By Daniel Drummond
Sitting at a table in the USO’s newest temporary center at Barton Barracks in United States Army Garrison-Ansbach in Germany, a newly arrived deployed soldier sat quietly at his laptop. After a few minutes, he looked up at the other soldiers and civilians in the room and said, “It’s great to be here to talk with family.”
For many of the service members suddenly deployed to Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, talking to family is a luxury, as many were required to leave their personal cell phones and laptops behind. In the midst of a stressful deployment, not having the ability to easily call home and check in with your loved ones to let them know you are ok can put a strain on service members.
But thanks to the generosity of the American people, the USO is ready and able to bridge that distance.
In this USO center in Ansbach, Germany, service members can take advantage of free Wi-Fi, snacks, coffee, video games and board games and comfortable leather couches to crash on. During this particularly tense deployment, the USO Barton Barracks center has served as a respite for soldiers.
“The first question [the soldiers] ask when they get off the bus is ‘Where is the USO?’” said Lt. Col. Miguel Cisneros. “This is a place to relax and cool down.”
But up until the week of March 7th, there was no USO on the base. However, as geopolitical tensions within Europe increased, tens of thousands of U.S. troops were deployed throughout the region over the past several weeks to support our NATO allies. In turn, the need for USO support also suddenly increased – and so, as we have done since 1941, the USO got to work.
In just 48 hours, a vacant building on the base that dates back to World War II was quickly renovated, painted and furnished. In two days, it became the newest USO center in the world, stood up to meet the needs of the increasing numbers of U.S. Army soldiers in Europe.
Lisa Wease, a USO area operations manager in Europe, was tasked with “making magic happen” in creating a place of comfort for the newly arriving troops. With the help of service members, volunteers and USO staff, Wease set up the temporary USO center in record time.
Wease explained that when the USO is asked to do something like build a new center as quickly as possible, “we just make it happen.”
“People are so stressed to the max, the USO can help relieve [that] stress,” said Wease.
For Cisneros, having a USO at Barton Barracks was vital to ensuring the morale and resiliency of the hundreds of troops who would be coming on post. As a reservist who is on deployment and away from his full-time job as a Chicago police officer, Cisneros knows full well the value of a USO center, having been deployed to the Middle East twice for combat operations.
“When you are in a USO, you feel like you are in a different environment, you can disconnect from the realities of combat,” said Cisneros.
While the troops at Barton Barracks and other duty stations in Europe are not facing combat conditions, the rapid build-up of forces within the last month meant that thousands of U.S. troops had to quickly leave behind loved ones with little warning.
Aside from the challenges of being far from family and friends, for many of the service members arriving in Europe, they also entered a completely new environment in a foreign country, where few things look familiar. That’s why the sight of a USO center brings relief and joy, as the “home away from home” environment allows service members to enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation.
“The USO has been there for me when I have been hungry and frustrated,” said Master Sgt. Torey Murphy, noting that the USO has brought much comfort to him in his deployments around the world, especially in helping him keep in touch with family.
“The USO is super supportive, it’s genuine … they know we don’t have nine-to-five jobs.”
The flexibility to build a center, staff it on an as-needed basis and keep the doors open for the troops is a testament to the USO’s ability to be nimble, creative and innovative, explained Regional Vice President of USO Europe-Middle East-Africa Grant McCormick.
“The USO stands for happiness – that’s what we are there for. We want to bring happiness to the troops, especially during times like these,” said McCormick. “It’s the least we can do for those who are serving.”
In addition to the temporary USO center at Barton Barracks, the USO will be building a staffed USO center at the Katterbach facility in United States Army Garrison-Ansbach, with a target opening date of spring 2022. The facility will be a fully functioning USO center, providing a host of amenities for service members and military families who are stationed at the post.
“There is a lot of excitement about it,” said Army Col. Karen Hobart, the commander of the garrison.
No matter where our service members go, the USO is always by their side, ready to support them through every step of their military journey.
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