When Service Members Suddenly Deploy to Eastern Europe, Military Spouses in the U.K. Can Turn to USO Lakenheath for Community and Support

By Daena Moore

When military spouse Jenna King moved away from her hometown of Las Vegas for the first time, it was full of challenges. Relocating to a new country during the third trimester of pregnancy in the midst of a global pandemic – all shortly before Christmas – would be a challenge for anyone. But for an expectant mother and military spouse who was preparing for all of these changes alongside a military PCS move to another continent, it could seem nearly impossible.

In December 2021, military service led Jenna’s family overseas on a four-year tour to Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath in England, the only F-15 fighter wing throughout all of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). Jenna could have never predicted that shortly after moving to their new duty station, her husband would be called to action for a real-world event.

Jenna King and her 9-month-old daughter, McKenzie, found community and support at USO Lakenheath. | Photo credit USO Photo

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, her husband Tech Sgt. Howard King’s squadron was forward deployed to Poland with less than 24 hours’ notice in support of the U.S.’ NATO allies.

“He got notice on a Thursday afternoon, and he was gone by Friday,” Jenna said. “This was not a training exercise.”

Regardless of whether it’s expected or not, the challenges of sudden deployments and overseas duty stations can be incredibly overwhelming for military families, but especially for military spouses who are left to juggle responsibilities back home. Military life can take a toll on not just its service members, but also military spouses.

According to the Blue Star Families 2021 Military Family Lifestyles Survey, only 19% of service members and military spouses feel that their civilian neighbors understand the sacrifices made by local military and veteran families.

Couple this with the fact that backbone of the military community, must often navigate the challenges of military life without their community of loved ones nearby for support.

But that’s where the USO comes in.

Jenna says the USO has stepped up to fill in the gap, and she has found a home away from home at USO Lakenheath. She first stepped into the USO’s Lakenheath center with her 9-year-old son Achilles in tow, while 38 weeks pregnant with her daughter McKenzie. Because of the warm welcome and the sense of community her family has found at the USO, she visits multiple times a week.

“There’s something for each of us here,” she said. Jenna loves watching familiar American television channels in the center’s comfortable seating area, now 9-month-old McKenzie loves crawling on the plush carpet and Achilles loves the virtual reality USO Gaming devices.

“And you can’t turn down free coffee and snacks!” Jenna added.

“The USO truly is a second home to us. Being overseas, friends who are like family are the biggest blessing,” Jenna said. “We are thankful the USO allows spouses and dependents to utilize services and events as well.”

Photo credit USO Photo

USO Lakenheath Center Manager Taylor Bedford is no stranger to the ups and downs of life as a military spouse.

The USO is dedicated to bringing a touch of home and boosting morale in both our men and women in uniform and their families – no matter wherever their service takes them. USO Lakenheath Center Manager Taylor Bedford loves welcoming service members and military families, and is committed to strengthening and empowering them through the connections within their communities.

“We have so many families like Jenna who come into the center, and we get to see their kids grow and crawl for the first time like McKenzie,” she said. “I love [being] able to make a positive impact for the military community that means so much to me, being a military spouse myself,” she said.

“Being overseas, we don’t have family that is easily accessible,” Taylor explained. “So, at USO U.K., we get to become that family for those service members and their families.”

Taylor has firsthand experience of the challenges of military life and deployments. Last year, her husband, Tech Sgt. Curtis Bedford, deployed to the Middle East in support of the U.S.’ withdrawal from Afghanistan. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Camden, and the entire family spent eight long months apart during Curtis’ deployment.

USO Center Manager Taylor Bedford’s husband, Tech Sgt. Curtis Bedford, and their son Camden. | Photo credit USO Photo

She also knows what it’s like to face the uncertainty of her husband possibly deploying at a moment’s notice. Earlier this year, Curtis’ squadron was on standby for two weeks to deploy to Eastern Europe due to the situation in Ukraine as part of the Emergency Response Readiness Force.

Because many other military spouses stationed in Lakenheath have been faced with the uncertainty of their spouses’ possible deployment to Eastern Europe since the war in Ukraine began, USO Lakenheath began hosting Deployment USO Coffee Connections. A small group of spouses attended the first event in March, and it proved to be a heartfelt experience.

USO Coffee Connections provide military spouses with the opportunity to forge connections with one another in their local communities, as well as allow for them to share advice and gain insights from each other. For military spouses of deployed service members, having access to this network of support is crucial.

Photo credit USO Photo

Military spouses chat at a USO Coffee Connections event.

“One of the spouses sat down and instantly started crying, letting us know she hadn’t left the house for the past month since her husband left for Poland,” Taylor said. “She had a newborn baby and was in a foreign country with no family or support.”

That particular military spouse forced herself to come out to the USO Coffee Connections, and at the end of the event, she left to go for a walk with another spouse who she met during the event.

“Talk about a tearful moment for us – knowing she found support through the USO,” Taylor said.

The USO center has also hosted USO Special Delivery presented by Johnson & Johnson events at the neighboring base RAF Mildenhall. These events, offered at USO centers – and virtually – worldwide, are baby showers for expectant parents and new parents of infants.

At this particular event, expecting service members and military spouses were able to enjoy an afternoon tea and play games, and each attendee left with a baby shower gift basket, filled with traditional baby shower presents.

USO Special Delivery is one of the USO Lakenheath center’s favorite programs; with military spouses stationed overseas, these showers provide a touch of home for moms-to-be and dads-to-be who are often away from their families, friends and support networks during their pregnancies and first months as new parents.

They also allow expectant parents to connect and bond with one another – allowing them to share the ups and downs that only they can understand, as fellow military spouses stationed abroad during their pregnancies.

Photo credit USO Photo

Through USO Special Delivery® presented by Johnson’s, military parents-to-be around the globe can take advantage of these USO-hosted baby showers alongside other expectant military parents and military spouses.

1st Lt. Erika Pearson is an active-duty service member in the Air Force and so is her spouse, 1st Lt. Drew Pearson. They are currently expecting a baby this winter. In addition to the challenges of serving overseas as a mom-to-be, Drew also deployed to Poland earlier this spring, with an additional deployment possibly in his future.

“My husband could potentially be going back around our due date,” Erika said. “The USO has helped me make connections and friends that I can rely on if he were to miss the birth. They ensured I know I am not alone and that there are plenty of resources I can reach out to, if needed.”

Military spouses in Lakenheath shared that the next best thing to having a family member there with them in an unfamiliar place is knowing that someone is looking out for them – someone like a USO team memberand the dedicated supporters and volunteers who make the USO mission possible.

“When we asked young service member and USO volunteer Christina who recently deployed what she would miss about the base, she said nothing except seeing us every time she came in to volunteer at the center,” Taylor said. “Those moments make everything we do worthwhile and proves to me that the USO is doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.”

The USO has always been devoted in our mission in supporting military spouses and their families. Whether it’s providing them with a “home away from home” or helping them connect with other spouses and families, we do our part in supporting them while they do their part in supporting their service members’ sacrifices by holding down the fort at home.

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Every day, America’s service members selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and free. Please take a moment to let our troops know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.


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