Snow Problem? No Problem: Some USO Centers Stay Open Late for Troops Despite Weather

You may have heard it snowed yesterday on the East Coast. While news of cancelled flights and videos of dogs-playing-in-snow likely snuck into your Facebook feed, we noticed a different, heartwarming trend. Our Facebook feed turned up several photos and notes about tireless USO volunteers and staffers at centers that were able to stay open taking care of stranded troops. Here’s a sampling:

From Liberty USO, which serves Philadelphia International Airport:

The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore was able to help stranded troops at Dulles International Airport thanks to three dedicated volunteers. (The center at Reagan National Airport stayed open overnight, too, hosting seven stranded troops):

And in Fort Drum, N.Y. – where the temperature was 8 below zero at noon today – the USO continued business as usual by welcoming home returning troops earlier this week:

Like what you see? You can help America’s troops, too, by donating to support USO centers and programs.

About Our USO Centers

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.

USO Centers around the world welcome active duty troops and their families every day of the year.

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 us directly.

New USO Center Set to Open in Phoenix

A Moving Tribute: Dignitaries announced the future USO site, to move from Terminal 2 to Terminal 4 in 2011. (Photo courtesy of SkyHarbor.com)

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport welcomed some special guests this week to announce USO Arizona, a new facility expected to serve tens of thousands of troops and their family members traveling through the airport.  The new center will open in 2011 in Terminal 4, replacing the current facility in Terminal 2.

“To have the USO in the main terminal in Phoenix is going to be amazing,” Maj. Gen. Hugo Salazar, adjutant general for the Arizona National Guard, told The Arizona Sun. “When you walk into a USO, after you show your ID, you get a warm embrace.”

For the last four years, the airport supported troops and their families through the Military & Veterans Hospitality Room in Terminal 2.  With the coming of the USO many more troops and their families will have this same opportunity in a larger, modern facility.

“Today is an exciting day as we welcome the USO to one of the ten busiest airports in the US and America’s Friendliest Airport™,” said Aviation Director Danny Murphy to a crowd that included Sloan Gibson, President and CEO of the USO; Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon; Dave McIntyre, President and CEO of the TriWest Healthcare Alliance; Congressman Harry Mitchell and Congressman John Shadegg; and Phoenix Councilmen Bill Gates, Michael Johnson, Claude Mattox and Sal Diciccio.

For more information about the current offerings for members of the military and their families, please click here.  And we’ll see you at the new center next year!

To Infinity…and Beyond

USO Centers are located around the world, serving Troops and their families in over 140 locations. But is that enough? We recently asked ourselves, Is there a location not being served? Where can the USO boldly go?

One word: Space. How illogical not to serve those who serve us, even at an intergalactic level, we thought. That’s why we’re proud to announce two new initiatives: the building of a USO Center on the International Space Station (ISS) and the expansion of our USO2Go program to include USO2GO: Lunar Module.

NASA and the U.S. Military have a long history, with military training being one of the surest ways to get to pilot a spacecraft. Active duty military are some of the top recruits to the astronaut program. So it just made sense to extend our reach into space.

The new USO Center on the International Space Station will feature all the comforts of home, including iPod equipped space helmets.

Admiral Ackbar – current commander of the ISS – is thrilled at the prospect of a USO Center on board: “Many of our crew members are stuck all today conducting science experiments.  The chance to relax with the comforts of home – albeit in a zero gravity environment – is a huge morale booster.  We especially like that the USO will stock butter pecan – in addition to the traditional Neapolitan flavor – of Space Ice Cream.”

When deciding to expand our programs and services we consulted numerous experts, including world-renowned physician Dr. McCoy, who had this to say about the importance of serving every individual possible: “In this galaxy there’s a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets. And in the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all that, and perhaps more…only one of each of us.”

USO2GO: Lunar Module ensures that when we colonize the moon in the future, inhabitants will have essential things like Guitar Hero and snacks.

General Grievous said he’d been asking for something like this for the astronauts and crew of the ISS ever since he first visited a USO Center in the 1970s while stationed in Southeast Asia.  “I feel like I’ve been shouting about this from the rooftops forever,” explained the General.  “But, as they say, in space, no one can hear you scream.”

Standard offerings like the USO Care Package will also be available to the men and women of the ISS and – eventually – the moon.  USO Senior Vice President of Marketing & Communications John Hanson is thrilled at the prospect of serving more people with these renowned USO programs.  “I just hope that our space program can – like other offerings from the USO – live long and prosper.  We do rely on the generosity of individual donors to provide land- and space-based support, unlike Astronaut Barbie, who completely sold out.”

Astronauts unload boxes of care packages for the crew onboard. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku books can go a long way to combating space-related boredom.

Both programs are set to debut in December of 2012 or – as the Mayans call it – “the end of days.”  We have no doubt that these programs will come to be enjoyed by tens, if not dozens, of former active duty military and the occasional space chimp.  Admiral Ackbar summed it up best when he said, “This is one small step for the ISS and the moon, and one giant leap for the USO.”

So say we all.  So say we all.