Many service members can’t make it home for the holidays. Here’s how their families are staying connected.
Courtesy of Google Nest
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The holidays are a time of connection. All over the world, families are reuniting, bonding, and making new memories that will last a lifetime. But for hundreds of thousands of military families, celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Yule is impossible with service members stationed overseas. To paraphrase "I'll Be Home for Christmas," togetherness for military families during this time of the year may just be a dream.

Fortunately, in 2019, we can do a little bit better than dreams — thanks to tech. This year, the USO, the leading military support organization in America, and Google Nest are teaming up to ensure military families who can't reunite for the holidays can always stay connected. With the Google Nest Hub, a digital assistant that makes it easy to share photos from all over the world in real time — families can keep in touch even across great distances.


On December 9, the two organizations constructed a festive gingerbread village at Camp Pendleton, the largest military base in California, to provide service members and military families with festive USO Holidays programming. The week-long experience brought a winter wonderland to the base and allowed military families to walk through life-size gingerbread houses to decorate cookies, make ornaments, write letters to Santa and more. For service members and military families who could not travel home or be with their families during the holidays, this provided the comforts of home. A full-scale gingerbread house was unexpected, but those attending the event got an even bigger surprise: Google Nest gifted Nest Hubs to military families, so they could stay in touch with those that matter most.

Chris Fowler

"As our service members and military families work tirelessly and make daily sacrifices, even the smallest reminder of home can have a huge impact," says Chris Fowler, Director of Corporate Development at the USO.

"Throughout the year, our nation's service members are there for us. This is our chance to be there for them. Whether we're delivering care packages, hosting holiday events or enabling technology that brings loved ones together, the USO is making sure that service members and their families are connected to the comforts of home this holiday season."

A partnership like this is a perfect fit for the USO, as the nonprofit's mission is to keep service members connected to family, home and country. The organization not only offers WiFi in 230 locations around the world, it also helps service members stay tethered to their families via a variety of services, including one that allows those overseas to record bedtime stories for their kids and have them sent back home. For military families, the Google Nest transforms each house into a helpful home — one which makes it easy to keep everything you need at your fingertips and stay connected to loved ones with just the press of a button.

Courtesy of Google Nest

You, too, can be a part of helping service members feel just a little bit more at home this holiday season. "As you enjoy your favorite holiday traditions," Fowler says, "pause for a moment to show your support for those who remain on duty, protecting our nation." When you make a donation to the USO, you'll be delivering a piece of home to some of the people who need it most.

Google is providing Nest Hubs to USO families to help them feel closer this holiday season. Join us in supporting the USO at uso.org/googlenest.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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