By Joseph Andrew Lee
Brian Hargis says the USO made him a hero.
His feat? Linking the Special Forces troops he supports with some much-needed entertainment. That doesn’t sound hard. But it’s an uncommon luxury where he works.
As a captain in the Army Chaplain Corps, Hargis knows military service can include long periods of down time and high levels of anxiety. For conventional troops, he says, the local USO is a great place to wind down. But for unconventional troops at remote bases — like Special Forces — there isn’t much out there.
That’s why the USO developed the Mobile Entertainment Gaming System (MEGS), a self-contained, highly portable and extremely durable multimedia platform inside a rugged case troops can carry with them anywhere.
Inside each black plastic case is an Xbox 360 — or in the newer kits an Xbox One — with wireless controllers, a flat screen monitor, Xbox Kinect, a power strip, DVDs and games. The MEGS can be quickly dispatched to troops across the globe so they can pass the time and improve their quality of life.
Hargis, who is assigned to service the mental health and spiritual needs the U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan, recently found out about the program and reached out to the USO to request a MEGS to be sent to a HALO team from 7th Special Forces Group near Kandahar.
“I’m a hero now,” Hargis said, “like I’ve got all these connections with God, the USO and everyone because they love it that much.”
Hargis said he hadn’t previously opened any care packages with DVDs or video games since he’d been in theater. The USO was the first to send anything like that in the form of a MEGS unit, and his guys “were like kids in a candy store” when it arrived.
“Whoever designed this — excellent choice because it fits with the other gear they have,” Hargis said. “Our operators, they like black, they like Velcro, they like snaps. We use Pelican cases for our sniper rifles, for our electronics, and for all of our sensitive items. They’re waterproof, crush resistant, and the seal on them protects them from getting dirt inside the case. There’s even extra power outlets in there in case you wanted to charge your phone at the same time.”
The original concept for the MEGS was created by the USO and brought to Packaging Strategies Incorporated (PSI) Baltimore, Maryland, which builds hardened containers for the military. It was PSI that turned the MEGS concept into a reality. The first MEGS were shipped to troops in May 2012.
“PSI supports the warfighter and is pleased to play a small part in bringing some happiness to those who defend our country on a daily basis,” said PSI CEO Jeff Bell, who was surprised to hear the many ways MEGS have been used downrange to game, watch movies and connect.
According to Bell, the outer container shell undergoes rigorous military-style testing and even the electronic wiring design is based on similar hardened systems manufactured for combat operations.
Ninety-two MEGS systems were deployed in 2014, entertaining 11,722 troops. A MEGS unit is currently deployed to Northern Iraq and several other units have found a home with troops deployed to Afghanistan, Africa and with Marine Security Guard units around the world.
“More and more, the missions our troops are deployed on are to remote locations in very austere conditions nowhere near a USO center,” said USO Programs Manager Juston Reynolds, who once served in the Marine Corps. “The troops need to relax now and then, and gaming is the way this generation gets it done.”
Hargis currently has two MEGS in his area of operations. One travels with the 7th SFG and one stays at the chapel, which operates as an ad-hoc USO center. U.S. Special Forces operators he works with are excited to soon receive a third.
“We want the USO donors to know how much we appreciate this because we can tell that this system is expensive and it must take a lot of donations to make something like this happen,” Hargis said. “We make jokes that the conventional Army gets the good stuff and the operators get the hand-me-downs, but this is one of those things that lets us know that we aren’t forgotten and there are people out there who know our needs and care enough to build something specifically for us.”
Interested units can request a MEGS by filling out this form.