On February 4, 2022, the USO turns 81.
You’ve probably seen the familiar red, white, and blue logo around bases, military events, airports, and foreign installations.
Even more visible are the smiles and warmth of the volunteers who participate.
Since World War II, this patriotic nonprofit organization has been a fixture in military communities, providing support and encouragement to those serving. Each year, 30,000 volunteers keep USO services going at the 230 global locations. Annually, these active volunteers tally up over a million volunteer hours.
The USO benefits are many, but the biggest ones are the programs and centers that give active duty a warm welcome no matter how far from home they are.
And since the effort is more than 80 years old, we figured it’s a perfect time to share just what this nonprofit does for the military community, especially in light of its recent birthday.
What is the USO?
USO stands for the United Service Organizations, Inc. and focuses its mission on serving active duty military members and their families.
For nearly 80 years, this congressionally chartered, private organization has relied on volunteers and donations to serve military members across the globe.
While not a federal agency, every president has been considered an “Honorary Chairman of the USO” since its inception.
Where is the USO?
The better question is probably where isn’t the USO?
Most active-duty members are probably familiar with seeing the USO signs when traveling through major airports on leisure or business travel. With more than 230 locations worldwide, you’re bound to come across a USO center in your travels.
USO locations include:
- On or near military bases
- In major U.S. airports
- Mobile lounges
- MEPS offices
You’ll also find USO centers in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Iraq, and the United States.
In addition to the USO’s well-known entertainment tours where they take shows to deployed soldiers, the organization has locations around the world are visited more than seven million times per year.
What Does the USO Do?
The USO is essentially a morale-boosting, fun-loving organization focused on bringing joy and smiles to the faces of military families. The most impressive part is its dedicated 30,000+ volunteers who give their time annually to the organization.
The USO’s mission statement is clear about its intentions: “The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.”
Best of all, these events are free and open to active duty U.S. military and their families, both stateside and overseas.
The USO centers provide respite for service members in the form of programs, entertainment, and services. When traveling, it’s often the place service members catch a snooze between layovers. It’s also a place to connect to loved ones via the Internet or phone. Some pass the time by playing video games, watching movies, snacking or just relaxing.
Fun fact: The two centers in Kuwait get 39,500 monthly visits.
Perhaps some of the most exciting aspects of USO offerings are the programs the charity provides to active duty. From free phone calls home to family connection events, the USO prides itself on connecting service members to their families.
USO program offerings include:
- EmPaCt – An intimate family connection event that usually lasts 3-5 hours and brings together between five to 10 military families per event for bonding experiences.
- Operation Phone Home® – This is one of the most requested services by deployed service members, allowing them to phone home for free and use the WiFi in combat zones. Many expectant fathers use the private WiFi system to see the birth of their children from afar.
- Couples’ Seminars – The USO partners with Stronger Families to offer programming for couples to work on communication and develop relationship skills.
International USO centers provide information to help relocated soldiers and their families assimilate with the local culture in Europe and the Pacific.
Every year, the USO brings big-name entertainers to deployed service members for a taste of home while overseas. Shows include well-known actors, musical acts, sports icons, comedians, and more.
In 2018 alone:
- 96 celebrities took trips to visit and entertain service members
- 87,000+ service members + families entertained
- 41 tours
- 19 countries visited
Since 1941, acts like Bob Hope, George Lopez, DC comics actresses, and others have reached out and entertained our soldiers.
How Did the USO Begin?
Before the start of America’s involvement in World War II, President Roosevelt started on the USO initiative in 1941. He thought it would be wise to unite multiple service associations that served communities and would lift military morale.
- The Salvation Army
- Young Men’s Christian Association
- Young Women’s Christian Association
- National Catholic Community Services
- National Travelers Aid Association
- National Jewish Welfare Board
Those six organizations united and offered their services to what’s now known as the USO. For the last seven decades, the USO has offered support and morale boosters to service members.
What Else Does the USO Do?
The biggest goal of the USO is to connect and support our deployed military.
Equally, there are also programs for military spouses, couples, children, and expecting families.
The USO outreach program physically delivers support to service members during difficult deployments with care packages, holiday packages, and internet services. For weary troops who are traveling — whether on orders or leisure — the USO provides airport lounges for active military only in some major U.S. airports.
The Mobile USO units travel to events and military exercises to provide members a place to relax, surf the net, or play games. It’s pretty much a USO center on wheels. Additionally, they get crowds pumped up for homecomings, military community events, command air shows, and more.
How Can I Help?
For more than 80 years, the USO has given so much to troops and their families. If you’re interested in sending a birthday gift to the USO, you have some options. You can send a message to a deployed troop or give back in any one of the ways listed below.
Here’s a look at how you can wish the USO a happy birthday in February:
- Make a donation – Make a one-time or monthly tax-deductible donation. Donations will go toward running USO centers, programs, and connecting military families.
- Set-up planned gifts – Consider the USO during estate planning.
- Select a USO Wishbook gift – Give an alternative gift for birthdays, weddings, or holidays via the USO catalog. Purchase board games, phone calls, or holiday meals to go to a deployed service member.
- Volunteer – Register to volunteer at a USO Chapter near you.
If you want to stay connected, consider downloading the USO Mobile app to learn more about programs, entertainment, and programs.
What are your favorite USO benefits? Share your USO experiences in the comments below!