By Tech. Sgt. Darnell Cannady

The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation. The USO Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, provides different services and events to deployed service members so they can stay connected to their families, friends, and home during their deployment.

Through the USO, deployed service members have access to phones, computers, Wi-Fi, daily programming and a comfortable environment to relax.

“The USO aims to have a minimum of one event each day of the month,” said Marisela Rodriguez, USO center manager, in 2018. “Occasionally, we double up to offer activities for those who are unable to make our nightly programming.”

The base also provides the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. Service members can record themselves reading a book, and the USO will send the book and recording home to their child.

“The events [and programs] we provide vary [and] we offer anywhere from foodie events like Midnight Munchies to arts and crafts like our famous ‘Do It Yourself nights,’” Rodriguez said. “We like to offer something for all different kinds of interest on a weekly basis like poker, gaming tournaments and open mic nights. One of our core values is innovation, so we strive to provide programming that is unique and engaging.”

Photo credit DVIDS/ Tech. Sgt. Darnell Cannady

USO staff and volunteers sort through donated boxes at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates in 2018.

The Power of USO Volunteers and Staff

For many staff members and volunteers, the USO brings people together and provides them with a chance to meet new people.

“I’m a people-oriented person and this gives me an opportunity to see all sorts of new people,” said Army Staff. Sgt, Nicholas Mannion, a USO volunteer. “I enjoy seeing how happy people get when they get here and go to all our events, it’s rewarding.”

Volunteers attend a monthly meet-and-greet to learn about the USO, the volunteer program, and their role as a volunteer on Al Dhafra Air Base. Then the USO staff works with volunteers to help organize and run its events.

“I get to meet new people and it gives me something to do on my days off,” said Senior Airman Katelynn Kay, also a USO volunteer, in 2018. “I like to help with the events that we put on.”

Once they begin officially volunteering, USO volunteers can continue to stay connected as a USO volunteer at other bases anywhere in the world.

“I like having conversations with service members to the point they think of me as a friend from back home,” said Alex Harrell, the USO staff coordinator, in 2018. “It’s that personal vibe. That’s the unique thing about this job, you can be personable and be yourself.”

Photo credit DVIDS/ Tech. Sgt. Darnell Cannady

USO trivia night during the holidays at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates in 2018.

The Impact of the USO

Others work with the USO because of the positive impact it makes for themselves and their families:

“I like giving back to the service members,” said Lucie Sertich, a USO outreach coordinator, in 2018. “I come from a military family so when my brother would deploy they had opportunities like this and it gives me an opportunity to give back.”

“I love what the USO stands for,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Lane, also a USO volunteer. “I’m glad it’s here, there’s a lot of bases in the AOR that do not have one so I am very grateful we have one here. This is something that I wish I would’ve done on my very first deployment so I’m definitely capitalizing on it this year.”

“My father joined the Air Force at 18 years old and was sent to Vietnam,” Rodriguez said. “He has recently been diagnosed with PTSD and has expressed how his positive memories came from the USO in Saigon. So, the opportunity to interact with service members on the daily and work to brighten their day while being far away from home and their families is why I do what I do!”

Regardless of the reasons, both the staff members and volunteers love how the USO supports the deployed service members and their families.

“I feel so lucky to have this incredible job, but the thing that stands out the most is getting to know people who come into our center and participate in our events,” Rodriguez said. “They often express how grateful they are for what the USO provides and it’s an incredible feeling to see the impact we have, and the difference you can make in someone’s day.”

-This story first appeared on in 2018. It has been edited for