I am an Xbox software engineer and a veteran of the United States Coast Guard. My passion is to connect the world through video games. In my lifetime, I have experienced an incredible shift in technology that now allows video games to revolutionize the way we communicate and maintain relationships with others. Based on my own time in service, my wife’s ongoing service, as well as my upbringing in a military family, I know that utilizing technology to maintain contact with loved ones is essential for the wellbeing of service members and their families.
When I was young, I took pleasure in dismantling objects to investigate their components and then attempting to improve them as I reassembled them. Once, my mother discovered me with a screwdriver in hand, attempting to fuse the Nintendo console to our tube TV after my cousins had tried to hide the console from me. So, it was a natural fit for me to serve in the United States Coast Guard as an Electronics Technician, where I developed innovations to integrate different kinds of technology to computers including radars, televisions, radios, and even engines. During my service, I saw the transition from modular equipment to fully integrated technology with real-time communication capabilities, which allowed us to solve problems more quickly, disseminate information faster, and triangulate search and rescue operations with efficiency.
I also witnessed the revolution of video game technology from cartridge-based platformers to online, open-world RPGs and strategy games with multiplayer and chat capabilities. While we were busy in the Coast Guard and didn’t often have time for play, when we did, we played hard. One of my favorite weekends was when we hosted a gaming festival and connected buildings through gaming with Xbox and LAN (Local Area Network). When I was stationed out on a cutter (a ship), I could be out of contact with the land and my wife for several weeks at a time. But my wife and I often used video games to reconnect and play after stressful times of separation, whether it was creating towns in Fallout 4 or competing for the best score in Zuma. Laughing with her put me at ease and helped me transition back into my family.
For a while, I was deployed overseas. My experience there was difficult and left me with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. But playing games like Halo and Call of Duty enabled me to process my reality in a way that was separated from it and safe. When I completed my service, playing video games helped me transition back to civilian life. In a sense, my brain felt broken, but when I discovered I could play a game on the hardest mode and conquer it, I also discovered I was still able to analyze problems and solve them successfully and I was able to feel confident that I could still engage with a hobby I had enjoyed since I was a little girl with a screwdriver in one hand and a controller in the other.
In honor of military families and service members, here are some ways you can join in supporting service members and their families.
Xbox Supports Military Families via Partnership with USO
From a civilian perspective, it’s challenging to truly understand the sacrifice and commitment that service members and their families make. Sacrifices like being able to hug their partner after a stressful day. Being able to hang out with their best friends after a long workday. Missing their child throw their first strike out in little league. Walking the family dog through the neighborhood at sunset. But through all of these sacrifices and commitment, there are so many things working to keep them connected to family, home, and country. Letters from family, friends, and loved ones. Favorite books and records. Phone calls. Video games.
Something that makes every player unique is the same thing that unites us: “Gaming is different for everyone.” What serves as a method of socialization to somebody is relaxation to others. It’s a way to connect with family and friends and a way to step away from reality. For some it’s a way to decompress, connect/compete with their fellow service members, or check-in with their family back home.
The USO is a nonprofit organization that has served those who serve us since 1941. The organization works tirelessly each and every day to support and strengthen service members and their families throughout their entire military experience. Throughout the world, service members can take refuge in USO Centers, brick and mortar facilities featuring comfortable amenities like Wi-Fi, gaming equipment, pool tables, snacks and drinks, and programs designed to connect service members to their loved ones back home. Programs like USO2GO and Entertainment help the organization reach service members in austere locations of particular hardship, providing morale-boosting connectivity in places where it’s needed the most. Military Family programming supports both military children through programs like the USO Reading Program and military spouses with Coffee Connections.
The USO continues to revolutionize the way it delivers its mission and in 2019, the USO launched its Gaming Program as another way to provide support. Recognizing the importance of gaming, the USO strives to create a comprehensive gaming program that captures a little bit of everything for everyone. Tournaments like the Salute to Service Showdown give service members the chance to compete for all-inclusive trips to the Super Bowl. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Esports program enables military children the opportunity to compete against their peers in scholastic competition. Gaming Coffee Connections gives military families the ability to play games with others – providing the opportunity to connect. USO Centers house gaming equipment giving service members the ability to play with family, friends, or step away from it all and jump into the latest single player story.
Video games are so much more than a screen, a game console, and the act of putting on a headset for a few hours of fun. They provide service members with a moment of normalcy and a brief respite from the pressure of their service to this nation – and through the USO, they can do just that. Throughout the last year, Xbox has partnered closely with USO to open gaming centers around the world. Whether supporting the launch at a state of the art facility at Eglin AFB, or a brand new USO center at Pituffik Space Base 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Xbox is committed to helping USO deliver on their mission. To celebrate the connection gaming can provide, Xbox is announcing the sponsorship of two Rapid Response Gaming Kits to be deployed where needed most. More about USO’s Gaming program, including Rapid Response Kits, can be found here.
Gaming and Impact with Microsoft Rewards
To celebrate the connection created through gaming, the USO has been added to Microsoft Rewards on console in the following marketplaces: AU, BE, CA, DE, ES, FR, GB, HK, IE, IT, JP, MX, NL, NO, NZ, SE, SG, TW, and US. Xbox gamers can download the Microsoft Rewards app and join to start earning points for doing what they already do: play on Xbox, shop on the Microsoft Store, search on Bing, solve daily puzzles, and other fun activities. Earning points with new promotions every day and redeeming them for cool prizes such as games, gift cards, sweepstakes entries, or donating points to their favorite organizations like USO and more, is fun and easy. Join us today and donate through Xbox.
Click on the good boy below to see how you can support USO with Microsoft Rewards:
Play Together, Near or Far
Games bring people together in a powerful way. No matter where you are in the world, you can connect with someone by playing a game. Sharing an immersive experience with a loved one brings us close in many unique ways, such as shared goals, talking through decisions in emotional narratives, and the fun of competition. These connections not only allow families to feel closer together but can also help provide huge boosts to mood and mental wellbeing, especially when someone might be feeling homesick or isolated while stationed far away for long periods of time.
Xbox Game Pass provides families with a variety of multiplayer games to choose from, including new titles that are added all the time. For the month of May, we are highlighting a collection of games that are great to play together. Featured titles within the collection available with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass include:
Minecraft Legends (Available with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass) – Experience an epic legend from the Minecraft universe in this new action-strategy game with multiple ways to play online with friends and family. Team up and strategize together to overpower groups of fierce piglins in cooperative mode or challenge your loved ones to a Player-vs-Player match for two teams of up to four players each.
Human Fall Flat (Available with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass) – Up to eight players can team up for silly, lighthearted challenges in this puzzle platformer that is fun for all ages. With over 20 levels of floating dreamscapes to navigate, get ready to make memories full of laughter as you flop around together to solve physics-based puzzles in this playful adventure.
Madden NFL 23 (Available with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate) – Lots of people connect over a shared love of sports. Madden NFL 23 lets people take their love of football to the next level by being a part of their favorite teams. The best part is that you can go head-to-head with friends and family online to prove which team is better, play on the same team to try and win together, or create your own franchise with 31 other players.
The Elder Scrolls Online (Available with Xbox Game Pass and Rated M) – Begin your fantasy journey with friends, play together with family, or chart your own path in the ever-expanding world of Elder Scrolls. Enjoy epic story quests, take on dangerous enemies, and create your own style of play in a role-playing adventure that is even better when experienced with a full party of explorers.
Grounded (Available with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass) – Shrunken to the size of an ant, you must explore the mysterious backyard, build a base, and defend it against roaming creatures. But you don’t have to do it alone in this cooperative survival-adventure. Share the backyard with up to three friends or family members, with the option to come and go as you please and play together when you can.
USO and Xbox: Gaming Career Kickstart
As part of our partnership between the USO and Xbox, Larry Hryb, Xbox’s Major Nelson, Jenn Panattoni, Head of Social Impact, Tech Advisor Chris Lamb, Senior Producer iAsia Brown, and Senior Sustainability Specialist Gina Kirby recently launched our virtual series, “USO Career Kickstarts with Xbox,” on Thursday, May 4, with their session “Explore Communication Careers in the Game Industry.” Supported by the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy, Xbox is set to deliver two additional sessions for this special virtual series, with each one-hour session spanning a variety of game career roles in Game Production and Game Engineering. Register for our July and September sessions.
Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA)
Participants specialize in Cloud Application Development (CAD), Server and Cloud Administration (SCA), or NEW! Cybersecurity Operations (CSO) starting in May 2023.
MSSA is a 17-week technical training program that equips former and transitioning service members for entry-level careers in high-demand fields in IT. Upon completion of MSSA, participants have a pathway towards Microsoft certifications and direct hiring opportunities with Microsoft or one of its 1,000+ hiring partners.
Our tested curricula incorporates live virtual instruction, hands-on labs tackling real-world scenarios, and industry-recognized certifications to prepare participants for a meaningful tech career in any industry.
MSSA also delivers a robust professional development curriculum that includes career planning, professional skills-building – including resume writing and interview techniques – and job search strategies.
Our MSSA program is designed to get our graduates jobs and not put them on the bench, so we will continue to work with our graduates until they land a job – once an MSSA grad, always an MSSA grad.
For more information and upcoming cohorts please visit Microsoft Military Affairs.