USO Okinawa Announces Six Centers Re-Opening

USO Okinawa Announces Six Centers Re-Opening

by Cindy Kirkman
USO Okinawa

OKINAWA, Japan -- Following the temporary suspension of operations due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts implemented on March 31, USO Okinawa began reopening centers on May 25. Starting with USO Futenma and finishing with USO Kadena on June 17, all centers are open and offering a much needed “Home Away from Home” for our service members and their families.

The safety and well-being of service members, their families, USO employees and volunteers, is the USO’s highest priority and it will continue to be in the new normal.

“We closed the six USO centers in Okinawa on 31 March due to concerns for the safety of our patrons, volunteers and staff,” Phil VanEtten, USO Okinawa Area Director said. “But we didn’t stop supporting our service members and their families. In fact, we increased our programming both physically and virtually at a much higher rate of operations.”

During the 78 days of closure, 23 USO staff members assembled and distributed more than 10,000 snack, fitness, and hygiene kits (“ROM” packs)  for those service members and their families affected by the restriction of movement (ROM) orders to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. In addition, staff created an abundance of virtual programming to maintain wellness for those confined to their quarters. While volunteer participation was drastically reduced due to safety concerns, staff engagement increased to maintain our ability to deliver upon the USO mission to connect service members to family, home and country.

“What’s important about reopening the centers is that the centers are the service members’ ‘home away from home,’” he said. “The brick and mortar facilities are the trademark and heart of the USO. The centers represent what we do every single day and how we strive to increase the moral of our service members when they are thousands of miles away from home. It is especially important that we open, so we can provide that safe haven during this difficult time. I am so proud of our team for their double time efforts to support everyone in need.”

The United States Marine Corp leadership on MCAS Futenma encouraged the USO to open quickly and is supportive of the measures taken of the USO staff and welcomes the opportunities that now are available to service members. “Over the past two years, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the level of service provided by the USO team servicing MCAS Futenma,” USMC Colonel David Steele said. “Even through all of the recent heightened health precautions, the USO managed to sustain outreach to the Marines assigned to the Air Station in a safe and effective way.”

With more than 50,000 service members and their families residing on Okinawa, all six centers are immensely popular.   The center amenities include movie theaters, computers, CAC card readers, printers, stateside calling, free high-speed WiFi, gaming, snacks, beverages, comfortable seating and workstations. There are some restrictions of amenities  at this time, but the centers allow individuals and families to a have a place to wind down, relax, and connect to family, home, and country.

“During our closure we were able to refresh the USO Kadena Center,” Lisa Wease, Center Manager, said. “We love hearing all the positive comments and compliments about the center’s new look and feel. It doesn’t even feel like the same place.”

“It is easy to support an organization that gives so much to the Marines and Sailors,” MCAS Futenma Sargeant Major Jason Kappen, said. “I am excited that that after all the hard work and preparing from the staff, the USO is reopening to support the Marines and Sailors.  In this COVID environment, it is nice to have a home away from home to come relax in and ease some of the stresses from a hectic day.”

Annually the USOs in Okinawa have more than 477,000 visits by patrons. The USO staff welcomes the opportunity to see “family” again.  “We missed seeing the friendly faces of MCAS Futenma while we were closed!” Kayla Stamey, USO MCAS Futenma, Field Programs Manager, said. “The most exciting aspect of opening was being able to connect with familiar faces and introduce our selves to those who are newer to the base so they could have a line of support if they were in need.”

During normal times, over 300 volunteers across island provide just under 50,000 hours of service making mission delivery possible. The staff is eagerly awaiting the volunteers return.

“While USO Hansen doors were closed, it was evident that the spirit of who we are and what we do was not only reflected in the actions of our staff, but also our 41 dedicated and committed volunteers,” Jamie Webb, USO Hansen Center Operations Manager, said.  “Sharing opportunities with the volunteers on a regular basis, checking in with them and reminding them they would be welcomed back with open arms were integral to our operations and commitment to the military community. Over the course of the past two months, we have been fortunate to have volunteer support with outreach, preparing and supplying ROM toiletry kits, and virtual programming. Throughout this transition and time of uncertainty, one thing remains clear; the USO’s mission lives on through the actions of our volunteers, their hearts and commitment to serve.

To find out more information about the Okinawa USO centers go to OkinawaUSO.org. The following Facebook pages provide up to date programs, hours or operation, and locations: USO, USO Pacific, USO Okinawa, USO Camp Foster, USO Futenma, USO Hansen, USO Kadena, USO Kinser, and USO Schwab.

Additional information on USO’s COVID-19 response can be found at https://www.uso.org/coronavirus.

About the USO:
The USO strengthens America's military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation. At hundreds of locations worldwide, we are united in our commitment to connect our service members and their families through countless acts of caring, comfort and support. The USO is a private nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Our programs, services and entertainment tours are made possible by the American people, support of our corporate partners and the dedication of our volunteers and staff. To join us in this important mission, and to learn more about the USO, please visit USO.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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