USO Programs Keep Troops Connected to Loved Ones Back Home
Staying connected with loved ones is one of the many challenges for US troops stationed abroad. But the United Services Organizations, also known as the USO, is working to help them feel a sense of home away from home.
USO provides live entertainment and other support programs for service members to feel connected to their loved ones at home.
As a Navy Reserve Officer, USO West President Bob Kurkjian knows how difficult it is to have limited communication with loved ones thousands of miles away.
“I spent most of 2019, actually most recently in Afghanistan, on mobilization duty.” said Kurkjian.” And the reality is for many of our troops, they're far away from home and far away from everything they know and it can very easily create a sense of loneliness for them.”
That’s where the USO centers come in.
There's a USO center on NATO's eastern flank in Poland, across the border from where Russia is invading Ukraine right now. The respite is much needed for the troops, who are living out of tents and eating out of field mess kitchens, according to Kurkjian.
Soldiers are prohibited from bringing electronic devices due to security risks and as a result, the USO is providing a means to reach out to family members.
“We're providing cell phones and computers for troops to reach back out to mom and dad or kids, spouses just to check in.” Kurkjian said.” Because even for five minutes on the phone, letting them know that you're okay and everything's going well, is golden.”
“Both are prepackaged items that can be easily airshipped and dropped to different units in the field, oftentimes far afield, that create almost a mini USO environment for them wherever they are,” Kurkjian said.
Along with providing relief onsite, the USO also offers peace of mind to the families impacted by the absence of a loved one overseas.
The Bob and Loris Hope Foundation funds the Bob Hope Legacy Reading program, which assists children whose parents are stationed overseas. According to a2012 RAND Corporation study, children with parents deployed more than 19 months faced lower academic performance.
The program provides service members the opportunity to read a book to their children on camera in a quiet area at a USO center. Then the book is signed, packaged and mailed to the child, along with the audio and video recording of the parent reading to them.
“And so it's almost like that loved one is at home with them reading the bedtime story,” said Kurkjian.
These services do not exist in a vacuum, however. USO depends on volunteering and donations to keep itself afloat.
Unfortunately, the pandemic took a toll on its volunteer force, which the organization hopes to refuel.
“Along with making a donation, we love to have new volunteers at the USO. We've got 30,000 of them around the world primarily in the United States, and they truly are the heartbeat and the heart and soul of our organization,” Kurkjian said.