Along with outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing and sailing, summer brings with it some great holidays. Merely the mention of Independence Day brings to mind the smell of barbecue, the sight of colorful parades and the boom of fireworks.
Among all the flash and noise, it can be easy to forget the history behind the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate not only the country’s free beginning but the lives that were given that made that beginning possible. And not only that, but to honor those who are still fighting today to keep that freedom a reality.
The United Service Organizations, most commonly known as the USO, is a nonprofit organization that provides support for troops, military families, wounded warriors and families of the fallen. The USO is not a government agency, but a private charity with more than 160 locations in 27 states and 14 countries.
The USO has centers at airports and military bases throughout the world and provides entertainment, programs and services to those in the military and their families. Some of the USO’s most well-known projects are the concerts and performances it arranges for troops stationed all over the globe.
“The USO has always been there for us,” said Master Sgt. Tom Torrez, U.S. Army Airborne, retired.
Torrez, who has been on multiple deployments throughout his military career, was a resident of Summit County for 12 years, during which he created his own nonprofit for veterans called FOB Colorado. Nowadays, Torrez splits his time between running FOB and volunteering at the USO center at Fort Carson. He still remembers how the organization helped him in the past. When he was participating in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, for example, he and his fellow soldiers received care packages from the organization.
“Whenever we saw the logo, the USO, it was part of home, and just for a moment, when we opened up those boxes in the middle of the battle, in the middle of the war, everything just shut off for that five to 10 minutes when we’re in that box,” he said. “It was a blessing for all of us. It just gave use a re-charge that people in America still cared about us, and that was all because of the USO.”
This summer, the USO is starting a new fundraising campaign called Barbecue for the Troops, in which individuals, families and groups across the country can turn their barbecue events into fundraisers for the USO cause.
From now until Labor Day, people can sign up to be part of the campaign, 100 percent of all its proceeds going to the USO and its programs. At the time of reporting, no Barbecue for the Troops events had been registered in Summit County.
The Barbecue for the Troops website gives directions on how to host an event, from organizing to offering one free recipe per week for barbecue-style fare.
“Ninety-five percent of the USO relies on donations, be it monetarily or gifts like books or cookies or clothes,” Torrez said. “These wars, unfortunately, aren’t going to end soon, but the USO will always be there for us.”