Support for Haiti

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

“For nearly 8 years I’ve watched in wonder as members of the U.S. military have been asked to answer the call in dozens of places around the world.  Of course, when we think about “harm’s way” we automatically consider the risks these troops take in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But, harm’s way is also in areas devastated by natural disasters.

A U.S. Navy SH-60 Seahawk helicopter assigned to Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS) 7 lifts off from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 13, 2010, to embark aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) en route to Haiti. The squadron and several Navy vessels are under way to render humanitarian assistance after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the Caribbean nation. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary B. Granger Jr./Released)

When the world responded to the tsunami in South Asia, the U.S. military was there, coordinating relief efforts and offering medical expertise.

When hurricanes swept across the U.S. Gulf Coast, the U.S. military was there, rescuing their fellow citizens and providing stability until civil order could be restored.

All the while, they were being deployed to support Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.  Time after time, they responded and performed brilliantly, focused on the missions they were assigned.

Now, we have another great disaster in Haiti.  Relief efforts from around the world are pouring into that country, but not before the Air Force restored air traffic control at the damaged civilian airport.  The Navy is bringing supplies and Marines and members of the Coast Guards will be helping to restore order.  Military medical personnel will assist doctors and nurses tend to the injured and the dying.  They will be in a different kind of “harm’s way,” and they do so without question or reservation.

Sometimes we worry that our military is being spread across too many assignments.  That’s a decision others will have to make, but it makes me proud to see these bright, talented troops going where they’re needed.  They represent the very best about the United States.  They are our finest ambassadors wherever they serve, and they deserve our support and respect.”

Every branch of the military is dispatching aid to Haiti and the State Department has set up a toll-free number for those seeking information on loved ones there.  USA Today has compiled a comprehensive list of ways to show your support and will have a live chat with Lt. Col. Dan Starrett and others at 2:30pm EST today.

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.

From the Desk of…

We here at the USO hope this new blog is keeping you informed of the many programs, services, celebrity entertainment tours, and more that our organization has to offer the men and women who bravely serve this nation.  One of the great things about a blog is that we can share the words and thoughts of the people that make this organization what it is.  “From the Desk of…” will serve to give you first-person postings from the USO.  So here, without further ado…

From the desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications:

Welcome to this site.  We’ll promise to update you regularly on what the USO is doing and how you can help the troops.  We can’t do what we do without you.

Fort Hood Community Strong

Hood Stadium, just before the start of the Community Strong concert

Right now (the afternoon of December 11), thousands of troops, family members and local citizens have gathered at Ft. Hood, Texas.  They’re participating in a daylong event that featuring some of today’s best performers.  They’re performing for free, just as all of the celebrities we call on do.

Watch this space for photos and videos as they come in.

Most of us who care about U.S. troops and family members are thinking about Afghanistan.  The USO has been taking entertainment tours to Afghanistan for the past 8 years.  With the help of the National Football League, we built the Pat Tillman Memorial USO Center at Bagram Airfield 4 years ago, and it remains a vibrant hub of activity for the troops stationed there and those transiting through the base. It’s right off the flight line, near the passenger terminal.  There’s access to the Internet and we make free phone calls home available, just as we do at all of our centers in the region.  There’s a wide-screen TV for watching movies (and football games), and a great little kitchen for snacks and drinks.  It’s a great representation of home.

John Hanson - SVP Communications

I was honored to escort Marie Tillman when she visited the center just before Thanksgiving.  I think that experience was important for her, and her visit meant a great deal to the men and women stationed there.  All of my trips to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait are emotional, but this one was very special.

Our presence in Afghanistan is expanding, as the U.S. role there is.  In addition to the Tillman Center, we will open a new center across the base.  When we built the first location, there were 8,000 troops at Bagram.  The number has expanded, and we need another place for troops to relax.

We’ve also opened a phone kiosk in Kabul, and our next large center will open in Kandahar in spring.

A word about the Internet and phone calls from the region.  We have known for years that access the Internet and clear phone calls was a challenge.  It was really hard to log on, and sometimes impossible to get a call out of the country.

In April, we bought access to a satellite and created our own private telephone network.  Every USO location in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait has access to the network.  Initially, we thought troops would be thrilled with fast on-line access – and they are.  The most gratifying aspect, though, is that about 180,000 phone calls a month are being made.  It’s great to play a part in that connection to home.

So, we’ll grow in Afghanistan as troops’ needs require.

Stay tuned.