Back in February I wrote about the history and the impact of the Red Cross. Earlier this week I received a message from a woman asking if I could do the same for the USO. I knew about the USO in a broad sense, but was unaware of all they do, so I set out to do some research. Here is what I learned!
Just before the US became involved in WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was looking for a way to bring together numerous service associations into one organization to lift the morale of our military and nourish support on the home front. Those organizations — the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board — became the United Service Organizations or, the USO.
The USO has been serving our military and their families for over seven decades. The USO has over 180 centers extending to countries on every continent except Antarctica, and is operated by thousands of staff and volunteers whose goals are to match our service members’ vigilance and provide best-in-class service to those who sacrifice so much for America.
Most of us are familiar with USO shows. For decades the USO has been teaming up with the country’s biggest stars to stage comedy shows, concerts, meet-and-greets, unit visits and other interactive events for service members and their families stationed stateside and overseas. The USO makes it possible to bring entertainment and music to the doorsteps of America’s troops and their families.
The USO also understands how difficult is can be for our soldiers to be away from home during the holidays. In an effort to boost holiday morale, they put together Holiday Care Packages. USO Holiday Care Packages, each intended to support about 50 service members, group together several holiday seasons in an effort to send as much enjoyment as possible in each shipment. The four package variations include: Super Bowl/Valentine’s Day/St. Patrick’s Day; Patriotic/Summer; Halloween/Thanksgiving and Winter/Christmas/Hanukkah, and include items like decorations, snacks, games, DVDs and more. Since the program was launched in 2011, they have distributed nearly 1,500 boxes that brought holiday cheer to more than 110,000 service members in more than 500 locations.
As it happens, US soldiers are fans of video games. The Mobile Entertainment Gaming System (MEGS) is the USO’s solution. Designed as a mobile gaming system that can easily be deployed at a moment’s notice, MEGS are packaged in small, rugged containers and provide entertainment options to service members in remote locations. Within minutes of opening a MEGS, they are watching a movie or playing a video game. Since the program’s launch in 2010, nearly 400 MEGS systems have been delivered to remote locations around the world, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Egypt, Djibouti, Jordan, Australia, Kuwait – even the United States.
While there are a lot of USO service centers across the country, not all of them are easily accessible for soldiers. That’s where USO2GO comes in. USO2GO kits offer fun diversions and the comforts of home for units serving around the globe.
Developed using feedback from deployed troops, these customizable kits to include everything from furniture and electronics to gaming and music equipment. USO2GO kits also include toiletries, snacks and other necessities that keep our men and women in uniform relaxed and revitalized. More than 1,500 USO2GO kits have been shipped to more than 800 remote locations, including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Egypt, Djibouti, Jordan, Australia and Kuwait.
In a world where everyone has a cell phone, it is easy to take the ability to make a phone call for granted. This is a luxury for a soldier. Especially considering that international calling rates are pretty exorbitant.
Operation Phone Home®, one of the services forward-deployed service members most frequently request, is a two-part program. Launched in 2003 as a phone card program, Operation Phone Home® has changed with the times, adding a private telephone network and internet connectivity in 2009.
At USO centers located in combat zones, the USO’s private telephone network allows service members to make free phone calls home, provides access to computers with free high-speed Internet bandwidth and offers free wireless internet access for those with their own wi-fi-enabled device. More and more expectant fathers take advantage of this free internet access to virtually accompany their wives into the delivery room for the birth of their children.
For forward-deployed service members in remote areas without access to our centers, phone cards are still the lifeline that keeps them connected to friends and family. To date, the USO has provided more than 3.2 million free prepaid international calling cards, allowing service members stationed overseas to connect with their loved ones back home.
This is just a piece of the programs and services that the USO provides and they can always use support to keep helping our troops. If you would like to find out how you can help go to www.uso.org/take-action/ways-to-support.