed with the book, and the USO mails the package home where a child or loved one can watch their deployed family member read them a story.

The USO hosts the United Through Reading Military Program at more than 60 centers worldwide and has already sent nearly 10,000 recordings back to military families this year.

“I sent five or six [DVDs] because you could do one once a month,” Rock said. “[Guinevere] might remember little from that time, but she keeps the books and knows why they are special.

“I would write a little message in the book. … I think doing the program probably instilled that love of reading into her. Now she’s an avid reader.“

Want to help bring Christmas surprises to deployed troops spending the holidays defending our freedom? Donate today.

After Training Injury, Young Couple Finds Strength at USO Caregivers Seminar

A training accident earlier this year severely damaged 23-year-old Army Spc. Isaac Strausbaugh’s right knee, forcing him to get a partial replacement and putting him on the road to an unexpected medical retirement.

Army Spc. Isaac Strausbaugh and his wife, Jillian Strausbaugh, pose in Tacoma, Wash. | Photo credit Sandi Moynihan

“It’s unbelievable … that I’m a statistic and I’m [going to be] a disabled veteran only from a training exercise,” he said. “It’s just hard to accept.”

In the months since his accident, Isaac’s wife, Jillian, has taken on new household tasks and responsibilities as Isaac’s primary caretaker.

“It was pretty hard in the beginning with me working full-time and having to come home every day and take care of him,” said Jillian, who’s a preschool teacher.

The Strausbaughs are preparing to transition out of the military community. Before his injury, Isaac – who is studying for an associate’s degree in business at American Military University – had hoped to serve a few more years before moving over to the Army Reserve or National Guard while starting civilian life.

The injury and subsequent transition planning led them to attend the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma, Washington. But instead of being inundated with PowerPoint slides, the Strausbaughs picked up caregiving and transition tips and even had a little fun along the way.

“We’re connected with one another,” Isaac said. “We’re having a good time. That’s the best way to learn.”

USO Caregivers Seminars are designed to address the immediate and long-term needs of caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members. And they’re supposed to release some tension, too. Isaac was even called up on stage during one of the sessions about communication, led by gameonNation.

The Strausbaughs left feeling good about the seminar and even took away some after-action points.

“My takeaway would be to be able to support him better and to be more understanding and for us to not be so stressed out about the whole transition process,” Jillian said.

Prince Harry, Michelle Obama and Jill Biden Visit the USO Warrior and Family Center

A trio of VIPs stopped in at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to see how art therapy programs there were helping wounded, ill and injured troops.

Prince Harry, on a U.S. tour in October to promote the Invictus Games, paid a visit with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden – the co-founders of the Joining Forces initiative – to the USO center’s art and music rooms.

Hunter Hayes and USO Host Late-Night Street Party in Nashville

To kick off CMA Awards week, USO tour veteran and award-winning musician Hunter Hayes partnered with the USO to host a late-night street party and concert outside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The Nov. 2 concert, which was free and open to the public, honored service members and their families.

USO Fort Campbell, located an hour north of Nashville, sent over 100 service members and their families to the event as special guests of Hayes, including Army Spc. Christian Sheers, the 2015 USO Soldier of the Year. Hayes, who’s been a USO supporter since 2014, invited Sheers and his wife onstage and introduced them to the crowd during the show.

“Spc. Sheers and his wife, Jess, had the best night ever, singing every word to every song,” USO Fort Campbell Center Director Kari Moore wrote in an email.

Even though it was a Monday night, Hayes wanted people to party like it was the weekend.

“We’re going to pretend like it’s a Friday or a Saturday night and keep rocking,” Hayes said.

AT&T and the USO Keep Service Members Connected to Family and Friends

For nearly 100 years, AT&T has remained dedicated to supporting service members, veterans and military families. Over the past 25 years, the company has proudly supported the USO to accomplish that important task.

In 2015, AT&T provided 50,000 prepaid phone cards and a monetary donation to the USO’s Operation Phone Home program.

Established in 2003, Operation Phone Home delivers prepaid international phone cards to deployed troops free of charge. The phone cards, distributed through USO centers overseas, are most often delivered directly to deployed military units. Service members can call home to connect with family and friends using the USO’s private telephone network in USO centers across Southwest Asia.

USO Partner Wawa Provides Service Members with a Taste of Home

Service members joined forces with the USO and Wawa in November to build more than 5,000 care packages to send to deployed military members.

Wawa employees, volunteers and Army National Guard members built, transported and stored 7,800 pounds of favorites like coffee and sweet treats and employees sent handwritten letters of support to military members stationed overseas.

Service members, Wawa employees and volunteers built more than 5,000 care packages for deployed troops on Nov. 10. | Photo credit Wawa photo

“At Wawa, supporting our military is part of our DNA,” said Chris Gheysens, Wawa’s president and CEO. “Each year, Veterans Day gives us a chance to thank our troops, and, in our own small way, give something back to the brave men and women who protect the freedoms we all celebrate.”

Wawa also presented a $770,000 check to the USO during the Operation Taste of Home event. Generous customers and employees raised the funds through in-store campaigns at more than 700 Wawa stores earlier this year.

“We strive to keep the men and women of our military connected to their loved ones and country throughout their service,” said Lisa Anastasi, the USO’s chief development officer. “Partnerships like this make the USO’s mission possible.”