There on the First Day: USO Expands its Mission to Military Entrance Processing Stations

The USO center inside the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Center. USO photos

The USO center inside the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Station. USO photos

A recruit’s first few days in the military can be tedious.

From the early morning moment they enter the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), most recruits sit through hours of aptitude testing, medical screening and job selection that set the path for their military careers. Between these steps, there’s little to do but sit around or read.

It’s a day begging for a distraction. So the USO is bringing some.

The USO is opening several new centers inside MEPS around the United States in 2015. It’s part of the organization’s commitment to support service members and their families through their military career – a career that often begins at a MEPS station. These new centers – which will feature entertainment like televisions and video games, snacks and support services – are aimed at comforting recruits and their families during the entrance process. They also introduce recruits and families to the services the USO offers.

USO_SanAntonio_MEPS“It’s a chance for us to provide some respite to the [recruits] and families who go to the MEPS and experience these long wait times,” USO Vice President of Field Operations Kristen Baxter said. “By placing ourselves in the Military Entrance Processing Stations across the U.S., we have an opportunity to … educate troops and families [about the USO].

“[We want to show them] how the USO can be a part of their life and help them through various phases.”

The USO plans to open eight centers inside MEPS this year in addition to the six that were already serving new recruits in Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee and Fort Lee, Virginia. USO San Antonio held a soft opening for its MEPS center earlier this month.

The majority of these centers will be near locations where the USO already has an established presence, like Nashville, where the MEPS center is slated to open in October.

“By having an official footprint inside of MEPS we are really able to take care of them in those hours [they’re] sitting become a new service member,” said USO Fort Campbell Center Director Kari Moore, who will oversee the USO Nashville MEPS center. “We get to let the new service members know how we can support them.”

USO Houston Operations Supervisor Sarah Parris said the USO volunteers are also on site at the MEPS centers to provide emotional support to family members of new recruits who might be upset, confused or worried about their relative going through the entrance process. Before the USO was on site, concerned relatives had to direct their questions to MEPS personnel who might not have been able to easily balance answering questions while doing their job.

“The employees of the MEPS building, they’re very excited to see us there because we help the family members cope through the process,” said Parris, who helps run the newly opened USO Houston MEPS center. “It’s a very emotional process that [the family members are] going through.

“A lot of times what our volunteers will do is just be there for a shoulder to lean on.”

USO Follows Troops Back to Baghdad with New Location

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If the military is going back into Iraq, then so is the USO.

USO services hadn’t been requested in the region since the 2011 drawdown. But that changed over the July 4th weekend when — with the help of troops there — the USO stood up an unstaffed location in Baghdad.

The facility was set up in a matter of days and features Internet connectivity, food and beverages, video games and a plethora of creative games and holiday supplies from USO2GO kits to keep troops there entertained.


Juice And A Snooze: How The USO Helped Ease One Military Mom’s Travel Woes


The McClanahan family. Photo courtesy of Michelle McClanahan

When Michelle McClanahan headed to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on her way to Pennsylvania, she didn’t anticipate spending the rest of the day in the Atlanta airport.

But since she and her daughter, Sophia, were flying on a non-reservation status to her grandfather’s funeral — thanks to a perk Michelle’s husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob McClanahan, had in an earlier job —  they had to wait until seats became available on a plane from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

It was a long wait.

After several hours of boredom mixed with the sadness and stress of losing her grandfather, Michelle spoke to her husband, who suggested she head to the airport’s USO center.

Not expecting much, Michelle decided to take his advice and went to the USO Jean Amos Center at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

When she arrived, a volunteer helped her sign in and gave she and her daughter some food. A USO volunteer even went out to purchase some juice for Sophia, since the center only had water and soda at the time.

“I was blown away at how welcoming they were to my family,” McClanahan wrote in an email. “They even comforted me when I started crying over my grandfathers passing!”


After enjoying the refreshments and a much-needed nap, Michelle says a few volunteers even offered to play with Sophia and walk around the center with her.

“I will definitely be using the USO again,” she said. “It represents to me a safe place to go when you feel like you don’t have any options. It represents a family environment.”

Iron Man: Why One Volunteer Has Shown Up at the USO (Almost) Every Day it’s Been Open the Last 5 Years

Henry Edmon talks with troops at the Fort Leonard Wood USO center. USO photo

Henry Edmon talks with troops at the Fort Leonard Wood USO center. USO photo

If you’ve been to the Fort Leonard Wood USO center recently, you’ve probably seen Henry Edmon.

A familiar face to new recruits and longtime area residents, the Sudbury, Ontario, native has proudly volunteered at the USO every Thursday through Sunday, which are the days the center is open, for the past five years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s wedding in May 2013.

“Everyone here at the USO thought it was funny he would worry about missing his shift for his daughter’s wedding,” wrote USO Fort Leonard Wood Center Director Kelly Gist in an email. “But that just goes to show you the level of commitment he has to the USO. [He] loves all that we do here, we are his extended family, but we sure weren’t going to let him miss his daughter’s wedding.”

According to his daughter, Janis Edmon, her wedding wasn’t the first time Henry has worried about missing his volunteer shift for a special occasion. When Janis visits Henry, he always tells her that he’ll still be volunteering at the USO, and she is welcome to join him.

“When I used to come home for Christmas, Easter and everything, we were at the USO,” Janis said.

“He loves working there and he always wants to make sure that, you know, he’s dependable and there for them, and it’s awesome, because it’s like a little family. So, he likes going there, and I like him going there.”

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A Canadian and American Army veteran of three and 23 years, respectively, Henry began volunteering at the USO center in central Missouri after he retired.

“I will always remember the help that the USO was to me during the Vietnam War,” Henry wrote in an email. “It was the least I could do to give back to an organization that helped me so much.”

According to Gist, Henry takes the USO’s spirit-lifting mission to heart, making him a popular guy on base.

“Just to see that every day, the compassion he has, the loyalty … we wish there was more like him,” Gist said.

Henry especially enjoys chatting with new recruits going through basic training. He frequently shares his military experiences with young soldiers to both encourage them and ensure them they’re not alone.

“These soldiers are learning from our volunteers, and him especially,” Gist said. “When you have a solider just come in from basic and he might be sitting there wondering, ‘Am I going to make it through the next few weeks?’ And [then] Henry comes up and says, ‘It’s okay. You’ll make it.’ They really take that to heart.”

Those heart-to-heart interactions have led some troops to seek Henry out when they return to Fort Leonard Wood years later.

“It’s really neat to see them come back around and they remember him,” Gist said. “You can just tell they have a love for him and it’s really neat to see that.”

Henry says he hopes troops he serves will pay the encouragement forward.

“Maybe, one day, when they have the time to give back, they will remember what we did here, just as I remembered the impact the USO [had] on me,” he said.

New Center at SeaTac Airport Allows USO Northwest to Better Serve Troops and Families

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USO Northwest staff and volunteers welcomed community officials and local military leadership for the grand opening of their new 7,500-square-foot center in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state on Wednesday.

Home to one of the largest concentrations of military personnel in the United States, USO Northwest provides critical support to more than 600,000 active-duty military and their families annually in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

Efforts to transform the center began in 2012 with the launch of USO Northwest’s Enduring Support Campaign. That push brought in donations from more than 400 groups, businesses and individual donors, ultimately netting over $1.5 million in funds and in-kind gifts to make the expanded center possible. Three of the largest contributors were the Employee Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound, the USO Northwest Board of Directors and the Ellison Foundation.

“This was a day that I could only dream about,” said Hossein Khorram, Treasurer of the USO Northwest Board of Directors. “When we started going through the process a few years ago, this was still just a dream. The money was hard to come by, but we got amazing donors who really stood up to make this all possible.”

From a full-service kitchen to an enlarged luggage storage space and enhanced entertainment amenities, the new center will provide a touch of home for service members and their families as they travel through the SeaTac Airport and beyond. The center will continue to offer travel assistance, sleeping facilities, showers, meals and snacks, a lounge, gaming equipment, free Wi-Fi, laptop commuters and a separate family room.All of that will now be delivered in a more comfortable and inviting space.

Highlights of the new center include the installation of the original teakwood decking from the World War II battleship USS Colorado (BB-45) as well as a Patriot Wall Brick Campaign, which features over 300 commemorative bricks from loved ones to those who previously or currently serve in the military.

“This is where it happens and this is the pointed edge of the spear of the USO,” said Dr. J.D. Crouch ll, CEO and President of the USO. “This is where we meet the men and women and their families who we are dedicated to supporting. It’s places like this all around the world … which allows us to always be by their side.”

When the ribbon was finally cut, local contributors and military personnel were invited to tour the new center,  which is located above the Delta Air Lines ticketing counters on the mezzanine level. Port of Seattle Port Commissioners Bill Bryant and Courtney Gregoire and President of the Employee Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound Robert Malone also spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony.

“Our organization made a commitment almost three years ago to never allow another military member to be turned away at SeaTac Airport because our center was too small. Today that commitment becomes a reality,” said USO Northwest Executive Director and retired Navy Cmdr. Don Leingang. “This new USO center will allow us to provide no less than the very best services to our military and their family members.”

With support from USO Northwest staff and volunteers, the new center will continue to be open to visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Retired National Guard Colonel Gives to the USO for His Two Veteran Sons

Hal Harrington is a retired Army National Guard colonel currently working for the federal government. He has two sons — one officer and one enlisted — who both deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it came time to give to the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) this year, his choice of charity was clear.

“I’m always critical, you know, of charity organizations,” said Harrington, who served more than 30 years in the Michigan National Guard, the same organization in which his sons served. “The USO is one I don’t even have to think about. In fact, when I sent my boys off to their basic schools, the USO was part of my safety brief to them. I’d say, ‘Here’s where you’re flying and here’s where you’re going, and here’s the airports that have USO facilities, so stop in and use them.’”

After Harrington retired from the Michigan National Guard, he worked in the private sector for several decades until the economy took a dip in the late 2000s. That’s when he took a job working for the federal government once again, and he was happy to see the CFC had evolved to make giving much easier.

“I’d get those things in the mail for the USO and I donated that way,” Harrington said. “But the CFC made it really easy to give to the organizations I already gave to.”


The CFC is the world’s largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign. Pledges made by federal civilian and military personnel during the campaign season (Sept. 1 to Dec. 15) bring in millions of dollars to support nonprofit organizations that provide health and human service benefits throughout the world.

“My hat is off to [the USO] for doing what [it does],” Harrington said. “You go into those airports and sometimes there are two people there and sometimes there’s 10, and sometimes there’s 30 with duffel bags waiting to go. It doesn’t matter what airport you’re in — Atlanta, Denver, Durham … — there’s always service people and there’s always the USO where we know they are being taken care of.”

“If I can support them in any way, shape or form through [the USO] I will — and I do.”

The USO is CFC #11381.