December: Bringing Holiday Cheer to Service Members in Rota During Key Operations

By: Tamara Ragan

During the holiday season, USO Rota took center stage in extending unwavering support to deployed service members passing through Rota Naval Base. Within its 83-year history, the USO has a long-standing tradition of providing morale-boosting services and programs to military personnel stationed around the world. These efforts are especially important during the holidays when service members are far from their homes and families.

In the grand tapestry of global military installations, the Rota Naval Base emerges as a linchpin of strategic significance. Situated at the nexus of the Mediterranean, Rota Naval Base has played a pivotal role in supporting crucial operations and serving as a vital port for U.S. Naval Forces, demonstrating its paramount importance in bolstering international security and stability.

Throughout the festive season, USO Rota organized over 25 programs to 7 deployed ships - starting with Thanksgiving, to bolster the spirits of deployed sailors. These programs included heartwarming initiatives such as holiday hot chocolate and latte bars adorned with delightful Spanish pastries. USO staff and volunteers would set up these tasty snacks on the pier for the ships in the early mornings. Among sailors’ favorite events were a gingerbread house-making competition, holiday tie-dye, bingo and cornhole.

Rota’s team of volunteers showed up to each event in costume- whether it was Santa and his merry elves, the Grinch, a blow-up gingerbread man, a life-sized Turkey while playing lots of holiday music. The coffee lattes on the pier were by far the most popular event for sailors across all ships.

“These folks have only had black galley coffee for the past 3 months,” said CMC Palmer of the USS Normandy, “so drinking a Pumpkin Spice Latte was amazing.”

Rota brought the holiday spirit to life by offering not only the classic Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but also an array of other seasonal favorites —peppermint, toasted marshmallow, salted caramel, gingerbread, vanilla, and mocha.

“A lot of sailors can’t get off the ship,” said HT2 Gipson of the USS Carney, “so you guys coming and being here really means a lot. It really does.”

The USO’s dedication to providing a touch of home was exemplified through the distribution of signature USO Holiday Care packages. Crafted and assembled by volunteers from diverse backgrounds, these care packages served as a tangible reminder of appreciation and support from communities around the world. These Holiday Care Packs included socks, beanies and tasty snacks for on the go.

Understanding the enduring need for morale-boosting activities beyond the holiday season, USO Rota also prepared ‘Program in a Box’ packages for departing ships. These carefully curated packages contained themed cards, bingo sets, coloring books, and snacks, offering a sense of comfort and familiarity during long deployments.

Moreover, deployed ships were generously supplied with USO2GO Care Packages, including familiar American snacks, entertainment items such as cornhole equipment and poker sets, and soothing spa essentials. These thoughtful gestures aimed to alleviate the challenges of being away from home during important missions.

Chief of Boat of USS Colorado remarked that the warm welcome at Rota was a significant morale boost for the crew during challenging times and that it was “the best welcome the crew had a received-on deployment.”

Such affirmations underscore the vital role played by USO Rota in bolstering the spirits of service members, enhancing their well-being, and fostering a sense of camaraderie- especially during periods of increased operational tempo and prolonged deployments.

The USO thrives on the dedication of its volunteers, many of whom are active-duty service members themselves. Ricky, a new USO Rota volunteer, loves sharing his motivation for volunteering. Being a single sailor, he sought to do something meaningful during the holiday season. While volunteering at some of the programs with deployed ships, Ricky expressed a heartwarming sentiment, emphasizing the potential impact of the USO’s presence on ships like the one he was deployed on.

“If the USO could have visited the carrier I was deployed on, it would have been incredible,” Ricky reflected.

I understand the emotions these sailors are going through, especially after extended deployments lasting two, three, even six months. Having the USO there with snacks, engaging activities, and care packages… that support would have significantly lifted the morale of the entire command.

This Holiday season, USO Rota showed the relevance of the USO’s core mission of lifting the spirits of military personnel, especially during periods of separation from loved ones. CMC of USS Laboon stated that “there were many smiles and laughter as [the sailors] enjoyed the gifts and celebrated the holiday spirit.”

While the holiday season illuminates USO Rota’s dedication to bolstering the morale of deployed service members, its commitment to supporting troops and their families extends far beyond festive periods. Anchored in its mission, USO Rota orchestrates an array of ongoing programs and activities throughout the year, ensuring a continuous touch of home and unwavering support. These include coordinating welcome events for ship homecomings- offering a warm embrace to returning service members and facilitating the transition back to their families. USO Rota also offers a weekly Troop Lunch Gaming Hour - providing lunch, connection, and fun competition during the workday for service members. A full list of programs can be found on USO Rota’s Facebook page.

As we navigate the complexities of a changing world, USO Rota remains steadfast in its commitment to uplifting the spirits of those who selflessly serve. USO staff and volunteers ensure that amidst the operational demands, the holiday season is filled with a touch of home and an abundance of support.

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