Troops and Families TogetherToday at a ceremony in downtown Manhattan, scores of military families will converge at the local U.S. Organizations (USO) Center to be among the first to connect with loved ones serving overseas by playing video games and talking with each other while they play. Changing the way troops reunite with their loved ones back home, U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) teamed up with the USO and Microsoft Corp.s Xbox® video game system to launch an innovative and groundbreaking program, Operation: Live Connections. "Operation: Live Connections is a welcome gift to anyone serving overseas this holiday," said 1st Lt. Edward Reynado, U.S. Air Force. "Xbox Live TM allows me to play my favorite games with friends and family as though I am sitting on the couch right next to them back home in Garden Grove, Calif. We share stories, laugh and poke fun at each other in real time as we play." Through this pioneering venture, USO services centers around the world are being equipped with Xbox consoles and the Xbox Live online game service, enabling tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel to play video games with friends and family across a high-speed connection. Thanks to the Xbox Live headset, service personnel can catch up with family and friends while playing games. "The USOs mission has not changed for more than 62 years, but the way we deliver our services has changed tremendously," said Ned Powell, president and CEO of USO. "Operation: Live Connections will enable the USO to continue its commitment to supporting and entertaining military families in the United States and abroad through engaging, interactive online gaming via Xbox Live." Earlier this year, USAFE conducted research among airmen to determine what elements would improve their way of life and help boost morale. Research concluded that online gaming centers were at the top of their wish list. As a result, USAFE services built 17 Xbox game lounges on 14 bases in seven European countries. "USAFE joined forces with Operation: Live Connections to further address the quality-of-life initiative, providing a positive avenue for recreation and leisure-time activities through online gaming," said Arthur Myers, director of U.S Air Force Services. "With Operation: Live Connections, we are expanding our ability to connect airmen with their loved ones while bringing the familiarities of home to those stationed abroad." Beginning in December, USO services centers throughout the country and overseas will be equipped with Xbox consoles, Xbox Live accounts, and popular game titles such as "NFL Fever 2004," "Project Gotham Racing® 2" and "Crimson Skies®." USO centers offering Xbox and Xbox Live include these: The Bob Hope Hollywood USO at LAX entertains 20,000 military members with programs such as video messaging, Internet use and movies. USO of Metropolitan New York Inc., Port Authority Bus Terminal provides services to 300,000 service members annually. Gen. Colin L. Powell USO Center, Brooklyn, N.Y., provides programs and services to 30,000 soldiers and families annually. This center also caters to military personnel stationed at Fort Hamilton. USO International Gateway Lounge at BWI Airport, Baltimore, is a safe haven for military personnel and their families in transit, serving more than 60,000 military members and their families a year. USO of Hampton Roads Inc., Va., serves more than 200,000 military members and their families each year. It was instrumental in sending items to U.S. troops in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. USO of Fort Hood, Texas, is home to one of the largest U.S. Army bases, providing services for approximately 30,000 soldiers and their families continuously. Camp Casey, Korea, helps boost the morale of troops stationed in isolated areas, traveling hundreds of miles to provide entertainment. The center sees 240,000 service members annually. "Microsoft is extremely honored to have the opportunity to join forces with the USO and USAFE to fulfill the programs mission to give military personnel new ways to connect with family during the holidays," said Julia Miller, director of marketing for Xbox Live at Microsoft. "This is truly a landmark effort to help boost morale and show the troops and their families our support and appreciation for their dedicated service and sacrifice in being apart, especially during the holidays."