The USO Entertains, Supports Allied Force Service Members
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 10, 1999 It's very likely you've heard of Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign against the former Yugoslavia. And you may be familiar with Operation Sustain Hope, the military and international effort to assist hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees. But it's not likely you've heard of Operation Allied Entertainment.
Operation Allied Entertainment is the United Services Organization program that's providing entertainment and services for troops on duty in the Balkans and at European installations supporting NATO operations.
Since Operation Allied Force began in late March, the USO began shifting its resources and focusing them on troops on the ground and at sea in the Balkans region, according to retired Marine Corps Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr., president and chief executive officer of World THE USO.
Mundy said Allied Entertainment is a cooperative effort between the USO and the Armed Forces Professional Entertainment Office in the Pentagon, which helps book and schedule shows for service members around the world.
Events sponsored and organized by the USO since Operation Allied Force began have included the rock group "Joan Jett and the Blackhearts," who performed in Italy and Bosnia, supermodel Christie Brinkley, who visited troops in Sarajevo, and country superstar Reba McEntire, who performed June 6 in Naples, Italy.
Other scheduled summer shows for troops in Europe and the Balkans include country artists Larry Gatlin, Paul Brandt, Claudia Church and Tracy Lawrence; a USO Comedy Break Tour; and the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, who will visit troops in the Balkans during their annual July 4th USO tour.
Mundy said the recent entertainment events have been a "great morale booster" for service members, and the artists have been well received wherever they've been. Recalling his own service in Vietnam, he said service members' spirits were lifted before, during and after USO shows. "The benefits of a single performance could last for months," he said. "That's true today, too."
In addition to bringing entertainment to service members, the USO has been providing nearly 24-hour assistance at locations throughout the Balkans and at European installations.
For example, the USO provided videos, games, snacks, beverages, reading and writing materials to troops awaiting deployment at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. In nearby Kaiserslautern, the USO has been helping service members deployed to Albania by supplying soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream and other toiletries.
Further support planned as operations continue include sending a USO mobile canteen to major staging areas once they have been secured. Mundy calls the canteen an "expeditionary package," carrying snacks, a large-screen television, movie videos -- and even computers so troops can send e-mail home.
Additionally, the USO centers in Taszar, Hungary, and Stuttgart, Hanau and Schweinfurt, Germany, are preparing to increase services and hours of operation if troops in their area are called into Kosovo to serve as part of a peacekeeping force. Mundy said existing centers throughout Europe will respond to whatever the needs are in coordination with commanders.
He said the USO raises about $24 million per year, $20 million of which goes directly to services for active duty military personnel. In addition to entertainment operations, the USO operates 125 centers worldwide at major airports, in selected cities and at many ports of call. Mundy said the USO has only a small paid staff, but a network of 12,000 volunteers.
The retired general, who has been involved with the USO for the past 40 years as a military officer and now as its chief executive, still refers to the USO as "irreplaceable," and a "national treasure."
"It's not so much what the USO provides," Mundy said, "It's as simple as a handshake, a friendly face overseas, a touch of home."