USO Okinawa welcomes USS America (LHA-6)

USO Okinawa welcomes USS America (LHA-6)

by Maria Paige
USO Center Manager, Camp Schwab

U.S. Naval Base White Beach, OKINAWA, Japan - For the last 45 years, USO Okinawa stayed true to its mission by putting the needs of service members and their families first. From January to June, USO Okinawa collectively served more 136,196 service members and their families across their seven locations on the island of Okinawa. More recently, three USO Okinawa centers had an opportunity to come together and support the arrival of the USS America (LHA-6).

“USS America (LHA-6), lead ship of the America Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), has been forward-deployed to the Indo-Pacific since December 2019,” Captain Ken Ward, USS America's commanding officer, said. “Together with the embarked elements of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), we operate with allies and partners to execute a variety of missions, from limited combat operations to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, ensuring peace, security and stability throughout the region.”

Once USO Okinawa Area Programs Manager, Cindy Kirkman, received word that the ship would be arriving on Okinawa for a routine working port visit as part of a scheduled deployment, she said she knew USO Okinawa had to be ready to deliver support where needed.

“Having so many service members coming into port is both exciting and challenging,” Kirkman said. “We really want their liberty to be fun and relaxing after so much work at sea. We try to enhance their stay by offering something special like cultural treats or meals that remind them of home. We appreciate their sacrifices and love welcoming them to dry land.”

As USO Okinawa later learned from Ward, “USS America is designed to support a crew complement of more than 1,200, and 1,800-plus embarked Marines and staff”, Kirkman realized USO Okinawa needed help from multiple centers to maximize support. She then began collaborating with USO Foster, USO Futenma, and USO Schwab centers to brainstorm and prepare support efforts.

“America, like all Navy ships, has been subject to health protection conditions across the force during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our crew has continually set the bar for compliance, safety, and execution in a COVID environment, and I could not be prouder of their performance on and off duty,” Ward said. “Since the Navy has relaxed some of these guidelines due to increased immunizations, on-base liberty in Okinawa was a refreshing and rewarding change for our Sailors.”

Coordinating with the ship wasn’t an easy task amidst it’s at sea period and working local guidelines in place for COVID-19 mitigation. To complete the mission for the USO, meant heightening the level logistics involved, and a significant amount of patience and flexibility. USO Okinawa additionally had to ensure operational security was followed, with an understanding that they’d receive very little notice regarding the ship’s arrival window.

With help from Afloat Recreation Specialist, Tiera Patterson, A.K.A the “Fun Boss”, USO Okinawa received details regarding the needs and interests of the service members, to better prepare for their arrival. To meet those requests once they came ashore, make them feel connected to their home and country, and offer them opportunities to boost morale, USO Okinawa divided support for the service members into two programs. The first program consisted of a welcome barbecue dinner complete with delicious barbecue chicken and pork sandwiches with all the fix-ins. The second program consisted of a delivery of local Okinawan snacks, refreshments, and outdoor games to have on site for the duration of their visit. Special thanks to the Gary Sinise Foundation that partnered with USO Okinawa to provide these programs and making it possible for USO Okinawa to achieve their mission.

Upon the conclusion of both programs, Ward reported, “Having the USO greet our Sailors as they go ashore is a huge morale booster, giving them a free, convenient, and safe liberty option, and reminding them that their service is appreciated. A bite to eat, a cold drink, or even just a friendly face makes a big difference to Sailors, and we can’t thank the USO enough for rolling out the red carpet for our crew.”

Mission complete! Fair winds and following seas USS America. As USO Okinawa continues to modify and enhance programs to meet the growing needs of service members and their families, they stand ready to support the arrival of the next U.S. ship on the island of Okinawa.

To find out what’s happening across USO Okinawa centers, visit Okinawa.USO.Org or find us on Facebook.

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