USO Provides Internet Connectivity to Superstorm Sandy Cleanup Personnel

Troops unwind on four MEGS (Mobile Entertainment Gaming Stations) inside the USO tent at Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Leigh Edmonds, Mobile Program Manager

Thousands of troops and emergency personnel are settling in at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., for what may be more than a month of cleanup efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The USO is right there with them to provide support at the heart of what has been dubbed “Tent City.”

Army engineers are spending their days clearing debris from nearby streets and security personnel are pulling 24-hour shifts to keep the most heavily damaged areas of the eastern shore safe. But they now know they’ll be able to relax when they return from duty, whether its inside one of two Mobile USOs or in a 30-foot by 30-foot USO tent featuring food, entertainment and Web access.

The first wave of connectivity support arrived with the newly refitted Mobile USOs. These units have both 4G wireless and satellite capabilities that can provide more than 25 concurrent online access points within a 200-foot radius. Inside the nearby USO tent, five Mobile Entertainment Gaming Systems (MEGS) have been deployed as gaming and movie-watching stations. Additional laptops are available for use by troops and first responders who do not have their own equipment.

Nothing like a little football with friends at a USO mobile canteen! Photo by Leigh Edmonds, Mobile Program Manager

All this high-speed technology translates into some simple comforts of home for troops who deployed to New York City—comforts like Sunday afternoon football on the Mobile USO televisions or a Skype conversation with loved ones back home.

“When you think about getting deployed—whether it’s disaster relief or combat—the last thing you expect is to catch the game on Sunday,” said Army Capt. Keven O’Reilly of the 204th Engineer Battalion. “But these soldiers are out here sleeping in the cold in order to bring security and peace to a community under duress. To get something like a football game or access to the Internet, it makes being deployed that much easier.”

The second wave of connectivity support soon to arrive in Tent City will be a portable satellite kit and bandwidth provided by 3Di.

According to USO Operations and Internet Technology personnel, this unit will be located adjacent to the USO tent and will provide wireless access for up to 50 additional users, as well as continuous Internet access to the USO tent should the Mobile USO need to relocate.

“That’s one thing I love about the USO—they show up right where we need them most with exactly what we want the most,” O’Reilly said. “All I can say is thank you—you guys did it again.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Mobile USOs Arrive in NYC to Support Troops During Superstorm Sandy Recovery

The USO of North Carolina’s Mobile USO arrived in Harlem, New York, on Tuesday afternoon. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Last Friday, USO of Metropolitan New York received a call from the 369th Regiment Armory in Harlem, requesting a touch of home for more than 7,000 troops deployed to New York and New Jersey in response to the recent superstorm.

These troops came from around the country in support of Operation Sandy—a massive joint-services cleanup and humanitarian effort expected to last the next few weeks. Troops will live in a tent city at Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field, braving the elements in order to bring food, water, gasoline and security to Superstorm Sandy-impacted communities in New York City.

To make their lives a little easier, the USO sent two Mobile USO vehicles—one from the USO’s regional office in Norfolk, Va., and another from USO of North Carolina—along with three vans packed full of supplies to provide creature comforts to the thousands of brave citizen-soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

“These troops are sleeping in a field environment with very few amenities,” said Army Capt. J.C. Bravo of the 369th Regiment Armory. “Right now we’re setting up something very similar to a Forward Operating Base—just like you might see in the field—so their noses are to the grindstone, hard at work.

“But once we get set up with a place to rest our heads, it will be a great benefit to have the presence of the USO out there.”

The Mobile USOs—scheduled to be in place and operational at Floyd Bennett Field by Thursday—will bring the USO’s special brand of services directly to these troops. Each Mobile USO lounge is equipped with books, magazines and a 46-inch LCD television with state-of-the-art home theater and digital satellite television systems and an Xbox 360 gaming system.

The Internet café inside the Mobile USO based in Norfolk features laptops for checking e-mail, accessing the Web and printing, copying or faxing documents. Each of its four laptops are also outfitted with an Xbox 360 gaming system, with the ability to play individually or against other Xbox 360 consoles networked within the vehicle. Meanwhile, the Mobile USO deployed by the USO of North Carolina features two cell phones for troops to use if necessary.

The Mobile USOs’ quick deployment capabilities allow the USO to get where it needs to be to accomplish its mission of lifting the spirits of troops and their families. And with another winter storm heading toward the New York area this week, it looks like the vehicles made it there just in time.

—Joseph Andrew Lee, USO staff writer

USO Convoy on Way to Support National Guard During New York City Clean-Up Efforts

No one signs up for the military thinking they’re going to deploy to New York City.

But that’s exactly what thousands of National Guard troops did last week when Superstorm Sandy pummeled the business capitol of the world causing mass power outages, billions of dollars in damage and leaving thousands of New Yorkers temporarily homeless.

And — as always — the USO is there to support them.

The two USO Mobile Canteens, along with two vans, are being packed as we speak

The USO of Metropolitan New York received a call on Friday from the National Guard’s 369th Sustainment Brigade — which may be better known as the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I fame — asking if it could have Mobile USO support for troops working in the aftermath of the storm. The USO then spent the weekend working on the logistics.

On Monday morning, a four-vehicle USO convoy left Dover, Delaware, carrying thousands of pounds of supplies destined for New York City. The USO of North Carolina’s Mobile USO – which is also towing a trailer – traveled to Dover early Monday morning to meet up with a second Mobile USO from the USO’s regional office. Two passenger vans already in Dover were to join the convoy on an afternoon trip up to New York.

Once the USO staffers arrived in Dover, they loaded up their vehicles with supplies from USO warehouses as far south as North Carolina along with items generously donated by pharmacy giant CVS and items already on hand at USO warehouses on the East Coast. The convoy is packed with easy-to-distribute food like Slim Jims, Girl Scout Cookies and “things you can nuke [in the microwave]” as one USO senior staffer described it. The convoy will also packed supplies like toiletries, playing cards and other items to keep troops entertained during down time.

It should all come in handy for the more than 7,000 National Guardsmen who are cleaning up and maintaining order in the city.

Last week, you read a story about how a volunteer from USO of Metropolitan New York walked 50 blocks to open a center after the storm for first responders.

Now, the reinforcements are coming.

You can continue to follow this story on Twitter @the_USO.

—Eric Brandner, Director of Story Development

It’s not too late to help the USO support National Guard troops who are in the thick of Superstorm Sandy relief. Click here to donate.

USO Volunteers Walk 50 Blocks to Open Times Square Center after Superstorm Sandy

Joan Ashner always goes above and beyond

Columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote that “volunteers are the only human beings on the face of the Earth who reflect this nation’s compassion, unselfish caring, patience, and just plain love for one another.”

At the USO, we are lucky enough to have the commitment of 25,000 reflections of America running our centers every day of the year. Even on days like Monday—when a major storm was plowing through New York City—volunteers like Joan Ashner are willing to walk 50 blocks through the wind and rain to make sure the USO center is operational to serve rescue personnel.

“It’s really amazing, our volunteers’ commitment to duty,” said Ray Kennedy, Vice President of Programs and Services for USO of Metropolitan New York. “On a day when most paid employees are keeping shelter from the danger of the storm, she is out there on the city streets risking her own safety to get to work.”

For Ashner, this sort of thing is par for the course. She was named a 2011 USO Regional Volunteer of the Year for her similar actions when a blizzard crippled the city. She single-handedly opened and operated the Times Square center for five days to help more than 800 stranded service members and their families.

“It was a little hairy,” Ashner said of her walk to open the center Monday. “But we were told there would be service members on duty there with [Joint Task Force] Empire Shield, so if there are troops on duty, the USO must also be on duty.”

As it turned out, the Empire Shield troops were diverted elsewhere and the Port Authority forced the closure of the USO until this morning. Still, Ashner and other New York City USO volunteers returned Wednesday—again walking 50 blocks—to open the centers at 7 a.m.

“All our centers are open. God bless our volunteers,” Kennedy said. “They, themselves are living in neighborhoods that are flooded and are without power, but instead of dealing with their own situations they are putting the welfare of our troops first. We couldn’t do this without them.” - Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

USO Liberty Bells 2012 Troupe Refresh

The USO Liberty Bells, a traveling song and dance troupe based out of Times Square in New York City, looks for new talent at the start of each year.

At their annual auditions, Bells from the previous year return to show off their talent, and new performers try out for a panel of judges.  This year, the Bells plan to add about six new singers to the troupe.

“There is so much talent out there,” said Ray Kennedy, USO Liberty Bells Director and Choreographer. “The new singers that auditioned this year and the returning Bells sang from their books and man, did they raise the bar!”

These amazing singers and dancers perform at hundreds of shows each year, entertaining tens of thousands, and carrying on the morale-boosting entertainment tradition of the USO.

“I’m a huge fan of the Liberty Bells,” said John Pray, USO Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff. “Not simply because they are incredibly talented performers, but because they do so much to help us lift the spirits of troops and their families.”

Judges will reveal the final list of 2012 USO Liberty Bells this spring.   But in the meantime, watch the video below to learn what being a USO Liberty Bell means to one performer who just completed her first year. — Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Give the Gift of Music to a Troop Deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan!

USO of Metropolitan New York has teamed up with To The Fallen Records to create Songs for Soldiers, a program designed to provide pre-loaded MP3 players free to deployed service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.  For just a $29 donation (tax deductible), you can send one of these special MP3 players to a specific Troop or to anyone serving overseas.  You can also include a message of support.

Designed by FlatFlash, these MP3 players are comprised of double laminated unbreakable plastic, and are water/heat/cold/dust/magnetic resistant and fully rechargeable.  These types of media players are one of the most popular items during deployment and we’re proud to be able to offer them in this way.

USO of Metro New York’s goal is to get an MP3 player into the hands of EVERY service member in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of 2010.  Won’t you help us make that possible?