By Danielle DeSimone
Russia has launched several attacks across Ukraine, and tensions along Ukraine’s border, where Russia has amassed approximately 160,000-190,000 troops and artillery, continue to rise. In response to Russia’s continued escalations, the United States Department of Defense announced that thousands more U.S. troops are being deployed and repositioned throughout Eastern Europe in support of our NATO allies.
Our troops are ready. And thanks to you, so is the USO.
With more than 250 USO locations across the globe, the USO can provide support and a home away from home for service members at duty stations worldwide – even if that means delivering that support to conflict zones.
Nothing speaks louder about the commitment of your USO - and the trust the military has in us - than our presence alongside these forward-deployed troops on the front lines. Here’s how the USO is supporting service members deployed in response to the Ukraine crisis.
How the USO is Supporting Troops Deployed to Eastern Europe and Their Military Families
In early February, 3,000 American troops were approved for deployment to Poland, Germany and Romania in support of our NATO allies. The Department of Defense later announced a deployment of an additional 3,000 American troops to the region and this week, in response to Russia’s recent movements into eastern Ukraine, American troops based in Europe have been ordered to shore up the defenses of nations bordering Ukraine.
The service members currently deploying are separate and in addition to the 8,500 personnel in the United States who were placed on heightened alert for a possible deployment in January 2022 and who are still at the ready for potential orders.
Those currently deploying – many of them from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and 18th Airborne Corps – are stationed both stateside and in Europe. Those in Europe are a part of the total 80,000 U.S. troops already located in the region at permanent duty stations and on regular rotational deployments.
Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, the USO is able to be by the side of our service members on their way to deployment, both here at home and in Europe, every step of the way. Having this constant support through every stage of the deployment journey can be incredibly comforting to service members and their families during an otherwise stressful time.
“As a Marine Corps veteran of 21 years, I can remember when I was about to deploy to Afghanistan for a year-long deployment,” said USO staff member Barry Morris.
“Having the USO there at the flight line truly made me feel closer to my family and put my mind at ease. It’s the little things like this that the USO provides that have a huge impact both emotionally and psychologically during times like this.”
As service members departed both the United States and their duty stations in Europe for their assigned destinations, USO teams were also at these assembly areas, handing out snacks, games and activities to take with them, along with USO Care Packages filled with helpful things like travel-sized toiletries, or additional snacks and drink mixes. These care packages are constructed with a durable nylon material and are designed to attach to most military-issued gear – ideal for troops on the move. So far, approximately 20,000 USO Care Packages have been shipped out to be distributed to troops slated for deployment.
USO teams have also provided support to military families who are dealing with the sudden departure of their loved ones through family programs. Sudden deployments like these can be incredibly challenging for military families, and so the USO’s presence alongside military spouses and children is crucial to supporting the larger military community.
“This is something they train for. Soldiers do layout after layout preparing to grab their bags and go at a moment’s notice,” said the spouse of a soldier on Fort Bragg who is on standby to deploy. “Each time the phone rings or he gets a text, we wonder if it’s time.”
“No matter how much a spouse mentally prepares, nothing can explain the way it feels to watch them walk out the door.”
When service members arrived at their destinations, USO teams in Europe were ready and waiting to greet the newly arrived troops with welcome kits. The welcome kits and USO Care Packages that these service members received throughout their journey are far more than just a pouch strapped to their bags – they are a reminder of home, a token of appreciation, a promise that even as they leave their families behind, they are not alone.
As they make their way across Europe to Poland, Germany and Romania, service members know they have the support of their fellow Americans thanks to the network of USO support along the way.
How the USO is Keeping Troops Deployed to Europe Connected to Loved Ones
However, as these troops prepared for deployment, there were a few crucial things that they didn’t pack in their bags – cell phones and laptops. Many of those deploying have been ordered to leave personal communication devices at home, which means they have no easy way to reach their loved ones.
Although necessary for the safe deployment of these troops, suddenly leaving on deployment without quick access to Wi-Fi or phone calls can be difficult. Even the simple act of sending a short text to your anxious spouse to let them know you’ve arrived safely becomes an immense challenge.
But here at the USO, our mission is centered around the idea of connection – and that’s exactly what we’ve provided.
In locations across Germany, Poland and Romania, the USO is providing Wi-Fi, call centers and pre-paid phone cards for service members to connect with their families and friends back home. These phone call centers are equipped with a private, secure telephone network for service members to use entirely for free.
USO centers’ computer rooms allow service members to connect to a secure internet network to send emails or chat with loved ones stateside, all while remaining in compliance with operational readiness and security protocols. For those deployed to remote locations without a brick-and-mortar USO center, the USO is working quickly to set up USO2GO kits – essentially, a build-your-own USO center, in which service members can have many of the comforts of a traditional center – including some with access to Wi-Fi.
How the USO is Keeping Troops Deployed to Europe Connected to a Home Away from Home
Deployed service members can rely on the USO not only to keep them connected to loved ones, but also to the very idea of home. USO staff and volunteers are pros at helping build community and a sense of home for service members stationed all around the world, and that is especially important in conflict zones.
Alleviating tension in conflict zones through lighthearted activities and opportunities to bond over a homecooked meal can make all the difference in morale. And with boosted morale, our service members can return to their mission refreshed and ready to carry out their duties.
The USO creates this home away from home with events that connect service members to America and with the welcoming environment of USO centers, where they can recharge in a comfy chair, watch some television, read a book or spend time with their fellow service members.
In Germany and Romania, the USO recently hosted morale-boosting Super Bowl events for service members whose Super Bowl Sunday plans back home were suddenly canceled due to deployment. Service members stocked up on snacks and refreshments while spending time together before the big game, creating a friendly environment and easy way to bond with their fellow soldiers and airmen.
Along with several locations throughout Germany, the USO also already has operational centers throughout Poland, where U.S. troops are staging in anticipation of a possible conflict. USO Powidz, a USO center in Poland, has been supporting service members and military families since doors officially opened in 2021. Meanwhile, in Swietoszow, Poland, service members have utilized USO2GO kits to create a haven on their remote base, which has limited off-duty activities.
These two centers are crucial in creating a home away from home for troops stationed in a tense region, and in locations where there is no brick-and-mortar USO center. Service members will soon have access to USO2GO kits, so that they can create their own unstaffed USO center.
Creating that home-like setting for our military is so important. After all, deployments to the front lines can be extremely challenging. Although service members are always prepared to deploy, they are still suddenly faced with a new environment, far from everything familiar. They must miss birthdays, holidays, being at the bedside of an ailing family member or at the birth of their child – all while also dealing with the daily stress and dangers of being on the front lines.
That is where the USO comes in. Our USO locations and staff throughout Europe will continue to provide crucial services and morale-boosting programs to our troops that allow them to speak with a loved one back home, have a home-cooked meal, bond with their fellow service members, or even just have a moment alone to rest.
“I just want to say thank you guys and your organization for being here,” said a deployed service member currently in Europe. “This really means a lot to all of us as our morale, in general, has been really low and you brighten our day when you come see us. This is the first time since we got here that we heard music. Thank you!”
No matter the location or conflict, the USO will remain steadfast in its mission of keeping our troops connected to family, home and country, just when they need it most.
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