Within hours of learning about the early-morning collision of the USS John S. McCain and the merchant vessel Alnic MC east of Singapore on Aug. 21, USO staff in Japan and elsewhere in the Pacific were actively supporting service members and military families affected by the tragedy.

The Navy has recovered the remains of two of the 10 sailors missing following the collision, which also injured five. Petty Officer 3rd Class Dustin Louis Doyon, 26, of Connecticut, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenneth Aaron Smith, 22, of New Jersey, were recovered by divers earlier this week. The Navy also said four of the injured sailors were medically evacuated by helicopter to a hospital in Singapore for non-life-threatening injuries. The fifth injured sailor did not require further medical attention.

According to the Associated Press, the collision gashed the ship’s left rear hull and flooded adjacent compartments, including crew berths and machinery and communication rooms. 

We traded emails with USO Japan Area Director Laura Law-Millett to learn how the USO is supporting sailors and their families in Japan and Singapore. She’s helping lead the charge to coordinate support with Navy leaders and to provide comfort to USS McCain family members and extended family arriving in Japan when they need it most. Here’s what she had to say about the support the USO is providing.

Q: When USO Japan/Pacific staff became aware of the McCain collision, how quickly was the USO able to start planning and providing support to sailors and families?

A: The collision occurred around 6 a.m. and we were notified around 9 a.m. that morning. The USO Yokosuka team immediately began planning and reaching out to the command to see what was needed. Around 11 a.m., the command hosted an information briefing for the families of the USS McCain and USO Yokosuka was there providing snacks to all the families and toys and game for the kids. It’s important to keep the kids entertained while the parents are trying to understand and make sense of the situation.

We then offered the USO as a meeting point for the community to come together to share and connect. We also organized a community dinner for the first night.

The next step for our team was to connect with the other community responders like the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and the Red Cross. Along with the USO, these are key organizations to play a significant role in relief and comfort for the families and community of the affected. We met around 3 p.m. that evening to discuss the way ahead and how were all going to work together. Unfortunately, we have had experience with this before with the collision of the USS Fitzgerald in June.

Photo credit Navy photo

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain arrives pier side at Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21.

Q: Does the military ask for USO support or is USO Japan proactively looking for places where it can help? How does the USO’s close relationship with the military help in these situations?

A: Both. USO Japan definitely leans forward to provide comfort and care to the families and service members, but we also get requests from the military to help. After the success of our first community dinner, Maria Sanchez, the wife of the McCain’s commanding officer, asked USO Yokosuka to host more dinners throughout the week. We also received requests from the leadership at CFAY (Commander Fleet Activities Yokosuka) to provide comfort items to the sailors. We were able to accommodate both requests. USO Yokosuka shipped 140 care packages to the sailors of the McCain in Singapore and they received them by Wednesday.

The relationship that each center has with the command is the key to our success. They know and understand our services and capabilities and like to reach out to us as a first option to provide comfort to the sailors and their families.

Q: What kind of support is the USO offering to sailors and their families affected by the McCain collision?

A: USO Yokosuka provided toys and games for the children of the McCain, food and snacks for the families, comfort items and toiletries and care packages for the sailors, a meeting place for the families to connect and serve as an outreach center where members of the community wrote letters of support and created origami cranes to send to the sailors. We also provide phones and internet service, so families can connect to their loved ones.

USO Pacific is currently researching and developing a plan to provide expeditionary support on site for the sailors and their families in Singapore.

Q: How do times like these – and the USO’s response to them – illustrate how the USO is the Force Behind the Forces, regardless of location or circumstances?

A: Dalia McRae, the center manager of USO Yokosuka said, “We stand ready to answer the call, no matter what the call may be or when the call may happen. We are here to help – it’s not only what we do – but what we love to do.”

Everyone here knows the USO and knows how much the USO serves this community. We are the go-to place for the community in times of celebration and sorrow. Whether … here in Japan or in Singapore – the USO will be there, ready to help.   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.