Custom USO2GO Kits Deliver Key Expeditionary Support
By Joseph Andrew Lee
America’s military shows up in some unexpected places.
One of the Army’s more recently established initiatives—Pacific Pathways—rotates units to locations in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, where they participate in a series of exercises with allies and partner nations. They are also able to respond quickly to humanitarian emergencies or regional threats, if necessary. Soldiers participated in three separate Pathways in 2015, with stops in Mongolia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and Indonesia.
Army Captain Matthew Kocher, a logistics officer with a Stryker Brigade Combat Team from 7th Infantry Division out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, was tasked with planning the support for his unit’s spring deployment. That’s when he learned about USO2GO, a do-it-yourself kit containing everything needed to set up a field-expedient USO anywhere on Earth.
“We’re going to be in such conditions where we’re not going to have any sort of AAFES or store nearby to resupply on basic hygiene items,” Kocher said, “So the support we’ll be getting from the USO in the field is going to be critical to our troops’ morale throughout the entirety of the deployment.”
Developed from the feedback of deployed service members, USO2GO kits can transform a remote outpost into a place where troops can relax, organize a pickup football game, jam out on a guitar or, in rare cases where connectivity is possible, even access the Internet and connect with their loved ones back home.
“The USO will be set up right behind their barracks so when the soldiers are done training, it will be very convenient for them to just walk outside and 50 meters away they have access to equipment they can use to contact home,” Kocher said.
According to Kocher, the tent that will house the USO2GO supplies in Thailand and the Philippines will be the only indoor spaces with air conditioning. USO Pacific arranged for the air conditioners.
“They’ll have internet, they’ll have cable, and they’ll even be able to watch the Super Bowl—which is going to be huge for a lot of guys,” he said.
Designed to fit the ever-changing needs of service members, USO2GO offers an escape from the daily grind to those serving in austere conditions far from home. It’s one of the organization’s most expeditionary programs, getting supplies to America’s military stationed in the farthest corners of the globe. If the service members can’t be reached via roads, then USO2GO boxes are flown in. And when the USO is called for expeditionary support, it doesn’t just slap a shipping label on a USO2GO kit and send it on its way.
“The USO works hand-in-hand with the unit requesting support throughout the deployment lifecycle to facilitate complementary services and to make connections to local infrastructure or even satellite where possible,” said Kristen Baxter, the USO’s vice president of field operations.
Donate today to help deliver USO2GO kits to service members in remote and restricted areas.
“Many different organizations try and [provide care packages from home], but the USO is able to get equipment anywhere in the world to support soldiers and that makes a huge difference,” Kocher said.
He also said planning through the USO was nearly effortless.
“The USO shoulders the burden of arranging everything from transporting equipment to arranging and paying for contracts,” he said. “So for my part, I only had to put in minimal effort and I received a huge benefit from the USO. That sort of thing is what sets the USO apart from any other [military]support organization.”
USO2GO is the latest extension of the type of expeditionary support the USO has provided to service members around the world for more than 77 years. Other modern examples include the Mobile USO program—with its RVs that can reach troops on exercises—the USO Holiday Care Packages program and the organization’s Mobile Entertainment Gaming Systems, which deploys Xbox 360 consoles preloaded with games and movies in a tidy, suitcase-shaped package almost anywhere in the world.
Over the past eight years, more than 1,100 Tell USO survey respondents said they would recommend USO2GO.
“I’d say that’s a home run,” said program manager Cristin Perry, who interacts with every service member who requests the program. “What I really love about USO2GO is that it lets us create a community within the unit while they are deployed and so far away from their loved ones.
“That does so much for their mental health because that’s where friendships and bonds are made.”
Whether service members are going through an Ebola virus quarantine after returning from West Africa, providing forward surgical support on the eastern border of Afghanistan or just looking for a place to sit down in the field, the USO has been able to reach them with its USO2GO program. The kits are fully customizable and can include anything from snacks, coffee and toiletries to board games, electronics and video game systems.
“Everything the USO has provided us with will be utilized, from the electronics to the toiletries,” Kocher said. “The internet and the phone cards are incredibly useful because they are the primary means—if not the only means—that soldiers are going to have to talk to their families back home.”
—Joseph Andrew Lee is a USO multimedia journalist. This story appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of On Patrol, the magazine of the USO.
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