Stealth surprise: USO partners with relatives for 'Operation Birthday Cake'

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Shhhhh! It's a surprise.

With a decorated cake and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday," Hawaii-based service members are getting a little surprise celebration when they turn a year older.

USO Hawaii calls it "Operation Birthday Cake."

"Between Marine Corps Base Hawaii and Pearl Harbor and Hickam we average at least two a week per installation," said Shannon Eaves, USO's area programs manager.

The idea started years ago with the USO chapter in Okinawa. This is the first year that it's really become popular in Hawaii

"One of the requirements for the program is that the requester is someone who is not on island," Eaves said.

She calls it a way to connect families on the mainland with loved ones stationed here.

It's free and simple to do. Relatives fill out a form on USO Hawaii's website specifying family member, birthday, branch of service and where they're stationed.

"If they can tell me what unit they're in then I can usually find 'em. If they don't tell me their unit I can sometimes still find them but it makes it a little harder," Eaves said.

USO Hawaii volunteers do the rest.

On the service member's birthday, they're surprised with a customized cake. USO takes photos and videos that go back to the recipient's relative (most often their mother).

"Moms especially love to get those videos," Eaves said.

Sometimes a personal message accompanies a cake, like the Marine from Texas stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Every first name in his immediate family starts with the letter J.

"The message that they wanted us to give them was that the four J's in Texas were missing their fifth J on this birthday. That really got me," Eaves said.

USO Hawaii buys most of the cakes for program, but once a month Marine wife Andrea Smith bakes a cake and donates it to the cause.

Eaves said the reaction from the recipients is priceless.

"Sometimes they're a little embarrassed, but you can tell it really means a lot," Eaves said.

Since January "Operation Birthday Cake has surprised 80 service members.

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