By Courtney Anderson

When the USO says “we go where they go,” we mean it. Even if that means reaching service members in remote locations where a regular USO location cannot be built, the USO is ready to strap up our boots, gas up the tanks, and take our services on the road.

That’s exactly what the Mobile USO team – a fleet of vans that function as USO locations on wheels – has done for our service members working on one of the most crucial, challenging and dangerous tasks: changing the nuclear codes of the United States ballistic missile defense system.

These ballistic missile defense (BMD) sites are located at undisclosed, remote locations across the Midwest. Each year, service members are deployed to these remote locations for weeks at a time, where they are responsible for changing the nuclear codes of launch facilities across thousands of square miles. They must do so while also making sure that throughout the entire process, the launch capability of the nation is unaffected and still functional. It can be a stressful task that requires immense attention to detail and effort for hours or days on-end.

Far from base and without a traditional USO location nearby, these service members do not have easy access to a place to rest or just take a moment to themselves after a day of tedious and high-pressure work. “Airmen indicated often feeling forgotten,” Air Force Staff Sgt. Peralta said, explaining how the isolation at the remote locations can affect morale.

Photo credit Courtney Anderson

Service members indulge in a water balloon fight, courtesy of the Mobile USO team, to take a break from the daily stress and rigor of their duties in remote locations.

That’s where our Mobile USO team comes in. Mobile USO’s six sprinter vans and other vehicles travel throughout the U.S., providing expeditionary support to service members in areas of the country that do not have a brick-and-mortar USO location. These vehicles are equipped with televisions, a lounge, video games, snacks, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi to connect with loved ones back home.

Peralta explained how much the presence of Mobile USO boosted morale throughout the five weeks of grueling work, stating, “The airmen who were deployed in place during code change were so appreciative of the USO taking the time to provide them with a day full of food and entertainment. It gave airmen an opportunity to relax and enjoy a few hours … they felt appreciated for their work and time being away from their friends and family.”

This year was Mobile USO’s third year of supporting service members tasked with the BMD code changes and, in addition to all regular Mobile USO services, the USO team also provided a cookout at the end of the day for the airmen working each week. Their efforts had a significant impact on improving the daily lives and duties of our nation’s service members.

Photo credit Courtney Anderson

Service members enjoy a game of cornhole provided by the Mobile USO team.

“Having the USO come to us in the middle of North Dakota means so much to our airmen,” said Air Force Col. Cathy Barrington. “[They] absolutely loved the cookout and environment the USO provided … It was a huge hit and the mobile teams do a great job supporting our airmen, lifting their spirits and otherwise making a tough task enjoyable.”

Danielle DeSimone contributed to this story