By Flavia Hulsey, Fort Riley Public AffairsAugust 20, 2009
FORT RILEY, Kan. - The United Service Organizations operates more than 135 centers worldwide, and by the end of the year Fort Riley will be home to the newest center designed to support Soldiers and Family members.
"The USO's primary mission is to support Servicemembers and their Families," said April Blackmon, center director, USO Fort Riley. "The bulk of that is done through our center."
USO Fort Riley will be located in Building 6918 adjacent to the Arts and Crafts Center and the Information, Ticketing and Registration office on Custer Hill.
The center will have a cafAfA area, outdoor patio, small conference room, small movie theater, computer lab with free Wi-Fi and recreation areas with pool tables and video games. Once the center if fully operational, it will be open 365 days a year for 10 to 12 hours a day.
The USO currently is soliciting bids for the construction contract, Blackmon said. She hopes to have a contractor in place within the next month. Blackmon also said that space in the building has been cleared and prepared for renovations to commence, and designers have been in the facility to draw detailed plans and ensure the plans meet code.
The idea for a USO center at Fort Riley stemmed from a town hall meeting in Junction City where a community member asked why Fort Riley did not have a USO. A business case was developed and a proposal was submitted to and approved by the national USO.
Blackmon said that though the USO's primary mission right now is to grow overseas support for Soldiers, the USO has identified other areas of importance.
"It was also determined that several bases affected by the most recent (Base Realignment and Closure) needed USO support - Fort Bliss, Fort Carson and Fort Riley."
As plans continue to develop for USO Fort Riley, programming is well underway.
The first program established at Fort Riley was United Through Reading. This program allows deploying Soldiers to read books on camera. A video is created and placed on a DVD that is then sent to the Soldier's Family members.
Blackmon said the USO currently is helping Soldiers in the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, create DVDs for their Families as the Soldiers prepare to deploy.
Soldiers who have orders to deploy in the next four to six months may create a DVD through the program any Wednesday in August from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Building 6918.
A program that has seen immediate success is No Dough Dinners. On the last business day before payday, the USO is providing a free dinner to Soldiers and Families.
Blackmon said during the first dinner in June, more than 100 people attended. In just a few weeks, participation has risen with more than 450 people attending the most recent dinner.
"It has exceeded all expectations and keeps growing," she said.
On Aug. 31, a No Dough Dinner will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at Wyman Park. In September, dinners will be from 5 to 7 p.m. at McCormick Park.
Additional programs and services provided by the USO to support Soldiers and Families include Operation Care Package, homecoming and comfort kits and Operation Enduring Care.
"We have a passion for taking care of Soldiers," Blackmon said. "It's not really a job, but a lifestyle."
Operation Care Package provides Soldiers with a package before they deploy. The package contains items such as toiletries, snacks and phone cards.
Homecoming and comfort kits also are available. Blackmon said these two services are relatively new, and the USO and its volunteers have been working with Family Readiness Groups to provide items in single Soldiers' barracks rooms as they return from deployment.
Operation Enduring Care is a program to support wounded warriors in the Warrior Transition Battalion. Blackmon said USO Fort Riley recently received a grant for a rest and relaxation room that will be open in the evenings when the Soldier and Family Assistance Center is closed.
All of the USO programs at Fort Riley are almost fully volunteer operated and supported, Blackmon said.
"The USO is an all-volunteer organization. We have wonderful volunteers who have stepped up to help, but we are always looking for more."
Those interested in volunteering with the USO at Fort Riley or learning more about its programs can visit www.uso.org/fortriley or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.