By Danielle DeSimone
With temperatures in the deserts of the Middle East soaring high, some deployed U.S. service members are sweltering in the summer heat.
However, this summer and this deployment are not like the others.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, USO centers throughout the region have had to close their doors, leaving many service members without a place with air conditioning other than their barracks to relax. That’s why USO teams are thinking outside the box to help keep service members cool beyond the walls of their centers.
Service Members Face High Temperatures in the Middle East
This week, the temperature in the Kuwaiti desert will hit more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, the average soldier carries anywhere between 60 and 100 pounds of gear and equipment. For service members deployed to the Middle East, that weight – and the outdoors temperature – can take its toll.
Normally, USO centers on bases throughout the region would serve as a refuge for troops looking for an air-conditioned location other than their barracks to spend time in. Here, USO teams keep the air conditioning running and offer a cool place away from the sun to hang out with one another, connect with loved ones back home or even just take a quiet moment to relax after a long day in the sweltering heat.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra challenge to service members currently deployed: the temporary closures of USO centers due to health and safety regulations. While these social distancing rules are keeping our men and women in uniform safe from the coronavirus pandemic, not being able to go into a cold, refreshing USO center is undoubtedly difficult for service members serving through the height of Middle East summers.
Keeping Cool with the USO
As temperatures continue to rise and the COVID-19 pandemic constantly evolves, USO teams on the ground have continued to adapt to ensure the military community feels supported. This has meant the USO has had to get creative in how it helps service members stay cool during the summer heat.
At Camp Buehring, Kuwait, service members have received regular snow cone deliveries throughout base and while they are on duty.
Meanwhile, at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, service members now join in weekly “Frozen Fridays,” in which USO staff drive around base and deliver them hundreds of popsicles and paper fans – anything to help keep the heat at bay.
In Jordan, as temperatures rose, so too did stress on base with increased COVID-19 health and safety measures, according to USO Duty Manager Kelly Audet. As a break from their daily duties and the high temperatures, service members joined the USO in a series of “Water Wars.” These elaborate water fights involved water guns, water balloons and kiddie pools to stay cool and entertained in the summer heat. The change in temperature and in morale was immediate.
“This was a great way to cool down and relieve some tension,” Audet said.
Popsicles, snow cones and water balloons may seem like simple gestures in the middle of a pandemic while stationed down range in the desert. But for service members battling the heat while remaining steadfast in their duties, these brief moments of cooling off and having a little fun can make all the difference.
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