By Joseph Andrew Lee

On August 25 we reported that the USO in the Pacific was actively supporting the stranded crew of the USS John S. McCain, docked in Singapore for repairs after being damaged in a collision with a merchant tanker east of the Straits of Malacca on August 21. Ten U.S. Navy personnel lost their lives in the incident, and nearly half the crew lost their every possession.

Immediate support from the USO included care packages and toiletries left over from the previous USS Fitzgerald incident shipped from Yokosuka, Japan to Singapore. The USO’s second wave of support was led USO Expeditionary staff, including Regional Operations Manager Thomas Gadbois who traveled to Singapore within days of the incident to assess the situation.

“Almost half the crew had lost everything they had,” said Gadbois. “You can imagine everything you might travel with. Your laptop, your pictures, and all your personal items—gone forever. One of our top priorities was getting their lives back to normal and providing that connection to let folks on the ground call back home to let loved ones know they are OK and that they are in a good place.”

After meeting with Navy leadership on the ground, Gadbois and the USO Pacific team formulated a plan to set up a USO Expeditionary Center for the next 30-60 days until the ship and her crew could be returned to their home port in Yokosuka, Japan. USO Korea Operations Manager Howard Seo was tapped to lead the effort on the ground, literally helping to build the USO Expeditionary Center from the ground up.

“Having executed expeditionary centers in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia really gave us the confidence to be able to offer these services to the command,” said Gadbois, “but normally we’d have over six months to set something like this up. To do this in one week is just incredible!”

Now in its second week of operations, the USO Expeditionary Center in Singapore is actively providing sailors and family members from the USS McCain a place to connect home with free WiFi, satellite television, video games, snacks, drinks and much-needed air conditioning. More than 600 USO Care Packages have been delivered, and the day-to-day quality of life for these sailors is much-improved.

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And down goes the flooring! A fully-functional USO Expeditionary Center is constructed in less than a week at the staging location in Singapore where the sailors from the USS McCain are temporarily housed.

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Sailors from the USS McCain enjoy video games, air conditioning and even Dunkin’ Donuts thousands of miles from their home port, courtesy of the USO.

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The USO has become the central gathering point for the crew of the McCain, and for good reason. It’s the only place with cold AC and high-definition gaming!

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USO “Chill Zone” in full swing

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Sailors from the McCain hold USO Care Packages with snacks and much-needed toiletries, sent from headquarters USO in Arlington, Virginia.

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USO Volunteers Darlene & Vincent donated Pizzas, wings and chocolate chip cookies for Sailors from the USS McCain to enjoy after a long day of work.

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Despite not having a USO center or permanent staff in Singapore, USO Pacific was able to work with the US Navy, and local vendors to bring an Expeditionary Site to the crew and families of the USS McCain.

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Despite not having a USO center or permanent staff in Singapore, USO Pacific was able to work with the US Navy, and local vendors to bring an Expeditionary Site to the crew and families of the USS McCain.

“It’s that home away from home feel,” said Command Master Chief Dedrick L. Walker. “Once we got the word out that there was games, food, air conditioning and WiFi at the USO, it’s been busy ever since.”

According to Walker, at any given time the USO has between 30 and 50 sailors utilizing the computers and tapping into the free WiFi or watching local and U.S. news channels from back home, which isn’t something they normally don’t get to see when in port at a place like this.

“Just being able to find a place to relax together as a group,” said Walker. “On a ship, we’re spread out and where they stay on the compound is kind of spread out, so having that one central place to relax together is a great thing to have especially for these sailors after something like this.”

The Expeditionary USO Center is more than just a place to relax. It has also become a hub for community support. The entire community outside the military including ex-pats, Singaporean civilians and others who want to donate their time, need a resource to funnel that support through. From donated clothing items to a place to gather and provide emotional support for one another, the USO has become that place.

“This is the first time we have delivered expeditionary USO capabilities to support an unplanned military contingency,” wrote Pacific Regional Vice President C.K. Hyde in an email. “The lessons we are learning will allow us to decrease our response times and better source support capabilities.”

For the sailors on the ground, it’s a gesture from the American people they won’t soon forget.

“I can’t express enough gratitude for the USO,” said Walker. “As long as I have an audience of sailors and Marines under me, I will continue to sing the praises of the USO and tell them in detail all the things that they do for us every single day.”