By Danielle DeSimone
What is it like to work a day in the deserts of Kuwait? Who offers our service members a welcoming smile, a snack and a place to relax and watch television after long hours of work? How do we support members of the U.S. military on the ground level, day in and day out?
This holiday season, we want to highlight three of our local USO centers on U.S. military bases around the world. As a nonprofit organization, the donations the USO receives from generous supporters on these days go towards crucial programs, services and activities for our service members at more than 200 USO locations across the globe.
Each location has its own unique attributes, surroundings and base populations, so check them out below and learn how these three centers strengthen our service members by connecting them to family, home and country.
1. USO Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson
Service members stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson not only face the expected challenges of training and operations, but also the extreme conditions of working and living in a harsh, isolated environment. Many U.S. military installations throughout Alaska, which support America’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region, are only accessible by plane.
As former USO Alaska Center Director Tara Mogan Blom explained, “Many don’t realize the strategic importance of Alaska’s military, the environmental extremes, or the breadth of the state. Those serving throughout Alaska – including their families – are supporting crucial missions in remote environments reaching -50 degrees and colder.”
That’s where the USO comes in. USO Alaska has a mobile unit that goes wherever service members are to boost morale and keep them connected to the things and people they love, as well as centers that serve as outposts of warmth and relaxation.
“USO programs and services support their resiliency … especially when they experience little to no sunlight for most of the year,” said Mogan Blom, now the director of organizational communications at the USO. “Whether at a USO center, from the USO Mobile unit or from a volunteer’s car, the USO Alaska team is uniquely capable of delivering their own brand of sunshine to this exceptional military community.”
2. USO Yokosuka, Japan
A core part of the USO’s mission is to ensure that service members feel connected to home, even when they’re thousands of miles away from everything familiar. For sailors stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, their mission as a strategic U.S. naval installation in the western Pacific is as important as it is different in terms of Japan’s culture, language and even food.
“USO Yokosuka is able to provide our sailors with a home away from home in Japan,” said Laura Law, area director of USO Japan. “Many just need a break from living and sleeping on the ships, and so they love to come to our USO center, where there is always a friendly face to welcome them.”
At USO Yokosuka, the USO aims to provide programs and support to service members to give them a space that is slightly more comfortable in a place that is so unfamiliar – a place to call home.
3. USO Camp Arifjan, Kuwait
The hottest day ever on Earth was recorded in the deserts of Kuwait at a balmy 130 degrees Fahrenheit in 2016. At its recently renovated center on Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, the USO offers programs and services for deployed service members to cool off, relax, and – most importantly – to connect with family and friends back home through free Wi-Fi and Skype phones.
“For many of the men and women who deploy to Kuwait, they not only notice that it’s hot and dusty, but also that they’re about 6,000 miles away from the ones they love,” said USO Camp Arifjan Center Director Rebecca Medeiros. “USO Camp Arifjan is an oasis and safe haven for these service members who are stationed in Kuwait or standing by to deploy.”
As the last stop before troops head into more dangerous territory in Iraq or the first stop before they head home, USO Camp Arifjan is crucial to the USO’s mission of helping service members stay connected to their loved ones through the services and technology at the USO center.