USO tries to keep troops morale up as coronavirus cuts entertainment options

The United Service Organization has provided entertainment and comfort to troops since World War II, but now in the age of coronavirus, the nonprofit is finding new ways to reach service members.

USO brings concerts to troops and has centers at many airports, but those activities and areas are not conducive to an infectious world.

“It’s been a challenge for us,” Alan Reyes, chief operating officer for USO told Federal News Network. “The first thing we want to do is make sure we are keeping everyone — service members, families and volunteers — safe and healthy and trying to do our part society-wise to try to stem the outbreak.”

USO is not providing concerts with audiences, and is following guidance from civil and military authorities.

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The organization is turning to some streaming services to try to provide entertainment in the meantime.

“A lot of our programs that are face-to-face we are moving to digital offerings,” Reyes said.

That includes programs for spouses, classes on finding employment, LinkedIn tutorials and more.

“We are in discussions now with specific entertainers about doing an intimate meet-and-greet virtually over a webcam or a video conference,” Reyes said.

Challenges are varying from place to place. Some bases have troops who are spending extra time on patrol and in guard towers. Reyes said USO is working to safely deliver them snacks.

USO has had to reduce some services due to COVID-19, a strain of coronavirus. Since many volunteers are military retirees they are in the most vulnerable age range.

Another issue is helping service members who are quarantined. USO is trying to give them access to USO2GO kits with electronics, computers and movies to keep them connected.

As of Thursday, 51 service members are infected with coronavirus.

USO also provides services for military families.

“Kids are staying home for weeks and months at a time,” Reyes said. “We are taking the opportunities to create spring break care packages. Kids will bring home games, food, snacks, things we can provide to help ease that stressful situation where they are all going to be home and alone for a long time.”

USO is bringing together spouses on its digital spouse network so they can stay in touch and connected.

Reyes said USO is keeping an eye on how the outbreak is growing in the United States.

“We are thinking a lot about flattening the curve,” Reyes said. “We are going to keep looking for digital means and means that will not create large gatherings until we see ways that we are combating the outbreak.”