USO Opens First Staffed Center in Africa

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sometimes they are created to facilitate the changing travel needs of troops stateside. Sometimes they are erected downrange and built by the troops themselves. Whatever the case, each USO center is opened where troops need them the most. And that most recent need is on Camp Lemonnier in the Republic of Djibouti.

The United States established a strategic military presence in Djibouti in 2002, just 30 miles across the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait from Yemen. The Navy’s expeditionary base there is home to nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and serves as a hub in the fight against extremist groups as well as a staging point for counter-piracy operations in the region.

After last year’s announcement that the U.S. would spend $1 billion over the next 20 years to enlarge the base in Djibouti, the USO decided it was time to open up a permanent canteen to bring a slice of home to troops stationed there.

“Most of the troops here are unaccompanied and stay from anywhere from nine months to a year,” USO Camp Lemonnier Center Manager Michael Eyassu said. “They are very excited about [the USO] providing free phone calls to the states since they have to purchase phone cards otherwise.”

House1

Currently the only staffed USO center on the continent of Africa, USO Camp Lemonnier consists of two Quonset huts attached by a walkway, located in a region of the base nick named “tent city” because that’s where the more temporary housing and facilities are located.

The two tents contain a lounge area with leather chairs, a full canteen with snacks and treats from home, free toiletries and plenty of phones and computers to call home.

“We’ve got something going on every night for the military,” Eyassu said. “We have a lot of fun, and we’re getting more and more foot traffic each and every day we’re open.”

Follow the USO Camp Lemonnier Facebook page to learn about upcoming events and to see pictures from inside the center.

Hip Hop Hooray: It’s Part 2 of Naughty by Nature’s USO Tour Video Diary

Treach of the hip-hop group Naughty by Nature performs for and with U.S. Soldiers at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq, Nov. 8, 2009, during the last stop of their USO-sponsored Iraq and Kuwait tour. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Steven King/Released)

Enjoy Part 2 of Naughty by Nature‘s video diary of their USO Tour to Djibouti in May of 2010!  Click here to view Part 1…

From the Desk Of…

SVP of Communications John Hanson:

The USO in Afghanistan, Part 2
(read Part 1 here)

In Afghanistan, the USO faced a challenge.  We exist to serve the needs of troops – especially those at the tip of the spear.  In past wars, it wasn’t so hard.  We could build USO centers at large and medium-sized bases and feel confident that we’d be there for most of the people serving in an area.

Afghanistan is different.  Our center in Bagram – the Pat Tillman Memorial USO – is an outstanding facility, operating at capacity more than 20 hours each day, but not everybody goes through Bagram.

A view from inside the Pat Tillman USO. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

But, how can we get to the troops who are in the most isolated  (and unforgiving) locations?

Of course, many of our entertainment tours visit large and small bases.  If we can get the lift, we’ll take performers to remote outposts.  One of those performers  is Toby Keith.  Toby makes time available to the USO every year – usually just before summer – to spend more than a week in the war zone.  He will do large shows at large bases, but he insists on visiting forward operating bases and combat outposts.

After one of his trips, Toby looked at the USO representative on the tour and said, “If I can go there, why can’t the USO?”

So, we created what we call the USO in a Box.  It’s a transportable container that expands to about the size of a two-car garage.  These units contain laptop computers, a projector for watching movies and video game consoles.  They can connect to existing power, or they can on the power produced by a generator.  Three of these centers are located around Afghanistan (and we just sent one to Djibouti). And, they can be moved, if the troops move.

They provide a touch of home and a place to relax after a difficult day.

Thanks, Toby, for the challenge and for encouraging us to do more.