Knights before Christmas!
By Sally Deering
The classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life!” is a holiday tradition that seems to make us all remember the true spirit of Christmas isn’t how much money you spend, but the friends and family who stick by you when the chips are down.
As we all get ready to spend the holidays with family and friends, let’s not forget the more than 1.5 million U.S. Servicemen-and-women deployed overseas and on active duty here in the states who won’t be home this holiday to eat dinner with the family or steal a Christmas kiss under the mistletoe.
Even if you don’t have a family member or friend in the Armed Services, there are many ways you can share your holiday spirit with our soldiers and one way is with a donation to the USO, the United Services Organization that since 1941 has been providing our soldiers with services and programs that help raise their holiday spirits when they’re far from home.
The USO is a non-profit, congressionally chartered, private organization that is not part of the U.S. government, but recognized by the Department of Defense as a main support link between servicemen-and-women and their families back home. The USO provides ways we all can help including Operation USO Care Package and USO Operation Phone Home which give a little Christmas cheer to our soldiers during the holidays and programs like Wounded Warriors which provides support to wounded men and women from the battlefield back to the community. Sesame Street TLC is for soldiers’ children who are experiencing the affects of deployment, combat-related injuries and the loss of loved ones.
All these programs need donations to keep them going and you don’t have to break the piggy bank to contribute: $25; $50; whatever you can afford will make a difference and all you have to do is go to www.USO.org to make a secure online donation. Trust me, Santa will be thrilled!
Operation USO Care Package
We all can remember the excitement of opening a care package back when we were kids at camp or freshmen at college. Jars of peanut butter, bottles of shampoo, little things our parents boxed up that tied us to home. Well Operation USO Care Package gives our soldiers a similar experience.
For a small donation ($25-$50) you can send a USO Care Package packed with toiletries, a deck of cards, sunscreen – little things that boost morale and give a soldier the feeling that someone back home cares, a lot. You can even include a personal message of support and appreciation in with the care package. This program is so successful the USO receives many thank you notes from soldiers who received a USO Care Package sponsored by a civilian back home. One soldier wrote:
“First I want to tell you how much this raised our morale. I overheard a few people saying it felt like Christmas all over again.” – Jolly Rogers 103 Line Division, to Operation USO Care Package.
Another thank-you note, this time from a sailor stationed on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“I received one of your care packages from Operation USO Care Package. You have no idea how much it means to the Sailors at sea to know that people support what we do.” – MC2 Matthew D. Leistikow, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
USO Operation Phone Home
Cell phones have become such a big part of our lives and we often take for granted the convenience of getting our loved ones on the phone in a snap! And if you’ve ever forgotten or lost your cell phone, you might remember that feeling of anxiety you went through until it was back in your arms again.
Well, try to imagine being stationed overseas with little means of communication with your family. The USO realized this dilemma and since 2003, it has sponsored USO Operation Phone Home that lets deployed service men and women connect to their families with prepaid phone cards.
USO Operation Phone Home delivers prepaid international phone cards to deployed troops free of charge. The phone cards are distributed through USO centers or delivered directly to military units. As deployment increases and the needs of the military change, the USO has also developed a Private Telephone Network (PTN), available in USO centers throughout Southwest Asia.
One hundred percent of the money raised for the USO Operation Phone Home program goes to the purchase of phone cards and operation of the PTN and with just a $50 donation you can provide our Servicemen-and-women with a connection to their loved ones back home.
According to Wikipedia, since the War on Terrorism began in 2001, 4,000 US soldiers have lost their lives and close to 32,000 have been wounded, with 20 percent of those injured living with serious brain and/or spinal cord injuries. The USO Wounded Warriors program addresses the needs of wounded servicemen-and-women and their families by providing health services, recreation, and family strengthening activities, job education and skills building. Here are just a few ways your donations can give support:
Purchase adaptive bikes and gear for wounded warriors so that they can train and participate in Ride2Recovery (R2R) rides nationwide-helping to build their self-confidence and independence.
Send children and families of fallen soldiers to camps where they can heal and connect with others who have lost loved ones-and through the USO’s relationship with the “Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors” (TAPS), send these families “Grief Care Packages” to remind them they are not forgotten after their loved ones have passed.
Provide education and employment training to wounded Servicemen-and-women through Hire Heroes USA that will help them build a resume, network with other veterans, and learn necessary financial management skills that will help them in their transition back to civilian life.
Purchase portable games, DVD players and DVDs to send to trauma hospitals in Afghanistan to help wounded soldiers relax and get their mind off their injuries.
Provide Emergency Funding to help wounded soldiers and their families when they don’t have the money to travel to visit loved ones undergoing treatment in stateside hospitals.
Let’s not forget our Servicemen-and-women this Christmas. Just a small donation can give a soldier a touchstone to family, friends and the home they love.
For more information on how you can show a soldier you care this Christmas and every day of the year, go to www.uso.org.