The USO is a great organization. I've spent many a day or night in a USO at Sea-Tac, O'Hare, Frankfurt Am-Mein, etc. It's good to have a second home when you are so far away from home. And the USO does a lot more than maintain a comfortable place to visit at airports...they sponsor tours, entertain the troops, provide care packages, phone cards, gift certificates for the commisary (military grocery store), etc. You can read more about USO programs here.
Mapchic, who volunteers with the USO in Chicago, sends this report from last weekend. In this particular case, the USO was taking care of the families of deployed Reservists and Guardsmen.
I woke up at 3 this afternoon after a very, very busy few days. From 5pm on Thursday until 9am on Sunday I worked at the USO for 37 hours and though it left me tired, I wouldn’t have missed a second… it was great fun.
In particular on Saturday I worked at a fantastic Christmas party that was held for the children of deployed Reserves and Guardsmen. I cannot say enough great things about this party.
The USO organized the party with the Family Readiness Group at the local armory. However, the real stars of the Party was a group from Hinsdale that call itself the “Santa’s Helpers”.
This group asked for a Christmas wish list from all 150+ kids. Wow! Did they fulfill these kid’s wishes. In fact, I was told that after they got the first few lists they called the FRG and told them to not hold back - the kids should ask for EXACTLY what they wanted – regardless of price.
When I got to the armory the room was filling up with families and several volunteers from the Santa group. While we waited for Santa to come we watched the movie Elf on a huge screen and I worked with the kids at a craft table making frames for the pictures that they would soon get taken with Santa. Families were then taking turns going into the computer room to make video e-mails to send out to their active duty servicemen.
The Santa’s Helpers started to bring in the bags of toys. All the toys were beautifully wrapped and the toys kept coming, and coming, and coming. It was amazing.
Santa soon appeared and the kids lined up for their turn to sit on his lap and take a picture. Then the kids opened their gifts…unbelievable.
They got Bikes, DVD players, Gameboys, video games, RC cars, clothes, movies, and much more! Everything was top of the line, brand new and exactly what the kids asked for. Then each family was given a full holiday dinner in a box to take home and a tin of cookies from Mrs. Fields.
The kids were happy, and the parents were shocked.
Shocked because as one of them said – “but we’re just reservists” which just about broke my heart. As far as the USO is considered if you have a military ID you aren't 'just' anything.
I think that sometimes it is really, really hard to be the spouse of a deployed reservist or guardsmen. They often live far from a base and without a great deal of the support that spouses of active duty military on a base have. Add to that the fact that serving active duty will often leave reservists with less of a paycheck than their civilian job will. That can lead to an extrak stressful holiday.
I kept walking up to the Santa’s Helpers and telling them how fantastic their organization was. They kept telling me that it was the least they could do. Then the family members and military members who were there kept walking up to me to thank me and I would always reply that I had done nothing… This was all to thank them for the sacrifices they make everyday!
Then the conversation would just become competing thanks among the three groups (military, USO, Santas).
It really made me realize just how great people can be either making the sacrifices everyday as a military family, or by using their own money to ensure that stranger’s children have as good Christmas as possible – even though a parent is far from home. It reminded me of how the holidays should be more about giving than taking.
For the rest of the weekend I was working at the airport USO that was open 24 hours because of the exodus of military nationwide trying to head home for the holidays. Many of the military’s schools shut down for the holidays (for example the ‘A’ schools here at Great Lakes).
It was great to see all these military men and women able to get home for the holidays. We were able to make sure all of our guests had a place to rest, something to eat, a free hone card (thanks to a donation from AT&T) and a holiday tin of cookies to take home as a gift (thanks to Mrs. Fields).
Even better were all the stories the servicemen and women had of people who helped them out as they traveled. One soldier had a first class passenger insist on trading seats for the flight to Chicago, many had their drinks or dinner bought, and one young man had a person who walked him to the USO to make sure that we were open, and gave him $20 to buy breakfast in the morning.
Sometimes, during the holidays it is easy to get wrapped up in the fact that there is plenty of shopping left to do, or get upset with your family over the same old things. When that happens remember these stories, and the fact that there are many, many people who are far from home this holiday season, and many who are doing there best to ensure that every person in uniform (and their family) has as good a holiday as possible.
A big "Thank You!" to all at the USO who help take care of our military (and their families)!!!