FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The Fort Leonard Wood United Service Organizations has reopened its building to limited foot traffic following guidance from the latest General Order No. 6.
“We look forward to opening our doors to allowing 100 (people) in safely, and it is a number we can easily manage, especially with the help from our wonderful volunteers and staff members,” said Kelly Brownfield, USO Western Missouri Regional Operations director. “The troops will be able to relax and enjoy some downtime. We will have the kitchen open with snacks and beverages for patrons to enjoy, as well as having the computer room open, plus we have wi-fi in the building that patrons can use at any time.”
The building’s entertainment areas, including its 18-foot movie screen, will also be available for service members to relax, she said. Soldiers entering the building can do so with peace of mind, Brownfield added, as the USO staff has implemented extra COVID-19 safety measures.
“We have special protocols in place that all staff and volunteers have been trained on — from performing temperature checks on each person as they enter the USO, to providing additional sanitizing stations throughout the USO for patrons to sanitize their hands,” she said. “We will also be increasing the cleaning of surfaces throughout the USO so that every half-hour, all high-traffic touch areas, such as the doors, tables, chairs, are wiped down and sanitized.”
Before COVID-19 forced the USO to close its doors last March, the building’s total occupancy cap was 732 people. Brownfield said the new limit of 100 people will allow for adequate social distancing. But even while its facility remained closed, the organization continued doing virtual and socially distanced events where it could.
“We remained busy and provided support to Fort Leonard Wood by distributing nearly one million units of necessary food and supplies to those quarantined on post between March and December,” she said.
Those efforts helped serve more than 57,000 service members in less than one year. Brownfield gave credit to the volunteers.
“Our volunteers have been a key part in helping keep our activities going,” she said. “When the pandemic hit, we still wanted to find ways to safely deliver the mission … The USO was able to host 71 events in 2020 which served over 11,103 individuals.”
And unprecedented circumstances meant the staff had to get creative.
“We had to think outside of the box, as we knew the need was even greater during the pandemic to help relieve the day-to-day pressures our military and their families were encountering,” Brownfield said. “Our events ranged from free pizza pick ups … to drive-through events which celebrated our local 2020 high school graduates, to virtual scavenger hunts, with some of the most popular being crafting kits.”
The organization also allowed families to register for restaurant gift cards as they could no longer hold in-person events at local grills and steakhouses.
Most recently, the USO organized a drive-through Valentine’s Day craft kit pick up. Staff and volunteers donated enough time to cater to an audience of 300.
“As a veteran myself, I know how important it is for service members to have a place to go and just relax and hang out,” said Kelly Watson, a volunteer with Fort Leonard Wood USO. “I also get involved with the family events and spouse events because, as a military spouse, I understand how important it is to have family time — whether it be the crafts, the family night outs, the spouses luncheons (or) the date nights.”
Watson said she looks forward to seeing service members inside the doors again.
“I’m happy to see the USO reopening,” she said. “I think it will be good for morale for our trainees and service members … I believe the USO is safe for them to return.”
To get involved with the USO, email Brownfield at firstname.lastname@example.org.