The USO’s footprint in the Northwest has increased.
The USO Puget Sound Area operation is no longer defined by the waterways of Washington State. Troops and their families in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and throughout Washington State will now benefit from programs and services offered by the newly rebranded USO Northwest.
The announcement of the name change was made Nov. 8 at a ribbon cutting ceremony for USO Northwest’s remodeled Shali Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
USO Puget Sound Area’s board of directors and staff made the unanimous decision to make the name change in June.
“The closest USOs to USO Northwest are USO Wisconsin to the east and USO San Francisco to the south,” USO Northwest Executive Director Don Leingang said. “My goal is for our USO Mobile Canteen to visit Idaho at least once per year and Oregon two to three times annually or as requested. Although we physically will not be able to drive our Mobile to Alaska, we have already assisted units there through the Helping Hands Grant.”
USO Northwest’s Helping Hands Grant provides access to funds for military events such as homecoming parties, pre-deployment events, command functions and other camaraderie-building events.
More than 3,500 service members will be deploying through the center—which received $375,000 in renovations—before the end of November.
“The center was remodeled because the features were outdated and the design didn’t provide the maximum flow to support our massive troop deployments that are inherent by being the third-largest military installation in the U.S.,” Shali Center Manager Andrew Oczkewicz said.
The Shali Center includes a commercial-grade kitchen, dining room, bathrooms, five flat screen TVs, a United Through Reading room, laptops with Skype capabilities and a gaming lounge with Xboxes. It will continue to provide free food such as hot dogs, made-to-order sandwiches, snacks, fruit and drinks.
“I have no doubt our volunteers and staff can move mountains for our local service members,” Leingang said. “Each one of them sees military personnel as family. They have a great love for what they do. Why else get up at two in the morning to make sandwiches?”
The Shali Center is named after USO Northwest Board Member Joan Shalikashvili and her late husband, Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Shalikashvilis have built their lives around service to the U.S. and enriching the lives of local military and their families.
–Meaghan Cox, USO Northwest