14 Awesome USO Programs and Services For Military Families
If you are part of a military family or you are a service member, then you know what an integral part of the military the United Service Organizations (USO) is. You have probably seen the familiar red, white, and blue logo around bases, military events, airports, and foreign installations. Even more visible are the smiles and kindness of the volunteers who help run the USO programs.
Since World War II, this dedicated and patriotic nonprofit organization has played a huge part in the military community, providing support and encouragement to those serving and their families. Each year, 30,000 volunteers help run the 250 locations worldwide. The wonderful and passionate volunteers have tallied up over 1.5 million volunteer hours to date.
For nearly 80 years, the USO has provided many services for our troops and their families, although the most important ones are the programs and centers that give our active duty a warm welcome no matter how far they are from home.
What is the USO?
The United Service Organizations, Inc, also known as the USO, is an organization whose mission is to “strengthen America’s America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.”
For 80 years, this congressionally chartered, private organization has depended on volunteers and donations to serve military members worldwide.
From the moment that a person joins the military, through assignments, deployments, transitions, and everything in between, the USO serves as a support system for military families.
Where is the USO?
Most active-duty members and their families are more accustomed to seeing the USO signs when traveling. You probably will see a USO in most major airports, and it is extremely popular with service members and their families. With more than 250 locations worldwide, you’re bound to find a USO center in your travels.
You can find USO locations on military bases, mobile lounges, and MEPS offices and overseas in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy, Japan, Iraq, and South Korea. Last year, the USO centers were visited more than 8.1 million times by service members and their families.
“The USO provides programs, entertainment, and services at over 250 USO locations globally, including Afghanistan, Djibouti, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy, Japan, Iraq, South Korea, and the United States.” USO centers give service members and their families a friendly, pleasant, and convenient place to rest, unwind, and connect with loved ones.
The USO centers have cots and recliners to allow service members to rest. There are phones and internet for members to connect with their loved ones. There are televisions and game consoles where you can play video games or watch movies, and of course, you can always find food to snack on if you get hungry. I have even seen showers at some locations where service members can get refreshed after a long flight.
Photo Credit: USO
Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program
For over 60 years – from World War II through the Gulf War – Bob Hope traveled the world, touring remote outposts and isolated battleships to put on USO shows to support our service members and their loved ones. His passion and dedication to keeping service members and their families connected is a legacy that still lives today.
The Bob Hope Legacy Foundation and the USO partnered together to create the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program in 2017. In 2019, The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program connected more than 39,000 military families worldwide through reading.
The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program currently brings storytime on-demand around the globe through:
storytime on-demand around the globe
Through the partnership with the Bob Hope Legacy, the USO can help service members read to their children from across the globe. Service members can go into participating USO locations, record themselves reading their child’s favorite story, and have that recording sent home.
Helping military kids stay connected through reading
Being a military child often comes with many challenges. With programs like the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program, children can add a new book to their library and share storytime with their loved ones by recording themselves reading. The USO then ends the recording to the child’s loved one, bringing families together no matter how far they are from each other.
Promoting local reading programs in many USO locations around the world
Local reading programs are intended to serve the individual needs of each military community. At some locations, the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program provides military spouses with a deployed loved one an opportunity to spend some time with other families in similar situations. Other program events help encourage and support children in using their creativity by completing a craft related to a story’s theme. But no matter the location, one thing rings true, the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program is dedicated to helping bridge the distance between a service member and their family through reading.
Photo Credit: USO
USO Care Package Program
“The USO Care Package Program is designed to provide service members with a connection to home through a snack or toiletry care package designed to best suit the needs of our military men and women.” The USO has two different types of care packages, a snack pack, and a toiletry pack. These packs are ‘desert tan’ and are made with durable nylon material with a M.O.L.L.E. system on the pouch’s back. It can attach easily to most military issued gear.
The Snack Pack includes a mixture of healthy snacks and drink mixes, and the Toiletry Pack comes with an array of travel-sized hygiene products. Since World War II, the USO would pack boxes full of little “tastes of home” to bring a little comfort and reminder of home to our military service members. 80 years later, this small but meaningful gesture still provides service members the comfort and care they need during their time away from home.
Photo Credit: USO
Operation Phone Home®
When a service member is deployed or away from home, a simple phone call can make all the difference in their mood and spirit. A phone call can bring so much comfort and happiness – especially to a family separated by service. However, when your new to the military, international phone rates and service plans often seem expensive and out of reach.
Operation Phone Home® is one of those services that deployed service members frequently request and rightfully so. Who doesn’t want to speak to their family when they are thousands and thousands of miles away? This program is two-fold.
The first part of this program gives service members deployed to combat zones use of the USO’s secure private internet network and computers to communicate with their families and loved ones. Since the start of this program, more and more expectant fathers are taking advantage of this free internet to accompany their spouses during their children’s births virtually.
The USO provides services members with free international prepaid calling cards for the forward-deployed service members who serve in remote areas without access to USO centers. The USO has provided more than 3.5 million free prepaid international calling cards to service members, allowing them to connect with their loved ones back home.
Photo Credit: USO
USO Pathfinder® Transition Program
The USO Pathfinder® Transition Program is one of my favorite USO programs. This program offers professional development services to active duty, Reserve, National Guard, and military spouses throughout the service member or military spouse’s career and support as they transition out of the military and settle back into civilian life.
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be very difficult, and this program helps service members and families better prepare for their future.
The USO has Transition Specialists available to help develop a personalized Action Plan and help members take full advantage of services and resources in their new community.
How It Works
“The USO Pathfinder Transition Program collaborates with partners to connect service members and military spouses to resources through a holistic approach, focusing on:”
- Financial readiness
- Increased access to relevant veterans’ benefits in their communities
By creating an individualized action plan, USO Transition Specialists help service members and their families identify personal and professional goals, create a plan to achieve them, and identify services and resources that are a good fit for their needs.
This program is available to service members well after the member has officially left service, ensuring that they have all the resources to transition to civilian life. USO Transition Specialists provide these free services through one-on-one support (either virtually or in-person) and support military families as they create a plan for success now – and for the future.
Photo Credit: USO
Military Spouse Programs
Being a military spouse comes with its own challenges. From multiple moves to the struggles of meeting new people, obtaining meaningful employment, and everything in between, military spouses have it hard.
The USO has continually supported military spouses for many years. In 2016, they began “a worldwide initiative focusing on programs to “strengthen and empower military spouses by connecting them to their social, professional, and community networks.” Here are some of the ways the USO has done this.
USO Military Spouse Networking Events
The USO Military Spouse Networking Events started in May of 2016. The program allows military spouses to have face-to-face interaction with up to 50 other spouses in the same situation. This gives spouses the chance to make meaningful connections with others in their community.
The USO also invites employers, community/military leaders, and organizations supporting military spouses. Spouses who attend this event leave with customized business cards, a professional “elevator pitch,” and 15-25 new connections.
On top of the USO Military Spouse Networking events, spouses are also encouraged to attend monthly Coffee Connection meetings to make new friends or reunite with old ones. Coffee Connections are an excellent way for military spouses to meet new friends, share advice, and hear about local events.
Coffee Connection Live started in February 2019. This program was created to give Military Spouses who might not have ready access to a USO location an opportunity to participate still. This virtual event is an hour-long “coffee chat” between a USO military spouse and an influential guest where they discuss relevant and trending topics within the military spouse community.
The USO has also teamed up with Brittany Boccher, the 2017 Military Spouse of the Year, to create a series of workshops worldwide. These workshops, given by Mrs. Boccher, are hosted at the USO centers. They allow spouses to find “their passion and purpose and to approach life’s challenges with a more positive and proactive outlook.” These workshops empower and inspire military spouses to find their identities and live their lives with purpose.
Photo Credit: USO
What Else Does the USO Do?
The most important goal of the USO is to connect and support our deployed military. However, there are also programs for military spouses, couples, children, and expecting families. Here are some other programs that can benefit service members and their families.
Photo Credit: USO
Real Stories from Real People
How Can I Help?
For nearly 80 years, the USO has supported our service members and their families through donations. Donations have helped the USO reach more than 4.9 million service members and military families who serve our country and keep us safe.
Here are some ways you can help support our service members and their families.
- Individual Contributions – Individual Contributions
- Volunteer – Register to volunteer
- Gifts in Honor/Memory of Loved One – Contribute in honor of someone
- Planned Giving – Learn about Planned Giving.
- Wire or Stock Transfer – Use this free online tool
- IRA Charitable Rollovers – Use this free tool here