Doors closed, but USO Okinawa still impacting community

Doors closed, but USO Okinawa still impacting community

by Jamie Webb
USO Okinawa

Camp Hansen, OKINAWA - As the world navigates the current global situation, USO Okinawa center doors may be closed, but the spirit, intention and passion of the 23 staff members remains a driving force behind how USO Okinawa continues to bring communities together.  If you could see inside the centers today you would find leaders inspiring their teams to explore new ways of connecting, innovating and preparing for a new future. You would see them doing everything from packing thousands of goodies bags to filming virtual programming. To date they have impacted more than 7,000 service members directly from March 2020 thru April 2020.

“Now is the time to make an impact with diverse programming; while brainstorming new ways to refuel, optimize and make a difference in the lives of service members and their families.” Cindy Kirkman, USO Okinawa Area Programs Manager said. “We can meet the needs of this challenge and raise the morale of people each and every day.”

As Okinawa center staff brainstorm and awaken inner fires, they not only rely on local team members, USO centers have gone global and they converse regularly with teams across the world who are all on a mission to energize one another and come together.

What was once routine, has now become flexible, organic and purposeful in order to sustain the mission to connect service members to family, home and country.

“To see the creativity and passion our team members possess has been a collaborative effort on every Homefront,” Ashley DeBerry, USO Hansen Center Manager, said.  “Every USO center has truly embraced the esprit de corps by adding their own special touch to personalize every interaction.”

USO Futenma embraced the opportunity to welcome new Marines and sailors with customized ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’ kits.  Each service member not only received some of their favorite comforts of home, they also received a handwritten note along with photos of the USO Futenma staff, symbolizing this small and heartfelt gesture was a simple reminding them that the USO is there for them.

While USO Futenma made a lasting first impression, USO Foster was in full force preparing for one last minute, late night send-off.  With time being of the essence, USO Foster welcomed the opportunity to provide support to Camp Foster units, knowing that for some this was their first deployment.

“For these Marines and sailors, it was the perfect moment to show them what military family support looked like, especially at 0130 with music pulsing through the air and a sense of pride USO Foster team members beamed with behind their masks,” Angela Tom, USO Camp Foster Center Manager, said. “Our smiles may not have been seen, but you could feel the gratitude and appreciation with each momentary glance.”

With USO Futenma and USO Foster providing support near home, USO Hansen took the show on the road to the most northern training area, Camp Gonsalves, home to Jungle Warfare Training Center Marines.  Staff were greeted by Marines who excitedly welcomed the USO and delighted in seeing visitors.

“While training has been somewhat limited across the island, JWTC Marines feel the constant rigor with limited time due to the constant training evolutions and multitude of courses,” 1st Lt Adam Medford said.

This is exactly why USO Hansen seized the opportunity to deliver a variety of snacks and refreshments, board games, two Mobile Equipment Gaming Systems (MEGS) and an assortment of video games to boost morale and remind them no matter how far, the USO is there for them.

“We give our thanks to the Camp Hansen USO for taking the time to make the long drive up to Camp Gonsalves and give these men some additional enjoyment so that they can recharge for their next period of instruction.” Medford said.

“It is during these times, when time is of the essence that support is critical, no matter how big or small,” emphasized USO Center Manager Lisa Wease.

USO Kadena executed a fabric mask drop for sailors of VP-45 in record time, obtaining enough fabric and sewing supplies to fulfill mission readiness standards, once again supporting the mission at rapid fire in less than two hours.  Nearly 1000 masks were sewn using the materials resourced by the USO.

Ultimately, the mission to support Marines and Sailors has led to rely on one another for support.  USO Kinser rallied Okinawa staff together to execute a Cultural Drop with staff from each center, including the Okinawa Area office to bring a little taste of Okinawa to 450 service members.

“Many young Marines and sailors have not had the opportunity to enjoy the wonderfully hidden culinary surprises in Okinawa stores, which is why we picked some favorites including onigiri (rice balls with different flavors inside), sanpin cha (jasmine tea) and chinsuko (Okinawan shortbread cookies)”  USO Kinser Center Manager, Sylvia Black, said. “This tasty trio provided them not only with a welcome break, but also a look into Okinawan culture and a taste of what is yet to come during their time here in Okinawa.”

Whether USO Okinawa staff are hitting the pavement with deliveries or virtually being welcomed into your homes, USO Okinawa is keeping you connected.  Most recently, USO Schwab virtually brought Center Specialist, Alma Ochigue’s, popularly sought-after family recipe of Filipino lumpia, a huge crowd favorite, into the homes of our thousands of viewers.  
Families and single service members enjoyed this time, but more importantly enjoyed new techniques and recipes.  Afterall, food is love,” Bridgette Sanchez, USO Schwab Field Program Manager, said.

Dr. Dennis N.T. Perkins, author of Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition is quoted as saying, “The unshakeable belief that, there is always another move, will give you the energy to search for solutions, and creativity will give you the ability to find them.”

“Not only is it our duty to embrace these challenges, this is how we inspire others to come together and be present,” USO Hansen Center Operations Manager, Jamie Webb, said.  “As our team has come together to spread hope; whether virtually or physically, each action that began as a small ripple has now risen into a beautiful wave sweeping along those who are the force behind the forces.”

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