Feature   Defense News

USO Delivers Three-Millionth Care Package

Nov. 17, 2020 | BY Air Force Tech Sgt. Dana Cable , Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa

The USO at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had the opportunity to deliver the three-millionth USO care package, Nov. 11, 2020. Each year the USO sends care packages to members of the U.S. military all over the world.

The USO at Camp Lemonnier has been supporting military members since they opened their doors in 2015. This USO site is the only physical USO on the continent of Africa and handles a large area of responsibility.

"It's exciting to expand the USO support across the Horn of Africa just in time for the holidays, the most challenging time to be separated from loved ones," said Holly Coffer, USO Camp Lemonnier manager. "We hope this trip leads to many more and that we're able to continue expanding USO support across the region."

A package is labeled as the three-millionth care package.
Care Package
Army Spc. Kayla Lystad, a Minnesota National Guardsmen deployed with Task Force Bayonet in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, receives the three-millionth USO care package in East Africa, Nov. 11, 2020. The USO is a nonprofit organization that has supported U.S. service members and their families for nearly 80 years.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dana J. Cable
VIRIN: 201111-F-XB934-1220

Coffer said that due to COVID-19 restrictions, this is the first trip that has been made to other sites in East Africa in quite some time.

"It's a privilege to be with them in these remote locations, and it allows us to bring a touch of home in some of the most far-flung corners of the world," Coffer said. "We celebrate connections in so many ways — from roasting s'mores in the mountains of Afghanistan, to helping a deployed dad surprise his daughter on her graduation day, to hosting a virtual wedding ceremony for service members separated by COVID. We're in these remote locations to make their deployment and separation from family, home and country a little bit easier."

For many service members, receiving a care package is more than just a gift — it's a reminder that someone cares and that they are not forgotten. 

"I have been on many deployments, and the USO has had a footprint there," said Navy Command Master Chief Petty Officer Alex Hebert, senior enlisted leader, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). "It brings that part of home to you that you can't find while on deployment and brings a sense of normalcy in the middle of conflict."

Coffer and Hebert were able to present the three-millionth care package during a night of Bingo and trivia provided by the USO. The recipient of the package was Army Spc. Kayla Lystad, a Minnesota National Guardsmen deployed with Task Force Bayonet in support of CJTF-HOA.

Men and women pose with a USO flag while in front of a U.S. flag.
USO Event
Deployed service members pose for a photo after a USO event in East Africa, Nov. 12, 2020. The USO was formed in 1941 as a response to President Roosevelt's call for a civilian organization to boost the morale of U.S. troops during WWII.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dana J. Cable
VIRIN: 201112-F-XB934-1255

"The USO helps with so many aspects of morale," Lystad said. "You guys put in so much work and effort and have to travel to some not-so-nice places and always have a smile on your face — so I just want to say thank you."

Hebert and Coffer both agreed they hope this is the first trip of many throughout East Africa.

"Our goal is to connect service members and create morale-boosting activities and engagements that help alleviate some of the stress brought on by being in the military," Coffer said. "We focus not just on the service member but the whole family."

In addition to the delivery of care packages during the recent trip, the USO was able to provide forward-deployed service members the opportunity to utilize the Bob Hope Legacy Reading program.

"The USO took our reading program mobile and set up a location where service members can record themselves reading a book to their children," Coffer said. "The USO will then mail the book and the recording home at no charge to the service member. It's a great way for the service member to keep reading those bedtime stories to their children no matter where in the world they're located."

A military man writes a note near children's books as a woman works on an ipad.
Children's Books
Army Maj. Louis Cascion, office of security cooperation director with Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, writes a note to his children after recording himself reading a book to his children during a USO event, Nov. 11, 2020.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Dana J. Cable
VIRIN: 201111-F-XB934-1073

According to Coffer, working with the USO is a rewarding experience and a wonderful opportunity to show service members how much appreciation she has for what they do and the sacrifices they make.

The USO was formed in 1941 as a response to President Roosevelt's call for a civilian organization to boost the morale of U.S. troops during WWII. 
 
"This represents almost 80 years of the USO standing side by side with America's military no matter how far from home they serve," Coffer said. "It also represents the countless staff members and volunteers who've shared their time, talents and treasures in an effort to let our military know we stand behind them every step of the way. Where they go, we go."