The mission of the USO, United Service Organizations, is to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families. And the mission for the Fort Riley USO is just the same. Originally founded in 1941 as a mobilized coalition of service agencies supporting the troops during World War II, the USO was formed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with the objective of providing emotional support to the troops, according to the USO website.
Fort Riley’s USO center was begun in 2008, with construction on the physical center beginning on Veterans Day in 2009. The 7,000-plus square foot facility opened for business on May 25, 2010. The center is open 365 days each year providing troops and their families with access to numerous services, including free telephone calls home; free WiFi internet access and nine computer workstations; a library; family room; conference room; entertainment area with video games, foosball, air hockey, and shuffleboard tables; as well as nine large screen televisions; a movie theater with a 65” television and Blu-Ray player; two fireplace lounge areas; and a snack bar area with free food and non-alcoholic beverages.
The center, however, is not all there is to the Fort Riley USO. The post USO also hosts multiple programs to benefit service members and their families including No Dough Dinners, which is a program to feed soldiers and their families just prior to pay day when money is tight; Operation Warm Start, a program providing breakfast and lunch for families of fallen troops on the day of the installation memorial; single service member homecoming kits providing small toiletry kits for returning troops to get them through their first 24 hours back home; Warrior Transition Battalion day rooms to assist wounded warriors; the Soldier Readiness Processing Center snack corner, providing free snacks and beverages to deploying and returning troops; the United Through Reading program, which assists deploying troops with connecting to their families by recording a soldier on DVD reading a book, which is then mailed home to his or her family; and numerous special events throughout the year, such as Family Fun Day, Sesame Street, and entertainment by celebrities such as Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.
The USO is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) agency and not a government agency. It is funded through donations and sponsorships, and receives no local United Way funding. The Fort Riley USO is staffed by two full-time employees and an average of 75 volunteers each month. In 2011, volunteers donated more than 12,000 hours of service toward the Fort Riley USO mission.
The Fort Riley USO center is located with the Arts & Crafts and Information, Ticketing & Registration office on Custer Hill, next to the Burger King. Since the center opened, it has accommodated more than 60,000 visits, and in just the first 100 days of operation, the Fort Riley USO center welcomed 10,000 visitors through its doors to enjoy the “home away from home” ambience the center provides.
The USO center’s address on post is building 6918 Trooper Drive, Fort Riley, Kansas 66442. To visit the center online, visit the official USO website or find the Fort Riley USO on Facebook . For more information about how to help the Fort Riley USO, contact the Fort Riley USO Director, April Blackmon, at 785-240-5327, or email her at email@example.com.
This article will be a followed by a second article on the Fort Riley USO, interviewing Director April Blackmon on the history and special needs of the USO on post.