USO brings 'wow' factor to Fort Campbell
December 2, 2011
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Nov. 30, 2011) -- Both Fort Campbell and the United Service Organizations can trace their roots back to 1941.
Even though some 70 storied years have passed, the two have finally joined forces for quite a presence on post.
"The USO's mission is to lift the spirits of the American troops and their families," said USO President Sloan Gibson. "We always ask ourselves the question, 'who needs us most at this particular time?'"
Gibson said right now the shortlist for those that need the USO most are deployed troops and their families; Wounded Warriors and their families; and families of the fallen.
"And like many of us in uniform and now retired and out of uniform and family members, we've all used these services somewhere in the world," said Col. Perry C. Clark, Fort Campbell garrison commander. "At an airport or at a post or at a base, we've all used it. And you know they always been first class, very well done, very well run, very well organized and we at Fort Campbell are very fortunate to see this great organization come here."
The USO is effectively reaching deployed troops as Gibson said the organization has delivered more than of 200 "USO to Go" deliveries that can be found at camps and combat outposts around the world.
"Those 'USO to Go' deliveries average weight is around a ton," he added. "Once they arrive, we get thank you messages from troops downrange over little things like razors and toothpaste."
"However, every active-duty troop needs our services and there are a few installations that stand out -- Dover (Del.), Landstuhl (Gemany), Fort Drum (N.Y.), Vincenza (Italy), Fort Bragg (N.C.) and Fort Campbell," said Gibson. "This [101st Airborne Division] is the most-deployed contingency force in the United States military and we've needed to be here for some time."
Gibson added the USO would have had a presence earlier on post, but the original building chosen was deemed to be better suited for something else, which set back their plans to open.
"We were way down the road on that location, too, but it didn't work out," added Gibson. "That just motivated us more to provide a USO for the largest concentration of warfighters who didn't have one -- 101st Airborne Division and Fort Campbell."
"Now, this building we sit in was renovated totally by donated goods and donations," stated Gibson. "This is the epitome of the American people saying 'thank you.'"
Gibson added the Fort Campbell USO was a bit different than other USO's that are stateside and from what some Soldiers might recognize from downrange experiences.
According to Gibson, the difference is obvious when you walk through the door as the Fort Campbell USO's centerpiece is a refurbished UH-1 Huey which also functions as a stationary gaming center.
The Soldiers in attendance at Wednesday's grand opening were elated, but one in particular who was intently focused on a game of "Modern Warfare 3: Call of Duty."
"We've been coming here every day for the past couple months working and making sure this helicopter was ready," said Pfc. Ivan Quintanilla-Dorta, with the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion. "Today, we're enjoying it."
Quintanilla-Dorta, a helicopter mechanic, said he especially liked the gaming consoles in the Huey, but was impressed with other parts of the new USO center, too.
"I like it all, the theater, everything is nice in here," he added. "I'm hoping we can come in here at least once a week now."
Quintanilla-Dorta's response is exactly what Gibson and local USO Center Director Kari Burgess Brown wanted and loved to hear.
"We are here to offer a place for them to rest, relax, recreate and reconnect," said Brown. "Basically we want to be that place where active duty Soldiers and their families can come in and have some of their needs filled."
Brown said those needs could vary from the family looking for a new Xbox game they may have at the USO that the family can't afford, to using laptops or desktops, watching a movie or just grabbing a snack.
"We're a facility of fun with the comforts of home," she added.
According to Brown, the Huey that sits in the middle of the USO sat in a scrap yard just a few months ago.
"Soldiers from the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade kept the scrapped helicopter in one of their hangars for about a year where they repaired and restored it and they then moved it into our building in September," said Brown. "It was moved over in two stages -- one for the body -- one for the tail -- and it was sheer Soldier power that moved it in here by hand."
Brown added the center is also furnished with six desktops, 20 laptops and all the Soldier or family member has to do is surrender their ID card at the desk and they can use whatever equipment they need.
"As for the movie area, we have a room with 20 recliners and a 70-inch screen television and a subscription to Netflix," added Brown. "Every television in the USO is Internet enabled so Soldiers can access Netflix that way, as well."
"We also have a snack bar in the back, along with some microwaves, as well," she added.
Brown mentioned one very important USO program that has little to do with gaming, movies, surfing the web or food, however.
"One of our most popular programs is 'United through Reading' and we have a 'United through Reading' corner in the conference room here," she added.
Brown said United through Reading is a non-profit based out of California and their military program allows them to videotape Soldiers reading brand new books to their children.
"We give them the DVD and book and we'll either mail it to the child while the Soldier is deployed, or they can bring it home before they deploy," she added.
Gibson summed up the USO's goal for Fort Campbell succinctly.
"We want the Soldiers and their families here to see the 'wow' factor in what we've done," he added. "We want to hear that audible gasp which will let our employees and volunteers know there's someone coming through the door that they can serve."