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Feb. 6, 2023

Happy Birthday USO! Who are they? And what programs do they have for you?

Happy Birthday USO! Who are they? And what programs do they have for you?

In the spirit of expanding our military knowledge, today we are talking about the USO who just celebrated its 82nd birthday on February 4th!

The main goal of the USO is to provide a home away from home for service members and their families.

We talk about the different programs they offer like:
-Operation Phone Home
-The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
-Coffee Connect and Coffee Connect Live
-In The Kitchen, a virtual cooking show
-Continuing Your Journey designed for mil spouses
- USO Special Delivery, a program throwing baby showers around the world
-USO2GO supporting forward deployed service members
-USO Care Package Program
-Operation Birthday Cake

It was really cool for me to learn about all of these programs and then share them with you! I hope you found value in it as well!

Here are some of the links I mentioned in the show:

I so appreciate you listening to the show!

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello and welcome back to the show. So, in the spirit of trying to continue our military education this season and learning about different programs and services that are available to military members and military spouses today, I thought we would talk about the uso the USO or the United Service Organizations.

[00:00:23] That's what it stands for. Just celebr. 82nd birthday on February 4th. So I thought that this was a timely place to talk about the different programs and stuff that they have. So I thought that we would just take a little bit of time today to talk about who they are what they do for military families, because they might have some programs and resources that you haven't heard of.

[00:00:42] I know I found a bunch of stuff that I had no idea was there. And again, I think that's part of , part of the issue with that a lot of military spouses. Feel is that, the sense of disconnect and, and where is all this stuff, right? Because there's a ton of stuff out there, but if you don't know it's there, if you don't know it's there, you don't know where to find it, then is that really helpful?

[00:01:03] Jumping right in. The USO is a nonprofit organization and they provide program services and live entertainment to service members and their families. It was created in 1941 at the request of President Roosevelt. It was to provide morale and. Recreational services to members of the Armed forces during World War ii.

[00:01:26] So it's, it's main goal is to provide support and assistance to service members and their families, whether they're home or deployed overseas. They have centers all over the place, mostly near military bases. But also in airports and on ships, they do offer a bunch of different services. One of it, it, the, the biggest thing that they, that I kind of got from all the research that I did is their big goal is they wanna provide a home away from home.

[00:01:53] So what kind of creature comforts and things like that can they provide to service members while they're deployed or traveling? . They also do, again, live entertainment. I'll tell you about some of the people that they've had recently. Recreational activities, counseling and support services, education and employment services.

[00:02:11] And then they do care packages for troops deployed overseas. They are staffed by a combination of paid employees and volunteers, but mostly volunteers. You know, and then I was like, is the USO even relevant anymore? I don't know if I'm not trying to be offensive, but I, you know, I mean, it seems like that was the heyday was World War II and, , providing, , shows and entertainment and stuff for the troops while they were overseas.

[00:02:35] Is, is that, are they even really, is it even relevant anymore and. , even though the world has changed a lot since the USO was created, it's still going strong . And and they really do make a difference. I'll share some some numbers that they have on their website of, of programs and initiatives that they have and how many people that they've helped.

[00:02:54] So they're definitely still making an impact for sure. I think the USO is probably. Most well known for its live entertainment program. , back in the day they had Bob Ho, Elvis Presley Bruce Springsteen. That's not way back in the day, and they really was just a, you know, performances that were intended to boost the morale of service members.

[00:03:14] And just, again, that HomeAway from home for service members. You know, just a little, little something. Take their mind off of what they're doing at the time. . And so they still happen today. They still are doing live events today.

[00:03:24] They have a bunch of on their website, people that are participating in events right now and they have lots of pictures and things like that. So John Stewart and Scarlet Johansen and wilder Valderrama. The band, the Chainsmokers, Elizabeth Banks from she's from Pitch Perfect.

[00:03:37] She's been in a lot of things, but pitch perfect. And then that this is us cast a lot of sports NBA players and, and things like. . So I'm not so, so that, that's kinda like the, their, their big thing. Right. But for me personally the USO has always been most prevalent in our military life, in the airports.

[00:03:56] So I was curious like, how did that come about? What, what is that all about? And it's basically, You know, just trying to ease the stress of travel for military members and their families. They have, , nice little tucked away locations. Unfortunately, they might not be located in a terminal that's convenient for you.

[00:04:15] But if you can get there, it is a much nicer place. to wait out a layover or a delay. They usually have lots of comfy chairs and couches and lots of outlets so that you can, charge all your charge and be on all of your electronics. They usually have a really nice selection of snacks and drinks.

[00:04:32] There's always, , volunteers. At least one or two that are in there. They're always really nice and welcoming. Can they, , do anything for you or whatnot? They have areas for the kids to play with. Lots of toys and puzzles and books, and they always have computers if you need to get online for anything.

[00:04:47] So again, it's just, , the airport locations. It's just supposed to be a place where service members who are on the move, maybe they're going on deployment, maybe they're coming home from deployment or T D Y or whatever the case might be. It's just that home away from home. A sense of normalcy of community while they travel because you, you can't g get in there unless you have a military id.

[00:05:10] And then it's also a way of showing appreciation and support to the service members and their family. So I know I've been in there a couple of times when I've had log layovers and whatnot, and it's definitely nice to just be away from like the crazy of the airport. It's quiet and you can have a big stuffy chair and just kind of chill out and hang out while you're, while you're killing time.

[00:05:28] It's just a nice place to. . Okay. Let's jump into some of the different programs that the USO has. , it seemed to me like the, there are big ones. They do have quite a few for military spouses, which we'll get into in just a second. I'm just gonna do, again, I'm just gonna do an overview, but their big thing is the, around a lot of their programs is communication.

[00:05:47] So they have a program called Operation Phone Home, and it's one of the service. That Ford deployed service members most frequently. Request for request to have it's a two-part program. It was launched in 2003 as a phone card program. Operation phone home has changed though. You know, people aren't using that so much anymore, and so they've added a private telephone network and internet connectivity in 2009.

[00:06:16] So service members that. Deployed to combat zones can use the USO's Secure private Internet network and computers to, you know, communicate with their loved ones back at home. And then at centers located in combat zones. The USO's Private Telephone Network allows service members to make free phone calls home, and then also access to computers with free high-speed internet bandwidth and free wireless internet connection for those that have their own wifi enabled devices.

[00:06:48] And then they also offer the ability for expected fathers to use that free internet access to virtually be in the in the delivery room with their spouses while they're children are being born. So, and then, so here's some, some stats that they had in 2019. At USO locations in Southwest Asia alone, just in Southwest Asia, they had 2.8 million minutes of free talk time and 760,000 wifi sessions were logged by service members connecting with their families.

[00:07:20] So that's obviously a really big program, and again, the one that is most requested by forward deployed service. . And then to date, the USO has provided more than 3.5 million free prepaid. International calling cards, so that's pretty cool. All right. Another program that they have is the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, and this is service members can walk into participating in USL locations, record themselves reading their child's favorite story, and then have that recording shipped home.

[00:07:51] And then they also offer this program in reverse for military kids, where kiddos can read stories and then that will be sent to the service. You might be more familiar with the United Through Reading. I know that was really prevalent in the Navy community for us when we were on surface ships, and it's a similar program.

[00:08:07] It's also a nonprofit that started Pier Side in San Diego back in the late eighties. They serve all branches and they've got 300 reading stations worldwide. And again, , this is, it's, it's a great program for families going through deployment, especially with young.

[00:08:21] It's so nice just, you know, to see their parents' face reading to them, even if it's a recording. And I can tell you that they do not care. if it's the same story every single night. They, they just wanna see their parents' faces. . Okay. So then switching gears just to hair, they they have quite a few programs that are specific for military spouses, so we'll jump into those.

[00:08:41] Here real quick. They host monthly coffee connections, which are hosted at local USOs or local venues. And that's, it's essentially just like, , a get together. Networking type of event for spouses locally. And then in response to military spouses that wanna participate but are not close to a USO location.

[00:09:00] Cuz I, I Googled here in Denver and there is, there is not one, I mean they have a USO at the at the Denver airport, but they don't offer any other locations than. . So in response that they off, they launched a u USO Coffee Connect Live, and it's a virtual event. It's an hour long coffee chat, and they have different guests and things on there.

[00:09:21] They talk about, , different topics trending in the military spouse community. They are recorded the coffee connect live, so you can watch past events on their website and I will I will put a link in the show notes for that. So if you've missed ones and then they. Date of when the next coming episodes or next sessions will be.

[00:09:40] So then you can, you know, mark that on your calendar if that's something that you wanna participate in. They also offer a series called In The Kitchen. In the Kitchen is a virtual program, which invites spouses around the world to connect on camera with a chef from, with Homem. I was like, what the heck is that?

[00:10:01] So homemade is a virtual cooking show. So it's essentially specifically for for the military community. They do special shows just for that. And again, those are they have, there was only one that I saw available that was a past episode, but they have some upcoming ones and then they have, , if you're interested in different ones.

[00:10:16] But it's, I think it's always nice to. , , have different ideas for what to make for dinner. And their whole thing is trying to do it as quickly as possible. So that's also also really helpful. Another program for military spouses is called Continuing Your Journey, and it's with 2017 Mill Spouse of the Year, Brittany Bosher.

[00:10:35] I think that's how you say your name. I'm not really sure. So continuing Your Journey is a 12 module workbook and it covers topics from self. Reflection to self growth. And the workshop provides the next steps for spouses to learn the tips, tools, and resources needed to focus on self-care and development.

[00:10:55] So they have a quite a few different topics. Vision boards, goal setting, boundaries, time management, power of self relationships and priorities. Those were the ones that I saw listed. You can, again, you can watch recordings of the sessions on their website because what they have currently are modules from 2022.

[00:11:13] But I did see on their that Britney is going to be host. Oh, actually I think it happened yesterday. It said January 23rd. I'm recording this on January 24th. They had it they were having another session, so it's something that's still ongoing. So if that's something that you're interested in, in, in self-development, this is kind of a, a guided, a guided thing through that.

[00:11:30] It might be something for you to check out. And then another program that they offer is called the USO special Delivery. . So they host baby showers. 

[00:11:39] I had no idea that this was a thing, but I think it's a great idea. So essentially it's a group of a group baby shower. It's hosted on bases and everyone is welcome. And it's a just a chance to get to know other expectant or new moms network share experiences. They, you know, they have typical baby shower games and then they have parenting experts.

[00:12:01] So Heidi Murkoff is, The author of the What to Expect Book series, and she is the host of the shower. So the video that they have on their website, it, you know, . Of course it's a promo thing, so , they, the highlight reel that you show, that they show the highlight reel. But there it was just, it's just, you know, a, a bunch of other military spouses that are pregnant and a lot of active duty members that are pregnant, and I think it's.

[00:12:27] You know, it, it's hard. , even under the best circumstances, growing a baby and bringing it into the world's a tough gig, right? But then you put on that, that you're potentially separated from your family and your friends and it just makes it harder. So it just being able to connect with other moms that are experiencing the, a similar situation to what you are, there's, there's a lot to be said for that sense of community.

[00:12:53] I think that's a pretty cool thing. . They have the baby shower and then, you know, to try and get more programming out. They started doing other two. They have two other ones. They have one that's called a spritz, that's for up to 50 people. And again, , similar thing. Connect and, , have fun and meet other people.

[00:13:11] And then they always have prizes and stuff. It's sponsored by Johnson and Johnson, so they always have door prizes and things like that. And then there's another one. Called Boots and Booties, and it's a more frequent support, kind of support system. And just community building opportunity for you know, building in your, your local support network.

[00:13:29] So, something maybe to check out if you're expecting. Another program that they have, and this is one of their big ones, is called USO to Go. For service members that are in remote locations, it's, you know, not always easy to get to a USO center. So the USO to GO Kit it's just a way for them to still get those little comforts from home and things like that while they're serving in, , remote places.

[00:13:51] They really try to listen to what the service members actually want. They take a lot of feedback from the troops, like, what do you guys need? And they have customizable kits that they said they include everything from furniture and electronics. To gaming and music, and I'm like, furniture?

[00:14:07] What kind of furniture are you getting in a forward deployed location? A chair? I, I don't know. I thought that was, and they didn't expound on that, so I was like, okay. But the, the USO to go kits also include toiletries and snacks and things like that, which, , is always. Always nice to have right?

[00:14:23] When you, when you're away from home and just those things that we take for granted every day, that we get to have the little snacks and whatever. You really miss that stuff when you're, when you're not home and, and, , not every service member that is deployed has a family that is sending them care packages and things like that and have, maybe have, even any support at all.

[00:14:42] It's just a nice, something nice to have for them. . The USO Togo is the most requested program. So it's that one. And then the the communication one, the. Operation Phone home. Yeah. So Operation Phone Home and the USO to-go are the two most requested programs that they have in in 2008.

[00:15:03] This is some outdated information, but in 2008, they ship more than 2000 kits and they go all over the place. I mean, they're, into , Egypt and Jibouti and Q eight, north Africa, all those places they were, they ship 'em all over the place. And again, it's the most requested program. And then the USO Care package program is it's again designed to, so to provide service members with, use that connection to home with they've got snacks and they have a toiletry one as well.

[00:15:29] . With like, , different travel size hygiene products. And then in 2019, 170,000 of those U S O Care packages were delivered in 2019, 170,000. That's pretty crazy. Something else is , it is a non-profit organization. They get funding. They do get some funding from the government and grants and things like that, but it's also a lot of volunteers and donations.

[00:15:50] So if that's something that speaks to you, maybe that's something that you can donate money to those care packages and, and different things like that could be something to to look into. . Okay. Then the, the last part and in the, in the communication thing for them is they they designed these mobile USOs.

[00:16:09] They have a couple that are like full on campers, and then they have a couple sprinter vans and they've got , the big campers have the slide out sections and they've got , a huge TVs and gaming systems and wifi, and , sound systems in and out and they have a food prep area and they've got a little like galley canteen place.

[00:16:29] So it's again that trying to create that home away from home feeling for, for people that are, are for service members that are, you know, not close to a u USO location, they're trying to be able to still get to folks that aren't near like a brick and mortar location. The Sprinter vans are stationed out of Texas, California, and Alaska.

[00:16:50] And again, you know, just trying to get to those military populations that have some geographic limitations. And then the USO sent those mobile vehicles, , when the National Guard and things like that go to help with hurricanes for example. They will send those mobile vehicles there as well.

[00:17:06] So again, just trying to make that home away from home. A place to just kind of kick back and relax, play games, watch tv, whatever. . Okay. And then they have, they like to offer. You know, lots of different support and things like that. Again, I found so many links to these video libraries. One of them is called the Military Virtual Programming or mvp, and they're virtual conversations on all kinds of topics from, , parenthood relationships.

[00:17:32] Careers, mentoring, things like that. There's a huge library of past conversations that you can look at. They do have some celebrities in there as well, and I will, again, I will link that in the show notes. So if you wanna go check that out, see if there's some discussions that you want to check.

[00:17:50] And then another program that's super cool. But unfortunately, post Covid is only being offered by the uso. Japan is Operation Birthday Cake. You can have a birthday cake delivered to your service member who might be stationed away from family. Again, it used to be Pacific Rim and.

[00:18:09] Pair with the local commissaries. The commissaries would make cake and then they would send it out to the service member. But again, since Covid, now they're only, it's only offered to the US O Japan, they do have some stipulations around it. They request that the, that the requester lives off island at the time, and that the cake recipient is stationed either single or unaccompanied.

[00:18:32] Or t d y t a D two, mainland Japan, and then the program is only for service members. And then, then you need to allow at least two weeks in advance for the USO to be able to coordinate that. I did find another company online called Bake Me A Wish. It's out of New York and you can order a birthday cake from them to be delivered to your service member overseas.

[00:18:52] So I will, again, I'll add the link in the show notes, so I believe. That the operation birthday cake through the USO is free. If I am not mistaken, I believe it's free. Because again, my understanding was that they order the cake from the commissary and then the commissary delivers it to the service member.

[00:19:11] Don't quote me on that. I could be wrong. This baked me a wish out of New York. You pay for it, so you pay. I was looking, I looked at it y. They don't allow you to select a cake that has frosting because that has a lot less of a shelf life, and can make a huge mess when it's being shipped. So they have different cakes and things that you can order.

[00:19:32] Muffins and they had some brownies and things like that. They had a bunch of different options. They vary in price from like 40 ish to 50, $60. So, you know, kind of depending. And then the shipping, I believe it was. Flat rate, $15 maybe or something. So it's not free, but it's not, well, it is, that's a lot of money to spent , but when your service member's overseas, like that's something that's really tricky to coordinate.

[00:19:58] So I just think that that's a, it's a cool opportunity that you could check out. Again, I will link it in the show notes. So that's it, that's what I found out about the uso. They're still alive and kicking. They got a lot of stuff going on. A lot of really cool program. A lot of information available for consumption for sure.

[00:20:14] So feel free to go and check it out. That's it. I'll talk to you next time.