Morale: USO In A Box

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July 5, 2008: A new morale building effort, for U.S. troops overseas, comes in the form of a suitcase size box containing a portable projector and screen, an Xbox video game, DVDs, magazines, snacks and a satellite based high-speed Internet hook-up. This box is for remote bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, manned by fewer than fifty troops. If the "USO In A Box" works, it will be distributed to small navy and marine contingents at sea.

The box is, in fact, another effort by the USO (United Service Organizations) to cheer up the troops in wartime. The USO was formed in early 1941. The "services" don't refer to the army and navy, but to the YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler's Aid Association and the Salvation Army. All these organizations wanted to make life easier for all the young men and women joining the armed forces in anticipation of American entry into World War II. So they formed a separate organization, the USO, to coordinate their efforts. Now, 67 years later, the USO is still at it. For example, in addition to the traditional live shows, the USO has distributed hundreds of thousands of "Care Packages" to troops headed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The contents (prepaid international calling cards, disposable cameras, toiletries, snacks and playing cards) were selected based on what the troops wanted most.

In addition to "USO In A Box", a trailer size version is also being developed, with many of the same goodies, but for a larger audience. The box costs about $5,000 each. The trailer about $100,000. The USO finds that it can raise contributions for these efforts from defense related firms. Blackwater USA, for example, was the principal sponsor of "USO In A Box."

The USO also opened information/assistance/rest centers for troops in Kuwait, Qatar and Vicenza, Italy. Similar centers are also found in 125 locations worldwide, including mobile canteens that always show up where American troops are concentrated during wartime.

The thing most people remember about the USO is the "USO Shows." Over half a million of these have been put on, many with major entertainment talent. Bob Hope regularly went off on these tours for half a century. They are still popular with the troops, as the shows are put together based on the kind of music and entertainment the audience wants. The USO is a uniquely American organization. Most of its staff are volunteers (95 percent, or 12,000 people). And all the money is donated. No government bureaucrats in sight, which is probably why the USO has lasted so long.

 


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