WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2012 – The USO has served America's troops
and their families for seven decades, but thanks to innovations and
adaptability, it's not the same old USO, the organization's
“We have basically the same mission we've had
for the last 71 years -- to lift the spirits of America's troops and
their families,” Sloan D. Gibson told American Forces Press Service.
“But one of the things we realized is that the needs of troops
and families are changing all the time,” he added. “So we've tried
to change and adapt over those 71 years to make sure that we're
meeting the most urgent needs. And [that we're] also using the most
up-to-date technology to meet those needs.”
Gibson said the
USO continues to seek ways to better serve the nation's service
members and their families.
“We ask a simple question of
ourselves: ‘If our mission is to lift the spirits of America's
troops and their families, who needs us most?'” he said. “The answer
today is certainly different than it would have been before 9/11. So
as we think about that with all the things that USO does. We want to
make sure we're taking care of our forward-deployed troops that are
serving in harm's way.”
Gibson said the USO also strives to
meet the needs of military families enduring the stresses of
multiple deployments, as well as healing heroes and their families
and the families of fallen service members.
“So what you find
are facilities and programs that are delivered all over the world
that are designed to help those that need us most today,” he said.
Although the USO is best known for entertaining service members
and families, Gibson said, the organization has become attuned to
“Entertainment is still a big part of the USO, ...
but as you think about the needs of troops and families, we've got
to constantly adapt,” he said. “For example, we now operate eight
USO centers -- soon to open our ninth USO center -- in Afghanistan.
“These centers are visited more than 100,000 times a month,” he
added. “We know that connecting forward-deployed troops with their
families back home is really important, so we've installed in those
centers high-speed Internet connections and a private telephone
network where troops are making over 2 million free phone calls
The USO president said these kinds of changes
take place based upon the needs of today's troops and based upon the
important role that military families play today. The organization
also adapts to mission changes, he noted, such as the end of the war
“We closed our last center in Iraq during the fourth
quarter of 2011,” Gibson said. “We've taken the large majority of
the resources that we were investing in Iraq and shifted those into
Afghanistan. That's one of the reasons that we've been able to
support such a large growth in our presence in Afghanistan -- most
through our centers, but also through a program called ‘USO2Go,'
where we actually ship pallet loads.”
Gibson said the average
“USO2Go” shipment weighs a ton and consists of everything from video
games to snack foods.
“They tell us what they need right
there at their small combat outpost or small forward operating base,
and we ship it out there,” he said. “And it arrives right there.
It's like Christmas when it shows up.”
Gibson said the USO
also has created programs to help meet the needs of wounded, ill and
“We've looked at those that needed us most,
focusing on healing heroes and their families and our families of
the fallen,” he said. “We've begun to build an array of programs
that are designed to best meet their needs.” These programs cater to
those suffering from invisible wounds as well as physical ones, he
“We've launched a new public service announcement that
really focuses on the invisible wounds of war,” Gibson said. “One of
the roles that the USO has played historically is we've been kind of
a bridge between the American people and their families. So this is
another one of those examples where we're reaching out to the
American people to help them understand the challenges that many of
our troops and their families are facing right now with these
Gibson said it's a “labor of love” for the
USO to create new ways to serve service members and their families
while ensuring their needs are met.
“We all care very deeply
about what we do,” he said. “I get the opportunity -- I have the
privilege -- to spend time with these men and women. I can't say
that I know what they go through, but I certainly have an
appreciation for that. And if there's something that we can do to
say ‘Thank you,' to express our gratitude, that's really, really
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
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