Every Tuesday at Philadelphia International Airport, a very special group of people gathers; they are Coast Guard recruits headed to boot camp. While they anticipate, with anxious excitement, what their lives will be like for the next few weeks, they are offered one last reprieve before training as they spend their final moments at a “home away from home,” or the airport’s USO center.
The USO’s strong commitment to this weekly mission, as the central gathering point before recruits begin training in Cape May, N.J., truly embodies the compassion and commitment to the military found at all USO centers.
It was this sense of patriotism that prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call for civilian support for the military 70 years ago. That led six organizations – The Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board – to coordinate their war efforts and resources to form a new entity, the United Service Organizations, with the sole purpose of lifting the spirits of servicemembers and their families. And lift their spirits they did.
The USO opened its first center in the middle of New York’s Times Square, and by the height of World War II, there were as many as 700 USO-sponsored performances a day at posts, bases and the growing number of centers. Today, the USO continues to enhance morale and fulfill its legacy mission of caring for military members at 160 centers worldwide. Just as in World War II, through the Korean and Vietnam wars, and most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, the USO remains dedicated to America’s servicemembers, providing the warmth of home wherever they are serving or traveling.
“Home” can mean many things, however, and the USO, through their global network and state-of-the-art programs, offers comfort and support. Whether it is at a rock concert or a Wi-Fi coffee lounge, servicemembers can find refuge with the USO.
The USO’s worldwide network achieves fantastic results. But to make such a large-scale impact, the USO doesn’t depend only on its programs or far-reaching locations. They count on something more valuable – their volunteers.
Volunteers support every mission of the USO and are united by their dedication to American troops and their families. Volunteers impact servicemembers in countless ways; from embracing them at an airport homecoming to manning a desk at a USO center, volunteers enable the USO to always stay true to its original mission.
The Coast Guard recognized the USO’s support of America’s servicemembers and families for seven decades by presenting them with the Distinguished Public Service award earlier this week. At the ceremony, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara acknowledged the important role volunteers make in ensuring our Coast Guardsmen feel safe and at ease.
“My guess is that probably everybody has, at one time or another, dropped by one of the lounges to watch TV, read a book, use the computers or just talk to a volunteer who was more than willing to provide coffee, food and anything else to make us comfortable during a wait between flights,” said Brice-O’Hara.
Equally as important in supporting each man or woman in uniform, the USO also strengthens the Coast Guard as a whole.
“We like the USO because you never forget there are five branches within the U.S. Armed Forces and you always do talk about the Coast Guard. We appreciate that you recognize us,” said Brice-O’Hara.
“It is very important for the USO to serve all branches. And we do consider the Coast Guard a very, very important part of all our particular services,” said retired Brig. Gen. John I. Pray Jr., the USO’s executive vice president and representative of the USO at the award presentation. “On behalf of Sloan Gibson, the 22nd President of the USO, and our 400 employees and about 20,000 volunteers who really touch the lives of the Coast Guardsmen, day in and day out, I would like to say thank you, this is very special.”
As we close out 2011, we commend the USO and its volunteers, not just for what they do for Coast Guardsmen and our families, but for how they make us feel.