Here’s How the USO Keeps Service Members Connected to the People and Places They Love
From the moment they step into boot camp to the time they transition back to civilian life, troops rely on the USO to help them stay connected to their friends and family. Here are eight ways the USO does it.
1. Getting troops online: Free Internet access is one of the most popular services at USO centers today. While some USO centers offer computers for troops to use, nearly all of them offer free Wi-Fi for people who bring their own devices. Even our Mobile USO units are Wi-Fi enabled so troops serving in remote locations can get online.
2. Skyping into the delivery room: Did you know that the USO helps expecting military dads Skype into the delivery room for their baby’s birth, even if they’re abroad? Marine Capt. Nick Whitefield used this USO service when his wife Laura delivered the couple’s second child, Ethan Whitefield, via a USO-provided Skype connection at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan.
3. Free phone calls home: In 2003, the USO launched Operation Phone Home to provide troops with free phone cards so they can call their loved ones at no cost – even when they’re in remote locations. Some USO centers abroad also offer troops access to a private phone network so they can call home on a safe, secure and reliable line inside the center.
4. Keeping story time alive: Thanks to the USO’s partnership with United Through Reading, deployed troops can record themselves reading a children’s book at a USO center and send the DVD recording back home for their kids to watch and digitally connect with them in their absence.
5. Giving the gift of gaming: Video games are one of our younger service members’ favorite ways to unwind. That’s why most USO centers have gaming stations featuring popular video games like “Call of Duty” and “Halo.” At some centers, service members can even play the games against friends and family around the globe online in real time.
But troops aren’t always stationed near brick-and-mortar USO centers. With that in mind, the USO developed the Mobile Entertainment Gaming System (MEGS) so service members can enjoy video games no matter their location.
6. Serving up comfort foods from home: Sometimes all it takes to make service members feel connected to home is a taste of their favorite foods. That’s why USO patrons can always find a variety of snack, drink and meal options at centers around the world. Some centers, like USO Great Lakes, provide free, home-cooked meals for troops, while others, like many Southwest Asia centers, always seem to be churning out comforting sweet treats like homemade ice cream.
7. Bringing the holidays to troops abroad: Being deployed during a special holiday can make troops feel even further from home. That’s why many USO centers host a number of special parties and events around those red calendar days.
8. Welcoming troops home: Even though a homecoming is already a joyful occasion for military families, the USO has a history of stepping in to make the day even more memorable. From helping arriving troops freshen up before reuniting with their loved ones to coordinating surprise homecomings, the USO there to celebrate military families finally reconnecting after a long deployment apart.
Visit USO.org/donate to help keep America’s military members connected to the comforts of home.
USO and SiriusXM Bring ‘The Highway’ to Troops in Alaska
Storme Warren took his SiriusXM show and fellow USO tour veterans Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers with him on the road to Alaska.
Usually a host on The Highway, SiriusXM’s flagship channel for new country music, Warren emceed USO concerts at Eielson Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak during the weeklong tour. He also broadcasted exclusive behind-the-scenes commentary from the military installations on The Highway.
“My goal in putting together this year’s trip to Alaska was to not only lift the spirits of troops and their families, but also bring that rich USO experience directly to our SiriusXM listeners in hopes of shedding light [on] the important work our troops and military families do for us back home,” Warren said.
The Swon Brothers and Atkins welcomed the opportunity to express their gratitude. “The sacrifices our service men and women in uniform make for us each and every day are great and anything we can do to say ‘thank you’ or show our appreciation, we are there,” Zach Swon said.
USO Expands its Mission to Military Entrance Processing Stations
A recruit’s first few days in the military can be tedious.
From the moment they enter the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), most recruits sit through aptitude testing, medical screening and job selection that sets the path for their military careers. Between these steps, there’s little to do but sit around or read. It’s a day begging for a distraction, so the USO is providing some entertainment to break the monotony.
The USO is opening new centers inside several MEPS around the United States in 2015. It’s part of the organization’s commitment to support service members and their families through their military careers. These new centers, which will feature entertainment like televisions, video games, snacks and support services, are aimed at comforting recruits and their families during the entrance process. They also introduce recruits and families to the services the USO offers.
The USO and RP/6 are Showing Transitioning Troops the Way Forward
Even the most experienced soldier can use a hand when leaving the Army.
“After 28 years I was certain that I had this whole thing down,” said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Lee Baleme, now an RP/6 Fellow. “It was an eye-opening experience to think that I was going to make that transition — smoothly — and then realize that I wasn’t.”
RP/6, part of the new USO Transition 360 Alliance, connects service members and their families with resources and organizations in their community that support their transition. This approach incorporates several USO Transition 360 Alliance partners (including Hire Heroes USA, Stronger Families and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids) in an effort to cover both the personal and professional issues military families face when moving to the civilian world.
The USO plans to incorporate RP/6 services at some of its stateside locations in the near future.
“[Veterans and transitioning military] can come [to RP/6] and find that person [who] will point them in the direction of the resources that they need,” Baleme said. “From housing issues to employment, school and even family issues, transition from active duty to the civilian has never been an easy nut to crack and I think RP/6 found a great partner in the USO.”
Belgard Hardscapes’ Campaign Helps Welcome Troops Home
Belgard Hardscapes knows what it means to make a house a home, and through its new partnership with the USO, the company is extending a warm message of gratitude and appreciation to service members across the country.
The company’s Welcome Home giving initiative runs through Veterans Day and it’s your chance to support our military and beautify your home at the same time. From now until Nov. 11, Belgard, a leading provider of interlocking pavers, paving stone and wall products, will donate $100 to the USO for every patio, driveway or walkway installed. The company aims to provide up to $150,000 in both financial donations and in-kind services to the USO.
“To those who put their lives on the line to defend our country, and the family members who sacrifice so much in their absence, we want to express our sincerest thank you,” said Jackie Paulsen, marketing director of Belgard Hardscapes.
Visit belgard.com/home to learn more about Belgard’s Welcome Home initiative.
USO Center in Kuwait Desert is an Oasis for Deployed Troops
Lisa Choi started working at the USO in 2011, but that wasn’t her introduction to the organization. Choi, now a duty manager at USO Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, was a USO volunteer before signing on full time.
“I enjoyed helping out with the special events and programs [as a volunteer.] So when a job opportunity came up, I applied,” she said. “The job seemed like an interesting opportunity to [support] troops while experiencing the fruits of my labor directly and immediately.”
Choi, who grew up in a military family and lived in South Korea and Japan as a child, said the well-rounded work environment is the most enjoyable part of her job.
“You are constantly on your feet and interacting with people, she said. “Throughout all those interactions, you learn a little bit about everything and instantly become a jack of all trades.”
She’s also worked at USO Camp Walker near Daegu, South Korea, a city of 2.5 million. By comparison, the USO center on Camp Arifjan is an oasis in the middle of the desert. There are virtually no off-base entertainment options for service members, so the center is a hub of activity and social interaction.
“Many troops cannot leave base here,” she said. “The USO center is the main place where people come to kick back and relax.” The isolated-but-busy center allows service members to let loose in an environment where everyone is connected by service and separation from the people and places they love most.
“We offer a large variety of programs at Camp Arifjan and you’ll notice that military members here are more willing to partake in activities or programs that may be a bit out of their comfort zone,” Choi said.
Visit USO.org/donate to help connect deployed service members to family, home and country.