USO Okinawa continues support of deployed service members through the pandemic

USO Okinawa continues support of deployed service members through the pandemic

by Jodie Allen
USO Hansen

Kadena Air Base, OKINAWA, Japan. On this early morning, tired service members surrounded by military gear anxiously wait at the AMC Terminal parking lot at Kadena Air Base for their flight home. During this monotonous time, to the surprise of the war fighters, the USO van arrives bringing a much-needed boost for morale. A friendly face appears from behind the wheel with snacks and entertainment to help pass the time and wish them a safe departure.   

The Unit Deployment Program, or UDP, is an approximately six-month deployment rotation to the Western Pacific, including nine separate units deploying from the East Coast, West Coast, and Hawaii totaling over 14,000 Marines and Sailors.

“Deployments are never easy, especially for Marines and Sailors deploying to Okinawa for the first time. It’s natural to feel worried and uncertain about being away from home and living in a new environment,” Ashley DeBerry, USO Hansen Center Manager, said. “From the moment they arrive, the USO is there with a comforting smile, providing a warm and inviting place where they can connect via WIFI or telephone, play a video game, watch a movie, enjoy a delicious snack, or put their feet up and relax. The USO serves as a home away from home until the end of their deployment, where the USO meets them once again with heartening support to get them through the long wait wishing them a safe trip home.”

USO Okinawa has three centers across the island that support these UDP units: USO Hansen, USO Schwab, and USO Futenma. These centers are responsible for coordinating with the UDP unit leadership to determine the items they need and times for delivery.

“When USO Okinawa supports in-bound and out-bound UDP units, we try to help their transition and make them feel like they are at home or at least comfortable,” Phil VanEtten, USO Okinawa Area Director, said. “For those units who are departing, they completed a six-month or more deployment and are anxious to get back home.  But like any logistical movement or transportation, there is often a lot of waiting around and we try to ease that burden and make the time go by faster.”

The USO historically provides UDP support with snacks, refreshments, and entertainment such as board games, movies, and video gaming units. With the onset of Covid-19, the USO realized there was a new need.

“When COVID-19 arrived, the commands did not want the in-bound units clustered together and the service members went directly into quarantine,” VanEtten said. “USO Okinawa needed to shift to quarantine care packages including snacks, drinks, entertainment, and toiletries.”

As things begin to return to normal, USO will continue to support incoming and outgoing UDP units.

“Our goal is to create that point between coming in and going home, and we’re here to support in any way,” William Stanley, USO Futenma Center Manager, said. “It has been an honor to have helped support the Marines and Sailors of the UDP over the last 10 years!”

The Marines and Sailors of these UDP units reciprocate this genuine appreciation.

“The USO has provided frequent morale boost throughout the entire UDP life-cycle,” Chaplain Jason Hart, 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines, said. “From care packages for Marines during our two-weeks of restricted movement in barracks rooms, to birthday cakes for birthdays, to a quite escape from barracks life in their building, to refreshments during long wait times for troop movement, they helped our men and women feel valued and remembered for their service in times of stressful transition.”

The USO will adapt to the needs of service members whether it’s welcoming them to the Okinawa neighborhood, supporting them through quarantine, or keeping them connected to their family and home. From the moment they arrive until the end of their deployment, the USO will always be by their side.

For more information about USO events, click Okinawa.USO.Org or find a center on Facebook. You can also visit one of the six USO centers today: USO Schwab, USO Hansen, USO Kadena, USO Camp Foster, USO Futenma, and USO Kinser.

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