A Legacy of Smiles: USO at Ali al Salem Air Base Set to Close
Friday, June 21, 2013
By Eric Brandner
Comb through Facebook photos and all you’ll see are smiles.
At times, the USO at Camp LSA on Ali al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, looks more like a family barbecue than a respite amid a staging area for war.
USO Camp LSA has been a place for deployed troops to kick back since it opened in March 2006. But just like most USO centers in conflict areas, the good times at Camp LSA were always on the clock. That clock is scheduled to run out June 30, when the USO closes its doors at Camp LSA as the camp itself prepares to shutter the shop. The USO will relocate its Camp LSA resources to Camp Arifjan, which is also in Kuwait.
“I'm going to miss the family-like atmosphere here at Camp LSA,” said Travis Sparks, the USO’s center manager there. “It's a small camp so everyone works closely together to accomplish the mission.”
USO Camp LSA serves as a transition center for troops traveling in and out of Afghanistan, whether it’s for deployment or rest and recuperation. Sparks, five duty managers and 116 volunteers keep the center up and running. The center features free connectivity options for troops (Internet access and phones), along with hallmark USO comforts like snacks and toiletries, TVs and video game consoles.
Sparks has worked at USO Camp LSA for about three years and will also move to Arifjan. He said the base’s most popular offerings are the same ones you can see in the Facebook photos: Hookah Night, Cornhole tournaments and “Ticket to the Stars,” where the USO paid for troops to go to the local movie theater to watch the latest release.
At its height in 2011, the center was serving more than 30,000 troops a month. It served a shade more than 1 million troops between 2008 (when the USO started counting downrange center visits) and April of this year.
“I learned so much from these brave men and women, forged lasting friendships and felt their appreciation for having a USO center they could call home so far away from home,” said Piper Hardin, the center manager at Camp LSA from March 2011 to October 2012 before becoming a director in the USO’s Major Gifts department. “I learned first-hand what our services and programs mean to our troops.”
The new USO Camp Arifjan is slated to open later this summer. It will offer similar services to Camp LSA and will be open 24 hours a day.
“Over the years, the small cadre of USO employees and volunteers have made a huge impact on transitioning service personnel, as well as supporting the troops living and working [at Ali al Salem Air Base],” said Bruce Burda, USO Regional Vice President for Southwest Asia. “We are all excited to continue this legacy at Camp Arifjan, where we will have a larger center more capable of supporting this major installation in Kuwait.”
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Photo caption: Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders visited troops at USO Camp LSA on Ali al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, back in February. (USO photo courtesy of SFC Stine)
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