By USO Staff

Editor’s Note: What follows is a snapshot—a mere sliver—of what happens at USO centers around the world each day. And while the sun does rise in the east and set in the west, the first U.S. territory to see that sunrise every morning is Guam, so we, too, began our day with USO Guam and moved east, against the sun, rather than going backward in time. While this represents one full day at USO centers, the interviews weren’t all done the same day.

USO Guam employees and volunteers serve a midnight dinner to Marines who had an unexpected 40-hour stay on the island. | Photo credit USO Guam

USO Guam

As the saying goes, the USO’s day begins when the sun rises in Guam, the first U.S. territory to see the sun each day.

By 8 a.m., there’s a sizable breakfast crowd is ready and waiting outside USO Guam—so is the locally inspired meal that Program Manager Edmund Lebita and Center Manager Vic Tano started preparing at least an hour earlier.

“It’s fried rice with eggs and some sort of sausage,” Lebita said. “The fried rice can be anything from just plain garlic fried rice to a very local favorite—Spam fried rice.”

If you’d rather have fruit or a pastry, there’s a generous selection of other edibles donated by the same local café that keeps the coffee flowing. You want donuts? No problem. Four dozen are donated to the center daily.

“That’s how Guam gets our day started,” Lebita said.

Not only is the daily breakfast program popular, it’s a huge money-saver for service members temporarily stationed in, or visiting, Guam.

Considered an urban center, USO Guam occupies 5,000 square feet on the main level of the Royal Orchid Hotel. The atmosphere is a hybrid between an airline club and a large family living room, offering lots of places to relax and for service members to stretch out, play a video game, surf the Web or just take a nap, Lebita said.

USO Guam offers typical USO services as well—Internet, cozy chairs and a touch of home as well as some special events and plenty of room for kids to run around. But, one of the staff’s favorite ways to deliver Guam’s Hafa Adai spirit—the island’s equivalent of Hawaii’s Aloha—comes at the holidays, beginning with the annual Thanksgiving Day meal. Most years, they expect 500 to 700 diners. In 2013, with two weeks’ notice, that number jumped by 1,200 when the Marine Corps called to say they’d be in Guam for training.

“Four hundred of those Marines were on Tinian, an island not too far from Guam, but very basic conditions … and we were able to charter two small planes and deliver them the Thanksgiving meal their Marine brothers were eating here at the USO,” Lebita said.

For Lebita and the rest of the USO Guam staff and volunteers, it’s just what they do.

USO Honolulu

Sometimes, even delays in paradise can be tedious.

Take last October for instance. It was close to midnight in Honolulu International Airport when 35 Marines arrived from Okinawa, Japan. They missed their connecting flight to the mainland and the Corps seemed to be out of options. Faced with the prospect of a long night in a nearly empty terminal, the group ambled to the airport’s USO center about 15 minutes before it closed. USO Honolulu International Airport center manager Sheila “Kanoe” Sampaga greeted them.

“I let them know that I would be able to stay open for another hour, but I would need to leave at 1 a.m. to get my children from the sitter,” she said. “I promised them that I would come in to open two hours earlier than normal so they could come back and relax before jumping on their flight the next afternoon.”

Sampaga said they were so happy the USO was so accommodating, especially in a pinch. They were able to leave their heavy bags in the USO instead of lugging them around the airport, plus the USO also provided showers, hot meals and computer time so they could let their loved ones know they were delayed. Sampaga offered to call hotels but the Marines chose to stay in the airport.

When she returned at 6 a.m., the showers were busy again while others crashed on the beds for some shut-eye. Later that morning, the volunteers and staff were waking the Marines with fresh-brewed coffee and stacks of pancakes.

“They thanked us more than they should have,” Sampaga said. “They do so much for us, the least we can do is help them when they are in need of something.”

Volunteer Douglas Hoople talks with USO SeaTac Airport guests while manning the front desk. | Photo credit USO photo by Sandi Moynihan

USO SeaTac

Every afternoon at the USO SeaTac Airport center is different.

Sometimes, the brand new center near Seattle is full of World War II veterans waiting to board an honor flight to Washington, D.C. Other days, the 24/7 lounge’s rooms are littered with a handful of sleepy service members trying to catch some z’s.

On this day, the center was sprinkled with about 50 retirees, service members and military families hoping to grab a bite and recharge before taking off. Around 11:45 a.m., a fresh batch of volunteers arrived to relieve the morning shift before the lunchtime rush.

Around noon, volunteer Lonnie Stevenson heard a yelp from the glass-enclosed family room near the back of the center. A military toddler fell and bumped her head while her exhausted parents slept after a long PCS flight from Asia. Stevenson, who’s volunteered since 2009, got the toddler an ice pack and comforted the crying young mother. She noted things like that happen all the time.

With the mother calmed, Stevenson headed to the pantry area to organize an earlier delivery. As she read through the checklist, young service members approached the fully stocked food bar and grabbed hot dogs, sandwiches and drinks to enjoy at tables in the canteen. They had a wide variety of goodies to choose from with donuts, granola bars, cereals, string cheese, and other snacks available at various spots around the eating area.

The canteen was packed by 12:45 p.m. and the adjoining TV lounge area—featuring two long rows of leather armchairs—was also beginning to fill. Five minutes later, Stevenson went to the bunkroom to wake up soldiers who had been enjoying a snooze.

By 1:30, the entire center had quieted and patrons shifted from the canteen to the armchairs for an afternoon nap.

USO Denver

Tucked among airline lounges in Denver International Airport’s Concourse A, just left of 12 o’clock, is the USO. With its subdued lighting, big-screen TV in front of rows of slouch-worthy chairs, airline departure boards and snack bar, it could easily be mistaken for an airline lounge—but it’s far more than that.

A USO Denver International Airport volunteer talks with service members relaxing before catching their next flight. | Photo credit USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley

About 25 people in the center that afternoon, mostly military and family members, took full advantage of their down time in a comfortable, relaxing environment that feels like a large family room in someone’s spacious home.

That home comes with something of a short-order chef as well. There’s always something cooking for a hungry traveler. On November 4, it was hot dogs and if you’re brave, volunteer Micki Dubois will make you her specialty—a peanut butter and jelly hot dog.

“Nobody else makes them, but me,” she said. The jury is out on whether or not anyone is out to steal her recipe.

Gayle Melges, the center operations and programs manager at USO Denver, said that hot dogs are popular, but so are fruit and healthy snacks. Aside from the food—and of course those ever-popular chairs—the Internet connection is one of the things visitors appreciate most. And if visitors need something, don’t worry, they probably have it—right down to reading glasses, which many USO centers seem to keep on hand.

“We get a lot of reading glasses donated and they fly out of here,” Melges said. “I don’t know if they’re taking them for their parents … or their grandparents, but they go!”

USO Denver’s staff and volunteers are also problem-solvers. And the problems can be quite complex, Melges said. Like the day a young Marine wandered in looking like a deer caught in headlights.

Mechanical problems delayed his flight into Denver and caused him to miss his connecting flight to Seattle. In turn, he missed his military flight to Okinawa. After five hours of trying to solve the riddle himself, he found Melges and the USO. Despite no phone numbers on his orders, she unraveled the mystery and got the Marine, who was anxious about being considered AWOL because his new unit didn’t know about the missed flights, squared away.

It took several calls to fellow USO centers in and out of the States to ensure he would be taken care of. And she asked the Marine to email her when he got settled in Okinawa, his reaction was simple, but priceless. “That’s so cool.”

USO Dallas-Fort Worth volunteer Richard Simms entertains both passersby and service members visiting the center at gate B15. | Photo credit USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley

USO Dallas-Fort Worth

To the amusement of travelers passing through Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport’s gate B15, Richard Simms, 78, sits on a stool in front of USO Dallas-Fort Worth’s wide-open doors picking out tunes on his steel banjo. He’s been doing this every week since 2004, when the USO first began welcoming weary military travelers and their families passing through the airport.

Simms is joined by Petra Cruz, Jan Petavello and Paul Rigoulot, some of the many USO staff and volunteers who welcome service members and military families as they look for a place to unwind between flights.

Just beyond the doors of the former airline club, with its dim coziness, lies a sense of home that offers a sense of safety and relaxation. And just like a home, those who “live” there have helped decorate it. In what looks like a planned art installation, thousands of embroidered name tapes line the walls of the luggage room, which also harbors a nostalgic pay phone.

Rigoulot said the service members also leave unit patches on bulletin boards in the center and expect them to be there the next time they pass through.

“They’ll look for it [and] they’ll have to have their picture taken with it,” he said. “Some of those [stacks of patches] are five deep. We need thumbtacks that are longer than a quarter of an inch.”

While some visitors sunk down in big, comfy chairs and watched TV, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Spencer, a 21-year veteran and commander of 819th Red Horse Squadron at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, enjoyed a snack and a book in the café.

“I’ve used USOs in airports in the U.S. and also deployed,” she said. “For long layovers, it’s a place of refuge and relaxation.”

USO Dallas-Fort Worth also has a smaller center in the airport’s D terminal, as well as the local Military entrance processing station.

“Basically … they’re stuck there all day, some of them from about 5 o’clock in the morning until 5 or 6 in the evening. [It’s a] very long day,” Allison Hagan, a retired Marine said. “[And] there’s nothing in MEPS to do, at least until we got there.”

Now there are movies, video games and a quiet room as well as an introduction to the USO that lets nervous parents know there will be someone looking out for their child.

USO Pensacola International Airport

The scene outside Pensacola International Airport was uninviting on this gloomy November night. A driving rainstorm with low-hanging clouds and powerful gusts of wind slapped travelers across the face as they exited through the doors.

Inside the newly renovated USO lounge neatly tucked into the second floor of Pensacola’s airport, the setting was more inviting. As visitors walked through the glass double doors to check in at the front desk, they were greeted with a smile and quick rundown of the available amenities.

USO Northwest Florida volunteers Deana and Jim Marchand. | Photo credit USO photo by Chad Stewart

On this night, USO volunteers Jim and Deana Marchand welcomed service members, military families and retirees as they came into the warm, cozy lounge that has space set aside for every conceivable group of traveler. There’s a nook for kids with toys and books; an area with computers and printers and a living room packed with books, games, comfy chairs and two big-screen TVs. Of course, most visitors are attracted to the kitchen and an abundance of free snacks and drinks.

Earlier in the day, about 40 young Marines took advantage of the lounge’s amenities as they passed through on their way to Naval Air Station Pensacola—home of the Navy’s Blue Angels and the next stop in the Marines’ evolution from civilian to service member.

Beej Davis, the center supervisor, explained the installation is a huge training facility for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Davis said large groups of new boot camp graduates visit every week.

“They are so excited when they come in,” he said. “They can grab a hot dog or some snacks and charge their phones, but it’s really our volunteers that make them feel at home.”

On this dreary Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle, the Marchands took care of military members as they arrived. Jim, a 31-year Air Force veteran who retired as a lieutenant colonel, directed a few fellow retirees to the coffee pot in the kitchen while an active-duty sailor waited for her grandparents’ plane to arrive.

A young sailor leaving NAS Pensacola and heading to Jacksonville for more training feasted on a bagel and cream cheese while he talked about how he couldn’t wait to get to his first duty station in Yokosuka, Japan. The Arizona native said he joined to see the world and was excited about serving in a foreign land. California was the furthest he’d been from home before he enlisted.

Jim’s wife, Deana, chatted with an Air Force officer about military life while she tidied up the kitchen and organized snacks. The airman, flying to Washington but delayed by weather, waited for good news as his son played video games and his wife and daughter watched “Forrest Gump.”

By 7:45 p.m., the center was empty except for the Marchands, who vacuumed up crumbs and took out the trash before closing the doors for the night. Tomorrow is a new day and another set of volunteers will make sure everyone who comes to the lounge feels at home.

Heidi Blair, USO Northwest Florida’s center director, is quick to praise her team of nearly 400 talented, dedicated volunteers. She joined the USO in December 2006, right in the middle of the holiday season, and a story from one of her first days on the job is a memory that has shaped her time with the organization.

“I was here at 6 a.m. talking to a young man who said his flight was at 9,” she said. She told him he’d need to go through security at about 8 a.m. to make his plane, but the service member explained that his flight wasn’t until 9 at night. She asked why he was at the airport lounge so early.

“It’s one step closer to home, ma’am,” he replied.

“That is when I understood the mission fully,” Blair said. “That’s the impact that every volunteer has, every moment that they are here, and that the USO has worldwide. It’s that connection to home.”

USO Atlanta-Hartsfield

Chatter about everything and nothing made the nervous tension obvious as Army recruits heading to Fort Benning, Georgia, waited for the moment that had been coming since signing on the dotted line.

While some of their soon-to-be battle buddies milled around Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport’s atrium three floors below, the rest congregated in the USO center. There, Mary Lou Austin, USO of Georgia’s CEO, and several other volunteers helped them unravel the new language they’ll soon master—Milspeak. In her nearly 47 years with the USO, Austin has helped plenty of new recruits figure out where to be, how to read their orders and how to make other stressful situations easier.

An Army drill sergeant directs new recruits out of Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport and off to Fort Benning, Georgia. | Photo credit USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley

About 8:15 p.m., the volume in the newly remodeled center decreased sharply. Shirley Sterns, a longtime volunteer, announced over the intercom the drill sergeant had arrived. The card game in full swing at the tiny table in the children’s area ceased as items were gathered and stowed in backpacks and comfy chairs were reluctantly abandoned.

Earlier, Don Stolzoff, a member of Home Depot’s Military Action Group board of directors, and his colleagues served the recruits their famed chili-cheese dogs—something they do one Tuesday night a month. They are just one of many community groups that offer service members, and the USO, their support.

Downstairs, when the barking started, the talking stopped. “Take off your hats and put ’em in your bags! Line up on this line!”

The sudden staccato caused heads to snap and backs to straighten. Faces grew considerably less certain as recruits followed unfamiliar orders to the best of their ability before starting the long walk to the bus headed to Fort Benning.

In sharp contrast to the persona directed toward the recruits, Sergeant First Class Smith flashed a smile at Stolzhoff before entering the atrium to round up the next group of recruits.

“To see them come in—some of them have had no structure, no discipline,” Austin said as she wrapped up operations for the day around 9:15 p.m. “We always say, ‘Come back and see us when you graduate.’ And then when they come back it’s, ‘Do you remember me, ma’am? Thank you, ma’am.’

“That is such a great feeling.”

USO Camp Aachen

For many USO centers, replicating common American traditions provides the most enjoyment for service members based overseas. Occasionally, time differences present challenges for the USO team, but it is rare that these challenges are not overcome.

For USO Camp Aachen, the USO’s newest center which opened in Bavaria, Germany, on October 16, the best way to become part of the neighborhood is to respond to needs that arise. Sometimes, it’s as easy as opening the doors and getting out of the way.

Take one of America’s most popular pastimes: NFL football. Camp Aachen noticed an increase in foot traffic on Sundays as service members looked for any way to keep up with the action.

Normally, Camp Aachen USO would close at 10 p.m. local time, six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, pushing Sunday’s NFL kickoffs— 1, 4:15 and 8:30 p.m. EST—outside the center’s normal business hours.

Many service members based at Camp Aachen go to the new USO center to connect with friends and family online. | Photo credit USO

No problem, said Camp Aachen center manager Joseph Duran. So the start of NFL Sunday stateside becomes NFL Sunday Night Football in Bavaria.

“So we can meet the needs of a larger audience, we have back-to-back 70-inch TVs with the main [1 p.m. EST] game on one and a secondary game on the other, based on their preference,” Duran said.

“Our staff—and me personally—are grateful to be able to provide a service to soldiers that they wouldn’t be afforded under normal circumstances,” he said. “For the soldiers, it seems like a privilege, [but] for the USO Team, it is absolutely a responsibility to ensure they feel comfortable and can forget about the duty day to support their favorite teams.”

USO centers across the world help ease young men and women into their new environments and provide a stable, warm respite during a time of transition. And Duran has firsthand experience with this. He served four years in the Army’s 11th Transportation Company.

“I was always more than grateful for everything that the USO has done for me. I am proud to be a part of this great team and plan on continuing the great tradition the USO has built for itself.”

USO Rome

Normally closed by 5 p.m., the lights at USO Rome burn brightly as the clock closes in on midnight. Some 50 single sailors from Naples mill about the center snacking and eagerly awaiting the event of a lifetime.

The excitement isn’t without merit. USO Rome’s staff and volunteers have arranged for these sailors to celebrate Midnight Mass at the Vatican this Christmas Eve, like they do every year.

The staff also makes sure everyone receives a rosary to carry with them. At the end of Mass, all religious items and the people attending are officially blessed by the pope.

“[This is] not only for themselves, but also for their family members that aren’t so lucky to be there on that night,” said Patriana Zancani, operations manager at USO Rome. “That way, they can bring [the rosary] back and say, ‘Look, I brought you a rosary that was officially blessed by the pope.’”

USO Rome also helps those who want to attend a weekly papal audience obtain tickets. At the end of one of these events, the 35 service members escorted by the USO had the chance to meet with the pope and have a little bit of time to speak to him one-on-one.

“While I was escorting the group in 2013 to meet the pope, I noticed one of the guys was very sad and on his own,” Zancani said. “But after he had the chance to shake hands with the pope and talk to him, he raised his hand and said, ‘Hello, I touched the pope with my hand. I’ll never wash this hand anymore.’

“In a little [bit of time] his smile came back to his face,” she added. “That was probably the most precious reward I could possibly have.”

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Service members and military families visiting Rome often find their way to an unassuming storefront on a quiet side street just outside Vatican City. There are no signs and nothing indicates the unassuming building No. 44 houses USO Rome. With the postcard rack in the window, it could be mistaken for a gift shop at first glance.

“It was created to be different than other USO centers,” Zancani said. “As you can imagine, people come on their holidays. We have high and low seasons.”

This year may prove to be one long high season. With Rome at the heart of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy 2016, concluding on November 20, the number of visitors to Rome is expected to more than triple. The Jubilee, announced by the pope, happens once every 25 years. Zancani’s advice, while always applicable, is even more important this year.

“Plan ahead … get in contact ASAP.”

USO Camp Lemonnier

The aroma of coffee and sweet tarts fills the USO tent in the morning, making it easy to forget the center is on the sweltering Horn of Africa. Military members walk into the tent on Camp Lemonnier, grab snacks and coffee and sit at the three tables in the back by the two big-screen TVs.

On a typical day, the center closes at midnight. But Sundays, from September through February, are anything but typical.

Fried Food Fridays are second only to Sunday night football at USO Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. | Photo credit USO Camp Lemonnier

So, what keeps USO Camp Lemonnier open into the wee hours of Monday morning? The NFL.

Around 7, as night begins to fall, service members begin filing into the tent.

Soon, 15 to 20 people are gathered around the TVs cheering their favorite NFL teams, just like back home. As the center empties after the games end in the early morning, staff members clean up before heading out the door.

Four hours later, the center is open for the day and the normal routine resumes. As afternoon arrives, foot traffic picks up in the center as service members wrap up work days and return from missions. Staff and volunteers quickly straighten up tables and chairs, tidy up and restock toiletries.

Michael Eyassu, the USO Camp Lemonnier center manager, barely stops moving as he takes care of one duty after another.

“I mail out UTR readings every other day at the post office,” he said, referring to United Through Reading.

Service members enjoy United Through Reading’s Military Program because it sustains a bond between them and their children. After they video record themselves reading a children’s book, a DVD—along with the book—is shipped to their kids back home. Eyassu said he ships 15 to 20 UTR packages a week during the busiest months.

“Troops love the UTR program. We get various heart-warming comments about it,” he said. “It’s a great way to keep children engaged with their parent who’s deployed.”

By the time the UTR packages are sent out, foot traffic has begun to pick up as service members come in for the evening to connect with their families, watch some TV or participate in the center’s nightly events, including Texas Hold’em, cornhole and dominoes tournaments, among others. But the center’s most popular events, without a doubt, are Fried Food Fridays and Funnel Cake Night. Fried Food Fridays are just what they sound like, nights when foods like Oreos and Pop-Tarts are deep-fried. The result? Visitors melt into food comas in the plush armchairs.

USO Camp Buehring

Who said you can’t have fun in the middle of a desert?

For service members stationed at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Super Bowl “Sunday” is one of the most anticipated events of the year. For the staff and volunteers who operate the USO center surrounded by sand, it’s an intense and sleepless 48 hours of serving those who serve our nation—but they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Super Bowl Sunday—Monday if you’re at USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait—is one of the center’s biggest events of the year. | Photo credit USO Camp Buehring

“It’s different. It’s not the experience that a majority of folks back in the States who are having a Super Bowl party experience,” said USO Camp Buehring Center Manager Tiffany Banks. “We host our events in the middle of the night.”

While the NFL’s championship game kicked off in the early evening in the States, Kuwait is eight hours ahead of the East Coast, so the game started on Monday at about 2:30 a.m.

Leading up to the early morning kickoff, Banks and her USO team hosted a number of events starting at 10 p.m. A wing-eating contest was hotly contested, as was the Madden NFL 15 tournament that was decided on the massive 12-by-12-foot screen. Troops won raffle prizes, enjoyed music and had mountains of food to devour.

Despite being half a world away from home, the menu was what you’d expect to see at many Super Bowl parties in the States. Service members and USO staff braved surprisingly cold temperatures to barbecue hamburgers, hot dogs, wings and ribs in addition to the nachos, pizza, chili and Subway sandwiches available inside USO Camp Buehring’s cavernous tent.

“In Kuwait, it gets to 130 degrees in the summer, but in the winter … it’s freezing cold,” Banks said. “So it was about 30 degrees outside and we were barbecuing outside at midnight until 3 a.m.”

The USO works every day to connect service members to family, home and country and nothing says “home” like Super Bowl Sunday—or Monday, depending on which part of the world you live in. Watching football while surrounded by food and friends is about as American as it gets.

“Everything is completely foreign for these soldiers, so to have a taste of home—something that that is uniquely American [like football]—is incredible.” Banks said. “It is something that everyone can gather around … and it’s a complete departure from the military experience, the stresses of home and the idea of combat—and it’s fun.”

USO Camp Humphreys

Though few USO centers are open between midnight and 8 a.m., nearly all have had some reason to help out much earlier than the normal start of the day. And USO Camp Humphreys, South Korea, is no exception. Center manager Howard Seo said he found himself driving a soldier who’d injured his back to the airport just after 6:30 a.m.

Just because a center hasn’t been called into action outside of business hours, doesn’t mean they’re not prepared. The USO Camp Humphreys staff, whether they realize it or not, has adopted a Marine Corps slogan—improvise, adapt and overcome.

USO centers are known for their comfy chairs. This one at Camp Humphreys, South Korea, proved to be just what this soldier needed after a long day. | Photo credit USO Camp Humphreys

When they found soldiers shivering in line outside the center during the harsh South Korean winters as they waited for the doors to open at 9 a.m., they began allowing visitors in at 7:30 a.m.

Even the center’s twice-monthly USO Lunchbox event requires some creativity. Free of charge to service members and their families, USO staff and volunteers provide a home-cooked meal of entrée, side, drink and dessert that warms the hearts and stomachs of hundreds of military members.

The event doesn’t seem unusual for a USO center until one discovers USO Camp Humphreys doesn’t have a kitchen. So improvise, adapt and overcome they do.

“We have seven or eight crockpots running the whole time,” said Seo. “Like last Tuesday, we made pulled pork sandwiches and fed about 160 people.”

Seo describes how creative his team of “crock pot experts” is with the means they have at their disposal. Their imaginations would serve them well in a Top Chef Quick Fire challenge, especially in light of how many guests they typically feed.

“We average 150 to 180 [people] per Lunchbox [event], but for our big ones like summer barbecues and Thanksgiving [with] our unit support out at different sites, that’s about 600-plus.”

Pleasing the service members and their visitors and families is what brings smiles to Seo’s staff, especially his two dozen active volunteers.

“It’s super rewarding,” he said. “And it’s not only the staff that does all this, we have a lot of help from the volunteers. Our volunteers are what make this place happen.”

USO Yokosuka

Snow is rare in Yokosuka, Japan. A blizzard is even more unlikely. But in February 2014, a small snowstorm threatened to lock down the city and U.S. naval base.

The distance from where American ships are docked and where USO Yokosuka is located is about a 10-minute walk and the center began receiving calls. Several of the ships’ command master chiefs (CMS), including the CMC from the heavily-populated aircraft carrier USS George Washington, were asking if the center could remain open to give the sailors a warm place to relax. USO Yokosuka center manager Dalia Mares-McRae said the decision to stay open all night was an easy one.

“Albert, the volunteer manning the desk, offered to stay and keep the center open so others who were in the center did not have to walk back to their ships or barracks in the snow,” she said.

More than 60 sailors piled into the center and quickly took to the computers and gaming systems. Later that afternoon, the center lost power. Naturally, the sailors and staff improvised and pulled out their laptops, phones and tablets to light the areas for rousing games of Monopoly and Apples to Apples until power was restored.

Fortunately, volunteers had just made a grocery run and were able to provide more than enough food for the hunkered down service members, serving chicken and turkey salad, chips, Ramen noodles, cookies, soft drinks and coffee. While the sailors dined, the volunteers cleared the snowy sidewalks, using brooms and dust pans because the center didn’t own shovels.

By the end of the storm, the center had been open for more than 40 hours straight.

Duty manager Courtney Routley finds such spontaneity and improvisation one of the perks of her job.

“It’s revitalizing,” she said. “No matter what trials and challenges my week has held, I end each day with a smile because I know that my volunteers and I have provided something that the service members often struggle to find here overseas: a home away from home and a family.”

—Sandi Moynihan, Christian Pelusi, Samantha L. Quigley and Chad Stewart contributed to this article. This story appears in the Spring 2016 issue of On Patrol, the magazine of the USO.

You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.