WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — An estimated 250 patrons came through the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base USO during its reopening celebration Oct. 23.
Service members, veterans, and their families came to enjoy refreshments, tour the newly renovated facilities, and enjoy outdoor music by the Band of Flight.
The WPAFB USO, which normally serves upwards of 40,000 patrons in a year, suspended operations on March 14. However, in that time, the USO staff kept themselves busy.
“We sent a lot of care packages. We hosted drive through events with sometimes 100 families at a time,” said USO general manager Erik Oberg.
In the seven months that the facility was closed, WPAFB and the USO organization — as well as community sponsors and patrons — stepped in to give the building a sorely needed upgrade. Some of the most impactful renovations are invisible to everyday visitors.
The Air Force conducted a huge HVAC renovation, with an estimated cost of $400,000. The base also replaced the rusty drains and pipes in the kitchen, covering them with a brand new floor.
The USO national organization also invested in the space by refinishing and polishing the floors, steam-cleaning or replacing the carpets, and providing new signs. The USO also provided brand-new computers and a new Wi-Fi system.
Several organizations in Fairborn also contributed to the new USO space. Fairborn’s American Legion Post 526 provided a Nintendo Switch for the USO’s lounge, a highly requested item among junior airmen. The Fairborn VFW Post 6861 supplied a brand new sink for the café kitchen.
“They are one of our biggest supporters,” Oberg said of the VFW. “They really answered that call.”
The mission of the USO is to keep service members connected to family, home and country throughout the duration of their service. It’s a place to chill and decompress, but the USO also hosts many events and services for active duty and reserve airmen.
The Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program has continued despite pressures from COVID-19. The USO provides all the equipment for deploying service members to record themselves reading books to their children. Service members leave the same day with an SD card, on which is a video of them reading to their child.
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the USO is in critical need of volunteers, including those operating the Airmen’s Attic. Wright-Patt is unique among other USO facilities in that it operates an Airman’s Attic, which supplies new and gently used clothing and household items to junior airmen.
Pre-COVID, 50 airmen on average would visit the Airman’s Attic in a week. Since opening on Oct. 19, that demand hasn’t gone anywhere.
“We’ve had at least that many this week,” Oberg said.
Volunteering at the USO is open to civilians. Currently about a third of volunteers are civilians with little to no direct connection to the military.
“They’re some of my favorites because it’s such a pure motivation that they have,” Oberg said. “They see us as a way to show their support for our service members. ‘This is how I can put my words into action, by volunteering at the USO.’”