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New USO Center Opens on Fort Meade

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

By Joseph Andrew Lee 

FORT MEADE, Md. – “How do we take care of troops and let them know that we care?” Army Gen. Keith Alexander asked Tuesday at the grand opening of the new USO center on Fort Meade.

“Just ask the USO,” he said, “because that’s what the USO does. That’s what you do. That’s what they need and that’s what we really thank you for.

“Because our troops have a place to go that brings them back home. A place that reminds them that there are good people out there – when they are alone and tired – who really care for them. That’s what the USO does, and that makes a big difference to us. That is what brings more of them home all of the time.”

Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and commander of the United States Cyber Command (CYBERCOM), was the keynote speaker at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The center gives the USO a significant presence on Fort Meade, located between Baltimore and Washington, for the first time.

Until now, the USO on Fort Meade had operated from a small space in the residential part of the base. The new location provides prime real estate – “the perfect location” some said Wednesday – near the busy Defense Information School (DINFOS).

“We’ve been looking for a location like this for a long time,” said Elaine Rogers, president and CEO of USO of Metropolitan Washington. “We are right here next to the schoolhouse where we can best serve troops who need our services most.”

Fort Meade is as also home to the NSA, CYBERCOM, the United States Army Field Band and the Defense Courier Service.

USO volunteer Barbara Groont was excited to move into the new location. She has always been a supporter of the USO, but started serving as a volunteer last year after meeting center coordinator Queen Waddell at a Thanksgiving Dinner event.

“When I met Queen, it’s hard to not get reeled in because she’s so enthusiastic and good at what she does,” said Groont. “She got me involved in regular shift work as a volunteer and I haven’t looked back.”

The new center – the largest in Maryland – is designed to meet the needs of the garrison’s growing population. It serves military members and their families from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. with a technology/business center, a media room with theater seating, a video gaming room, a snack bar and café with a large patio and a grill.

The center will be a place of comfort and relaxation for 2,000 to 3,000 troops and families per month and may host up to 20 special events per year.

“We used to have one of those little townhouses in the residential area,” said USO volunteer John Banzarella. “But now here we’re right in the hub. It’s perfect because we get a lot of these younger troops attending DINFOS who really have nothing else to do in their free time but go to the enlisted club. It’s just a shame we have to close at 2100 hours because the place is still packed.”

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Photo caption: Fort Meade Commander Col. Edward Rothstein cuts the ribbon for the grand opening of the Fort Meade USO center with Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington. (Photo courtesy of Pfc. Kevin Useni / U.S. Marine Corps) 

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