Volunteers Keep Spirits High (and Somewhat Dry) During USO Kandahar Flash Flood Cleanup

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When you deploy to the desert, flooding isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Still, a group of USO volunteers and staff bailed out USO Kandahar from a messy situation over the weekend when flash flooding filled some of the center’s rooms with ankle-high water.

“We had a great group of volunteers that were quick to help us get all the furniture and boxes upstairs and to the theatre, which was higher ground and less likely to be affected by the water,” USO Kandahar’s Deborah Ayers wrote in an email. “Within an hour and a half, the water was about 3 inches deep in two of the back rooms, and had pushed forward about halfway through the tent. At that point, the tent had been cleared out except for the volunteers, who went out front to assess the damage.

“[USO Kandahar] has experienced floods almost every year, so this was somewhat expected, and thanks to the amazing cooperation and coordination of the volunteers and staff we got away with minimal damage and we’re up and running again!”

Pa. School, National Constitution Center Deliver Lessons via Veterans Day Video Chats with Troops at USO Centers

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Stacy Henry was determined to give her first graders a Veterans Day lesson to remember.

Thanks to a little persistence – and a hand from USO Bagram in Afghanistan – she was able to pull off a lesson the kids at Thaddeus Stevens Primary Center in New Castle, Pa., won’t soon forget.

“This year, with my husband being in the [Army Reserve] and two of his fellow soldiers being deployed in Afghanistan, I decided that it would be awesome to connect with them,” Henry said.

Henry’s initial plan was to virtually connect her students with Army Reserve Sgts. Michael Maurer and Joshua Reilly – both deployed to Afghanistan with the 333rd Engineer Company – for a Skype chat. Maurer and Reilly are in the same reserve unit as Henry’s husband, Sgt. Todd Henry.

While the two deployed soldiers weren’t able to get in on the event, Henry was still able to uplink her school’s gymnasium – packed with 300 first-through-third graders – to USO Bagram to speak with troops at the center on Veterans Day. Todd Henry and fellow Army Reserve Spc. Jason McCray also came to the school to be with the kids during the Skype connection. The kids read a poem, sang patriotic songs and even tried to ask a few questions of the troops on the other end of the call.

“[It was] an awesome, unforgettable, honorable, memorable event on Veterans Day, which I feel proud to be a part of,” said Stacy Henry, whose youngest son, Morgan, is a third grader at the school.

And while Maurer and Reilly missed out on the chat, they won’t be forgotten. Henry said the school was preparing care packages for the duo, and was also looking to send a large envelope full of student-written letters their way.

Constitution Center Links to Troops Downrange

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

Troops at USO Kandahar pose next to a Skype connection to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia during a Veterans Day event. USO photo

USO Kandahar also got in on the Veterans Day Skype action, linking up to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a Q&A with visitors.

USO Kandahar’s DJ Stanhope linked up with Liberty USO – which covers the Philadelphia region – to set up the Skype call, where visitors to the National Constitution Center got an inside view of USO Kandahar and the life of a deployed service member.

Stanhope said the highlight of the call came when two children – a boy around the age of 2 and a girl no more than 4 – sang “God Bless America” for three young soldiers who were participating in the call from Kandahar.

USO-NFL Partnership Kept Football Streaming to Troops in Afghanistan During Government Shutdown

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photos by Daniel Wood

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football in late September, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photo by Daniel Wood

The recent government shutdown – which ended on Thursday – left troops downrange with a slimmed-down version of the Armed Forces Network, and the prospect of missing their favorite football teams on Sunday nights.

However, NFL Game Pass – which the league offers free of charge to USO centers outside the United States – kept the games streaming for troops at sites like USO Kandahar.

“They really saved the day here,” said Daniel Wood, duty manager at USO Kandahar.

Here’s what troops in Afghanistan told the USO’s Eric Raum on Oct. 6:

  • Spec. Gary Stripling: “I thought we just weren’t going to get to watch the games this week. A buddy told me the USO was still going to show the NFL over an Internet connection so we all came down early to get a seat.”
  • Staff Sgt. Brian Duchsne: “It’s something we look forward to all week, it gets you through, knowing you’ll relax for an evening and watch football, so we were pretty excited to hear the USO was still going to be showing the game.”

NFL, USO Bring Live Football Broadcasts to Troops in Afghanistan

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The USO has partnered with the NFL to bring regular season games to troops stationed outside the U.S. who can’t subscribe to a wall-to-wall football cable packages like their counterparts in the states.

The NFL Game Pass program is already up and running at centers like USO Kandahar in Afghanistan, where games are live streamed on Sunday nights. Since USO Kandahar can play one additional game not available on American Forces Network, they hold a vote throughout the week to see which extra contest (beyond the games shown on AFN) troops will get to watch. USO Kandahar duty manager Daniel Wood said the center had more than 60 people stop in to vote on what game they wanted to see last week, with the winner being the bonus game streamed that night. Kandahar will hold a vote again this week, and expects to continue having big turnouts on Sunday nights.

–Story by USO Story Development

USO Brings Mother’s Day Treatment to Kandahar-Based Troops

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Mom doesn’t get much thanks downrange.

The USO Southwest Regional Team understood this, and went out of their way to give a special thanks to the women of Kandahar Airfield’s Role 3 Trauma Hospital with a spa day on Sunday.

“These ladies work long hours on their feet and have little time to pamper themselves,” USO Southwest Asia wrote on its Facebook page.

The spa experience included manicures, pedicures, facials and massages. More than 100 treatments were provided.

Check out USO Southwest Asia’s Facebook page for more details.

-Story by USO Story Development

USO Kandahar Recognized for Quick Thinking

It’s pouring rain.

There seems to be no end in sight to this storm, and you’ve got tons of electronics and furniture inside what amounts to little more than a field tent in the middle of Afghanistan.

The water starts creeping in. Everything could be ruined. What do you do?

The waters rose and rose and rose.

“Jesse Boyles and Jillian Ferron were on shift as the water came into the center,” said USO Kandahar center manager Richard McCarty, in an email response to USO President Sloan Gibson, explaining what happened after a recent storm flooded the Center.

“They took quick and important steps to ensure the safety of the customers in regards to electricity and the protection of the center’s valuable furniture and electronics by cutting breakers as needed to provide safety,” he added. “But also minimizing the inconvenience to the people stuck inside still watching TV’s and on phones.”

"We quickly moved as much as we could to the highest point in the tent, pushing most of the furniture to the middle of the tent. "

Boyles and Ferron, along with the rest of the staff and volunteers of USO Kandahar, were recently presented the President’s Award for performance above and beyond the call of duty when they experienced the unfortunate reality of operating in a field environment – in a third-world country – in a combat zone.

The President’s Award is presented to individuals whose contributions have had a significant impact on their department and the organization. Ferron’s contribution alone, by quickly rounding up a work detail to get 30 cloth La-z-Boy chairs in the theater stacked on the high end of the room, saved the USO more than $4,500.

According to Gary Bibeau, regional vice president, the entire floor of the Kandahar USO center was underwater for a period of time. The flood ran through the entire center, depositing mud on the both the floor and on the furniture.

“By the time I got there, the staff and volunteers had taken the furniture and electronics out and put it all in storage, limiting any damage,” wrote Bibeau in follow-up documentation.

The it was time to clean up!

The clean-up effort that began the following morning would take two-and-a-half days to complete, but employees Penn Walker, Blair Ciccocioppo and Randy Montesi all joined Boyles and Ferron first thing in the morning to start the arduous work of removing 8,000 square feet of ruined flooring and carpet and sweeping out the excess water and mud.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just water the team was stuck cleaning up. Several of the outdoor port-o-johns were also tipped over, adding some sewage to the soaking mess. Because of concerns about mold and toxic material in the water, Bibeau had the local Navy medical unit come in to do a health inspection after the site was cleaned up, and it has since been cleared for safe occupancy once again.

“I would like to make special recognition of Erin Mintmier, who was at the center during the flooding and took the leadership of the clean up and volunteer coordination,” said McCarty. “We faced a tremendous amount of work and … the first difficult steps were to organize … how we can direct the volunteers to help,” he added. “It was in this aspect that Erin really shined as a leader.”

Through their teamwork and excellent leadership, USO Kandahar weathered the storm, and for that, we as an organization now stand that much stronger beside them. Congratulations on your recent recognition and keep up the great work! – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer