story by Brittny Mejia
Moving to a new location can be scary, but one particular organization makes it their mission to create a home away from home for those military families living and serving overseas.
The United Service Organizations (USO) is a nonprofit organization that began in 1941 and is located in more than 160 locations in 27 states and 14 countries, according to the USO’s homepage. Although non-military affiliated, the USO strives to reach out to America’s troops and their family members.
At the heart of the local USO here in Kaiserslautern is coffee, cookies, a warm smile and someone to talk to, said Konrad Braun, the area director. The USO’s main goal is to help engage with the community and make them feel at home.
“The USO provides a touch of home,” said Marquita Milligan, the area operations manager. “We can empathize with what you’re going through and we can give people a common ground.”
The Kaiserslautern USO serves the largest number of Americans living outside of the U.S., which is why the organization has developed a variety of programs to help service members and their families.
One of the programs is the newcomer orientation, which was introduced by the USO and is serving Army and Air Force personnel who are new to the area. Programs, such as the newcomer orientation, help speed along the adjustment process for military members and their families.
However, the USO must make their own adjustments to the constant change of volunteers. With a volunteer force made up mostly of military service members and their dependents, there is always the worry of a permanent change of station that will remove a good volunteer.
“It’s an ever evolving group of people coming through here,” Milligan said. “Very few of them are here for long; most of them are just here for two or three years.”
Despite this challenge, the USO has established a volunteer force of more than 1,200 people, which only continues to grow. Volunteers register online and once their account has been activated they can view potential volunteer opportunities in their area and get involved with USO programs.
“A lot of volunteers for the USO always say they’re volunteering to give back, because at one point in their life the USO gave to them,” said volunteer coordinator Nicole Vogel.
One of the programs offered through the USO is the United Through Reading Program, which allows deployed service members to make a recording of themselves reading a book aloud and then have the DVD mailed to family back home. The organization also offers bus tours to many European destinations for service members and their families.
“These trips just give them a day away,” Vogel said. “They don’t have to make any decisions. They just get on the bus and everything is taken care of for them.”
Although the USO has maintained the same mission over the past 70 years, the organization is constantly evolving. The USO is becoming more aware of what the wounded and their families are doing, which directly affects the local organization because they are the first stop for all wounded coming from downrange.
“There is always something new happening, always some new aspect,” Vogel said. “The USO is constantly evolving and always changing and just keeps staying fresh.”
To volunteer, visit the USO Volunteer website.