By Danielle DeSimone
In this new age of social distancing and quarantines, the USO – like the rest of the world – has had to get creative with how we deliver essential support to our nation’s military. While the health and safety of our service members, their families and USO staff is a top priority, so too is the USO’s unwavering commitment to being at our troops’ side, no matter the obstacles in our path.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, USO teams all around the world have pivoted from traditional services and have tackled everything from online cooking classes, to no-contact snack deliveries for quarantined troops, to one-on-one celebrity video calls to the front lines.
But the latest innovation is an all-American concept: drive-thru support for the troops.
Drive-Thru Support for Service Members
In addition to COVID-19 safety regulations, soldiers stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, must also deal with the isolation of their duty station. The Army base is in a remote part of the state, far from home and loved ones. With the additional social distancing regulations and USO center closures necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to make sure these service members feel connected.
As a reminder that the USO is always there for service members, even during a pandemic, the USO team offered a drive-thru cookie delivery, all while keeping the necessary six feet apart.
Similarly, the USO has kept morale high among service members in Iraq via on-the-go USO programs like drive-thru lawn games or Bob Hope Legacy Reading rooms in the back of pickup trucks. For these service members on the front lines, being able to have a moment of distraction from the stress of their daily duties and the pandemic – even through something as simple as a drive-thru snack delivery – can make all the difference.
Drive-Thru Support for Military Spouses
Life as a military spouse is never an easy one, but for many military spouses, the effects of COVID-19 have hit them particularly hard. There is no “work from home” option for a majority of military personnel, meaning that as their husbands or wives head off to work, many military spouses must tackle quarantine alone. If they are single parenting, especially during deployment, this can be even more challenging.
That’s why the USO honored military spouses this month on May 8, Military Spouse Appreciation Day, with drive-thru programs. Doing so not only acknowledged the resiliency and tenacity of MilSpouses – not just during a pandemic, but every day.
In Kaiserslautern, Germany, military spouses received a “thank you” for their sacrifices by joining a drive-thru lane on base. Here, they received wellness spa bags from USO Kaiserslautern – safely delivered through their car windows – filled with tea, face masks, candles and much more.
Meanwhile, on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on Honolulu, Hawaii, military spouses entered a drive-thru coffee line in their vehicles on Military Spouse Appreciation Day, where USO staff safely handed them coffee and pastries through the window.
“Thank you to all our USO volunteers … past, present and future,” military spouse Angie Steve Chen said.
“It’s always a warm feeling when you see that USO banner or sign.”
Drive-Thru Support for Military Kids and Families
While the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for many children, military kids, in particular, might also be facing additional challenges unique to their civilian peers. In addition to restrictions on visiting public spaces and attending in-person school, military children may also be dealing with the uncertainty of a duty station abroad, or the stress of a deployed parent.
That’s why the USO has ensured that military children also got to join in on the drive-thru fun as a way to add a sense of community-based normalcy in their lives.
On Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, military kids and their families will be having a night under the stars thanks to a USO camp-themed drive-thru. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s USO center put together a Backyard Campout Activity Bag to kick off summer with items to help youngsters explore the great outdoors.
Across the country, military families in El Paso, Texas enjoyed a pizza party on-the-go, thanks to the USO’s drive-thru curbside pizza pickup earlier this month. As this event took place on the 4th of May, unofficially known as “Star Wars Day,” many families even dressed up in Star Wars costumes while picking up their meal.
In San Diego, military families filled their trunks and truck-beds with “groceries-on-the-go" – fresh produce, non-perishable items and even children’s activity bags – thanks to the USO and the San Diego Padres, who organized the event in honor of Armed Forces Day.
The Swinging Friar mascot even made a socially distanced appearance at the drive-thru event!
Drive-Thru Support for Military Graduating High School Seniors
The military children who are perhaps the most affected by COVID-19 restrictions are graduating high school seniors. Most high school seniors have had major school-related events, like prom and graduation, canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The loss of these important milestones can be even more difficult for military children.
To ease the sting of these losses, USO of Missouri hosted their own drive-thru graduation celebration for military high school graduates. Students, many of them dressed in their caps and gowns, drove through to safely pick up gifts and get cheered on by USO staff, service members and school mascots.
These small, morale-boosting moments might seem small, but in a time when the distance between friends and family feels farther than ever, the USO will always be there to keep our military connected to the things and loved ones they care about the most.