When I think about organizations that go above and beyond to support troops and military families, one group comes immediately to mind: the USO. It’s not just because I appreciate snacks at the ready when I’m traveling (although let me tell you more about that in a second). It’s because the USO is consistently there for military families and service members in countless ways.
It’s also one of the longest running troop organizations out there, and on February 4 they’ll be celebrating 75 years of service. That’s a lot of sandwiches, shows and support.
And so, in honor of the USO’s 75th birthday ….
7 Things for 75 Years: What We Love About the USOAirport lounges. This gets top billing because it’s the USO service I’ve personally used the most. If you aren’t familiar with the USO’s airport lounges, get familiar today. Located at almost every major airport, USO lounges are open to anyone with a military ID. Present your ID to the helpful volunteer at the front desk, get signed in and behold – snacks, drinks, a place to sit, a wall plug to charge your phone without a throw down with another traveler and, in some lounges, beds in case you get stuck overnight. How can you not love this? Am I gushing? I’ll stop. (But seriously: snacks.)
Traveling show. The USO show is one of the organization’s longest running services. Remember Bob Hope? Yup, preformed USO shows. The USO Show tours overseas and stateside military locations, bringing entertainment to troops all over the world … since 1941. That’s a lot of time on the road.
Sesame Street/USO Experience. If you’ve got kids, you may already be familiar with this one. The USO and Sesame bring a show written just for military kids to local bases worldwide. It’s free, your kids get cool giveaways and everyone gets to see Elmo. File this one under: what’s not to love? That show has served 537,000 troops and their families at 1,000 performances on 148 military bases in 33 states and 11 countries, according to the USO. I’ve attended several of them with my kids, so I know it communicates military life truths and tools to them in a way I cannot but Elmo and Cookie Monster can. Once I even hauled my barely three-week-old there, because I couldn’t stand for his older brother to miss it, and then dealt with collateral hungry-baby fallout on the drive home, but still thought it was worth it. Yes, it’s that great.
USO Centers. I’ve already talked about the airport lounges. This is something different. On bases worldwide the USO operates centers where troops and families can hang out, call home, use computers and find a hot meal and friendly faces. The center here at Fort Campbell is downright lavish. Plus the last time I was there they had Girl Scout cookies. Feed me.
Baby showers. I just missed out on getting to participate in one of the USO’s baby showers held at bases worldwide. But I’ve heard about them – and they sound amazing. Since they started in 2013 they’ve showered 2,300 military spouses and have 21 events planned for this year. If you’re in a baby state of mind, keep your eyes peeled for one near you. This isn’t an event you want to miss.
Kicking homecomings up a notch. While this goodness doesn’t happen for everyone, it’s a great example of how the USO can step in to help families. Military spouse Cecilia McNeff told us about a homecoming for which the USO helped her surprise her four kids with their father’s return on the Meredith Vieira Show. Not only did they greet them in New York with bags of Sesame Street goodies (score!) and take care of their every need, but the most important part -- the surprise -- went off without a hitch.
Transition help. With drawdown on our minds many of us are either currently thinking about transition or worrying that it will come when we aren’t really ready for it. The USO’s Transition 360 alliance looks to smooth things over for transitioning families by providing a bevy of tools.
The most wild thing about these seven awesome tools is that they aren’t even nearly all of what the USO has for military families and service members. So Happy Birthday USO, and thank you for everything you and your volunteers have done to support all of us.