USO Opens First Staffed Center in Africa

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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.”


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.

Have a Coke and a Smile

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

“The USO’s been long enough to touch the lives of troops and families from World War II though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hear stories almost everywhere we go. It’s like joining an ongoing conversation friends have over a cup of coffee.

This afternoon someone came to our office to thank us. It seems he was in the neighborhood, visiting a client when he saw our name on the sign outside the building here in Arlington.

He told us he was a young Marine officer in Somalia in the early 1990s. It was awful duty. One day he ran across a small USO canteen on his base. “I was able to get a warm Coke,” he said. “Best Coke I ever had.”

A can of Coca-Cola continues to be a part of Troops' lives, as evidenced by this recent bar-b-que at Camp Virginia in Kuwait.

He almost apologized for being a “small donor.” I told him there was no such thing, and showed him around the office. We have a large photo of Toby Keith and one of his guitarists entertaining troops at a very remote forward operating base in Afghanistan. “People ask me what Afghanistan is like,” I told him. “I steer them to this photo. That’s Afghanistan – not very lush, very desolate in places.”

“Yeah,” he said. “When I was in Somalia you guys sent Garth Brooks. I stayed in back so my Marines could see him. I was more interested in the warm Coke.”

It was one of those profoundly simple meetings that illustrated the good our donors cause to happen. Just a passing kindness from one stranger to another stranger in a very strange and remote place that is for most of us a dot on a map we don’t pay much attention to.”