By Jody Brissette
When service members first arrive at Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) on Hawaii’s big island, the first thing they might notice is how disconnected it is from the rest of the world.
After all, the 133,000-acre base is the premier military training area in the Pacific region specifically because of its ability to offer troops a realistic combat experience – from a live-fire range to maneuver training. However, it is also realistic because of how remote it is, providing service members with a feel for life on the front lines and the inevitable isolation that comes with it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made this disconnect from the outside world even more apparent at PTA, which can put a strain on troops who are training for so many hours. That’s where the USO comes in.
After COVID-19 put training on hiatus for several months, this past September, training at PTA resumed with a thunderous roar. A combined force of soldiers from Charlie Battery, 3/7 Field Artillery, and Marines from Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion 12th Marines, arrived, ready to jump into training. But in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the resumption of training comes with a slight twist: service members traveling from Oahu to PTA must complete a 14-day “Restriction of Movement” cycle before visiting the USO Pohakuloa Training Area center.
With PTA being so remote, this USO center is often the only place for service members to take a break from rigorous and stressful days of training, as well as to socialize with the other members of their unit or even call back home. Not being able to access the center could have a serious effect to morale.
So, what happens when service members can’t come to the USO? The USO goes to them.
USO volunteers spent hours at the USO center and their own homes, assembling the first round of USO Snack Packs to be distributed among service members, along with a variety of board games for service members to enjoy while completing the Restriction of Movement requirement. Altogether, USO volunteers assembled 1,300 USO Snack Packs and distributed them among the soldiers and Marines who were completing month-long training rotations.
USO staff and volunteers worked closely with both the Command Staff of PTA and the Command of each training rotation to best support them during their live-fire exercises.
There is light at the end of this social distanced tunnel: as soon as service members finish their 14-day Restriction of Movement, they can visit the USO PTA center. After days of confinement, once the service member enters the center, they receive a satisfying, ice-cold drinks, various snacks, free Wi-Fi and, of course, football games on Sundays. Best of all, they have a place to turn to after a long day in the field – a place where they can bond with their fellow service members, connect with loved ones back home or finally just relax after a long day’s work.
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