By Army Sgt. Amber Robinson
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 3, 2009 - Soldiers at Forward Operating Base Shank here gathered May 27 for the dedication of the first "USO in a Box." The facility was dedicated to the soldiers who serve, have served and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Task Force Spartan soldiers from the 710th Brigade Support Battalion hosted a formal ceremony for the grand opening. Army Col. Marcus Cochran, personnel assistance officer in charge for Combined Joint Task Force 101 was the event's keynote speaker.
"The USO is a place where any soldier can go and it feels like home," he said. "It's a place that offers a break."
Though it's small and enclosed within a metal container, the new USO facility comes with all amenities included, making it an oasis for relaxation and fun. It includes a large-screen television, two phones for morale calls, two computers for personal e-mail access and three video-game consoles.
"This facility is the first-ever to be established anywhere in the world," said Army Capt. Pena De Lucia of the CJTF 101 personnel office, who had a large role in planning the event.
"We saw the need for a facility in this area," said Kevin Meade, vice president for USO facilities throughout Southwest Asia. "We did extensive research, and this is where our research showed we should establish the first center."
More portable USOs soon will follow. Two other units have arrived at Bagram Airfield and await transport to destinations in Kunar and Paktia provinces.
"We plan to have 10 facilities set up across Afghanistan, including this one," Meade said. "Ten facilities will be set up here, and 10 will be sent to Iraq."
The facilities are part of what Meade refers to as a "three-prong effect," which includes the portable USO facilities, gaming systems and "USO to Go," a program that sends soldiers packages of goodies, clothing, board games, and musical instruments.
"What we want is to provide outreach to those soldiers that are out on the more obscure FOBs," Meade said, "which is why we have made these portable USO facilities so durable, compact and easy to set up."
After the ceremony, soldiers had a chance to tour the facility. Without a word, they settled down in front of the large TV, dialed up their families or sat down to compete on the gaming systems.
None had to be asked; they all knew what to do: just come in and put their minds at ease for a moment at "a little piece of home" in the middle of their dusty forward base.
(Army Sgt. Amber Robinson serves in the Task Force Spartan public affairs office.)