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

“A Tribute to Military Families” and United Through Reading

Twelve-year old actress Madison Pettis stresses the importance of United Through Reading on today’s military families at the 2010 USO Gala on October 7, 2010. The youngest entertainer to take part in a USO tour, Pettis’ brother is a member of the U.S. Army and served in Iraq in 2008 and 2009. (USO photo by Bill Auth)

We can hardly believe it’s been almost a week since the 2010 USO Gala, and we still have many great stories to share with you!  One of the highlights of the evening was getting to meet the Hofman family.  Dad is deployed, but mom and the kids (all four of them!) are staying connected with him via United Through Reading’s Military Program.

We shared their story at the Gala and we want to share it with you now.  A big thank you goes out to our new USO Kandahar center, where CH (CPT) Peter T. Hofman’s portion was filmed.  And a HUGE thank you goes out to the entire Hofman family, who let us into their home and their lives for a slice of what it’s like when a loved one is deployed.  Enjoy!

USO Opens New Center in Kandahar Afghanistan

USO SWA Regional VP Gary Bibeau, USO Board of Governors Chairman Ed Reilly, Col. Chris Gentry, BG Reynold Hoover, and USO Kandahar Center Director Larry Cooke show their excitement after cutting the ribbon during the Opening of USO Kandahar. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

We’re so proud to announce the opening of our eleventh center in Southwest Asia: USO Kandahar!  This 8,200 square-foot facility is expected to serve more than 35,000 troops each year on Kandahar Airfield, including those traveling to and from forward operating bases in the region.  USO Kandahar is located in the Reception, Staging, Onward movement, and Integration (RSOI) compound and is open 20 hours a day.

Commander 643rd Regional Support Group, Colonel Chris R. Gentry had this to say about the opening: “The USO’s presence on KAF is a much-anticipated event. They bring a little piece of home to everyone they touch. We are very grateful for their support of all our service members and look forward to a long and successful collaboration together.”

USO Kandahar Duty Manager, Duane DeVorak shoots a video about our United Through Reading program as Duty Manager Erin Mintmier explains the program to a soldier. (USO Photo by Joan Gardiner)

Twenty computer stations, eleven Sony PlayStation™ 3 video gaming systems, 52-inch televisions, books and a music room will entertain troops during their free time. The center also offers 18 telephones for troops to call home at no expense on the USO’s private telephone network.  Troops will also be able to participate in one of the most popular programs – United Through Reading’s Military Program – which will be available in three recording rooms.  All programs and services offered at USO Kandahar are free to troops.

“It is a real honor to be a part of the team to bring the first full-service USO in Afghanistan to Kandahar,” said Larry Cooke, director, USO Kandahar.  “This has been a true partnership with the US Garrison Support Group and many other units on KAF. My deep appreciation goes out to each one of them. I know this center will play a key role in the lives of our service men and women serving in this region.”

For individuals and corporations looking for more information or to make a donation, contact Larry Cooke at (202) 747-2792 or via email.  And be sure to visit USO Kandahar’s Facebook page for many more photos of grand opening festivities and the new center in action!

USO Kandahar Duty Manager, Kevin Wells trains new volunteers during the Grand Opening of USO Kandahar, September 17, 2010. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

These Airmen are among the first to try out the free Segovia phones during the Grand Opening of USO Kandahar September 17, 2010. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

These three soldiers are the first to enjoy the Jam Session Music room at USO Kandahar during the Grand Opening September 17, 2010. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

Photos From the Field – Labor Day Edition

Our service men and women around the world never take a day off, and neither do we!  There are a variety of picnics and parades taking place at USO Centers, and our dedicated staff and volunteers will be there.  As a special Labor Day treat, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this special holiday installment of our photo essays!

(P.S. – if you know any of the photographers of images that don’t credit one, please let us know!)

The USO Warrior Center enjoyed a surprise visit from Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Sept. 4, 2010. Note the copy of On Patrol magazine on the table in the background! (DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

No, it's not a cell phone commercial, it's just golfers at the 19th Annual USO Golf Tournament in Stuttgart. Held at Korwestheim Golf Course, the tournament serves as fun cultural event to bring together USO Stuttgart's American and German friends! (Photo courtesy of USO-Stuttgart's Facebook page)

The USO Puget Sound Area Gala 2010 is scheduled for Friday, October 1st at the Museum of Flight, where this picture was recently snapped. For more information on the event - or to purchase tickets - contact Gala Chair Nancy Strom, vnstrom@aol.com. (Photo courtesy of USO Puget Sound Facebook page)

USO of Indiana - in coordination with the University Relations Division of the University of Notre Dame - encouraged staff and their families to create their own personalized thank you message for the troops, which will be taken to the USO center at Camp Atterbury, as well to the USO Airport Center in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of USO of Indiana's Facebook page)

A dark and stormy day at USO Fort Riley! Luckily the storm steered clear of the center, but we couldn't resist this picture! (Photo courtesy of USO Fort Riley Facebook page)

You know that the new USO Center at Kandahar is just about ready to open when the theater gets furniture! This center has been months and months in the making and we can't wait for it to open. (Photo courtesy of USO Kandahar Facebook page)

Photos from the Field

Periodically, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this first installment of our photo essays!

USO Bagram held a Texas Hold 'Em tournament and this Troop kept his cards close to the vest.

The Early Show's Dave Price sports his new USO gear in style during a segment where Wounded Warriors visited the set of the show courtesy of USO Fort Drum.

Volunteers at USO Kandahar distributed Tim Horton doughnuts and muffins to hungry Troops!

USO of Indiana volunteers snapped this picture during the Blue Star Salute at Stout Field in Indianapolis. The event was conducted by American Legion Post 145.

USO of Wisconsin recently welcomed home 32nd Red Arrow IBCT - thank you for your service!

On June 18, 2010, USO Korea held a Goodwill Golf Tournament, which was a huge success for all that attended and sponsored the event. Join them in October for their Invitational!