By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram Staff WriterFebruary 4, 2016
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - Happy birthday to one of America's most enduring organizations, the USO.
The United Service Organizations celebrated three-quarters of a century of service to the nation's active duty service members and their families Feb. 4.
"We are an organization that has been here for 75 years," said USO-Metro President and Chief Executive Officer Elaine Rogers. "No matter what, we will be here in the future."
World War II Origins
President Franklin Roosevelt created the USO in 1941, as the country was being drawn into World War II
"He brought six founding agencies together," explained Rogers. "That's why it's called United Service Organizations. We are chartered by Congress to be the organization that takes care of active duty military and their families."
Former President George H.W. Bush's father, Prescott, was tapped to raise the money to get the organization up and running.
"There were thousands of USOs across the country," Rogers continued. "Think about it - there were 19 million troops that served in World War II. Here in D.C., we had a lot of USOs."
The USOs in the nation's capital, like those around the country, held dances virtually every night and kept service members fueled with coffee and doughnuts. They also provided a place for military members to simply relax and unwind.
"It was that home away from home," she said.
Hollywood stars such as Bob Hope toured with the USO, providing entertainment to the troops on the front lines until the war ended in 1945. Today, stars such as Trisha Yearwood, Garth Brooks and Tom Hanks are proud supporters of the organization.
"I think the USO gives an opportunity for the celebrities to truly meet our military and their families and truly get to know them," Rogers said.
With the ending of World War II, the USO was temporarily disbanded until the start of the Korean War and has been actively supporting the nation's military ever since.
"I like to say that the USO is really the representative of the American public to our service members and their families," said Rogers. "It's a way for the American public to say thank you to our troops."
When the USO began, the U.S. military wasn't focused as much on service members' families as it is today, said Rogers.
"We have changed to keep pace with how the military has changed," she said. "The military wasn't about families 40 years ago. When it went to the all-volunteer force, families came into the equation."
The USO soon had locations on military bases around the country, including here at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
"That was an amazing experience," said Rogers. "We really began to provide family services."
Sept. 11, 2001 response
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rogers said personnel from the damaged Pentagon came streaming into USO offices on the joint base.
"Remember, cell phones weren't working," said Rogers. "Immediately, we offered our assistance to the Department of Defense in housing all those family members who were coming to D.C."
"There were cots set up here and at Fort McNair in the gym," she said. "Shortly after that, we set up the Care Package program."
The USO also took care of the thousands of troops who supported recovery efforts at the Pentagon for two years after the attacks by providing housing, food and other necessary items.
Another direct outgrowth of Sept. 11 are the new USO Centers that have been constructed at Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
USO on JBM-HH
The USO's main office on JBM-HH was originally located in the basement of a now-demolished high-rise apartment building that was located on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base.
"That was back in the days when Tencza Terrace [a high-rise apartment building that provided housing for enlisted Soldiers]," said Rogers. "We provided all the family services to everyone living in that building and to the families living elsewhere on the installation and off-post."
The USO today is located in the Community Center on the Fort Myer portion of the joint base, where it also operates The Old Guard Lounge. Joint base and USO officially recognized their long-standing partnership with the signing of a no-cost support agreement Oct. 1, 2015.
"The great thing is that we have worked in concert with all of the family services, the housing offices," said Rogers. "We do not duplicate services. If the military does it, we don't need to do it. We are trying to supplement what the military does."
Today, USO-Metro has 10 locations throughout the National Capital Region, including a deployable Mobile USO that provides services to the nearly 300,000 service members and their families who live in the region and to the 150,000 service members who travel through local airports.
And through it all, Rogers said the USO could not do all it does without a special group of people.
"Without the volunteers of the American public, we would not be able to run the USO," Rogers said.
To learn more about the USO, visit us.uso.org/WashingtonBaltimore.