The USO will soon open a new center at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas. Next year a USO center will open at the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.
Our centers around the world offer different versions of the same thing – a safe place to relax while off duty. We offer free Internet connections, a place to take a nap or watch a movie on TV or read a book. Troops can even call home from many of our centers.
The centers don’t just offer respite for troops. They also provide a sense of security for parents and loved ones back home. If they know their military member is at a USO center, they know everything is okay.
On military bases, such as Ft. Riley, Kansas or Ft. Hood, Texas, the USO is a community center for troops. Families come there for special programs, and troops may spend their off-duty time to email home or to be with friends. It’s as close to home as you can come … when you’re not home.
Overseas, the centers provide other special services. Troops in Europe or the Pacific can learn about the culture they’ve just moved into. Local customs are explained to folks who might never have visited a foreign country before.
Our centers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and around the Persian Gulf offer a different kind of break. Troops at our centers near combat areas know they can go to the USO, remove their boots and just relax for a while. Maybe they’ll watch a football game on TV, or play Guitar Hero with their buddies. Maybe they’ll take a few minutes to be recorded reading a book to the children in their lives with United Through Reading’s Military Program. The USO Private Telephone Network allows troops to call home for free or access a high-speed connection to the Internet. More than 200,000 free phone calls are made over that satellite-based network.
But, most Americans who see USO centers see them at major airports across the country. The services are more or less the same. In Atlanta and Dallas, the normal everyday traffic of troops through those centers is compounded by the daily arrival and departure of military Rest and Recuperation (R&R) flights.
The airport centers are in space provided by the airports. We don’t pay rent. So, the centers tend to be on the small side. That’s why our airport centers are open only to military members and their families. It’s not ideal – we’d like everyone to see what we offer – but our mission is to serve active duty troops, and their families, and that’s what we do.
The USO operates about 150 centers around the world. We employ 400 people, most of whom work in the field. That means at any one time in any USO there is usually one paid staff member, augmented by an army of volunteers who make this organization function.
Occasionally, donors who are veterans or military retirees contact us to tell us they couldn’t get into a USO airport facility because they didn’t have an active military ID card. We’ve thought about this a great deal, and as much as we’d like to open the doors to all those who have honorably served their nation and risked their lives for our freedom, we just don’t have the resources. We hope you will understand that we must focus our mission on serving the needs of those who need us most – active duty members of the military and their families. For 70 years, that’s been our mission.
For more information on this policy, or to provide us with feedback on a specific USO Center experience, please contact your local USO office.