By Danielle DeSimone
After months of social distancing and quarantines, countries around the world – particularly in Europe – are beginning to ease some COVID-19 restrictions and opening their doors.
While the U.S. military is continuing to maintain many health and safety regulations to stop the spread of COVID-19, some USO Europe locations have slowly been given the green light to open their doors after months of digital-only connection with service members and their families.
The Important Role of USO Centers in Europe During COVID-19 and Beyond
Since early spring, many USO Europe centers have had to temporarily close their locations and suspend in-person programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, the USO had to quickly shift to offering only virtual and contact-free services for these military members and their families who are living and working overseas.
While these virtual programs can’t replace the sight and sounds of being in a USO center, they have proven pivotal in helping military families stay connected and engaged in their local communities when they are living thousands of miles away from the continental U.S.
Although getting stationed in countries such as Italy, Germany and Spain might sound like a dream vacation to civilian loved ones, service members and their military families often struggle with overseas deployments. Far from everything familiar, service members and their families must adjust to a new culture, new language and new way of life – all while apart from friends and family, and dealing with the typical stress of military life.
In normal times, these military families can find comfort by visiting their local USO center for a taste of home and hospitality. USO centers can help in everything from ensuring that service members recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center can call home with free Wi-Fi, to offering military spouses the opportunity to connect with one another. Centers also support the youngest members of the military community by creating a support system for military children whose lives and schools are disrupted nearly every three years with each move.
These in-person connections are crucial to ensuring the morale of the U.S. military communities stationed abroad, which is why the social distancing, quarantines and isolation of the past few months during the COVID-19 pandemic have been so challenging.
Thankfully, with the slow easing of COVID-19 restrictions in their local communities, several USO Europe centers have been able to shift to a “slightly new normal” and reunite in person with the service members and military families near them.
USO Centers in Europe Begin to Reopen
After more than 70 days in lockdown, USO Naples in southern Italy reopened both centers located on Naval Support Activity on Capodichino and the Support Site last week with social distancing measures to ensure the safety of all patrons, volunteers and staff members.
The center opened its doors and served fresh-brewed coffee for sailors coming to the USO to use free Wi-Fi, computers and other amenities. Military spouses also came by to learn more about virtual programs and daytrips that the USO will be hosting as soon as it is safe and allowed.
In other locations like Camp Aachen, in Bavaria, Germany, and NAS Sigonella, in Sicily, Italy, service members traveling to and from these locations were welcomed with USO snacks and drinks to keep them energized through their journey.
Similarly, at the USO Warrior Center in Germany, USO staff finally got to serve their first meal in 79 days to service members and they went with a German classic – bratwurst.
Although masks are now the new normal at USO centers across Europe, USO staff were incredibly excited to see their military community again, in person and face-to-face.
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