Inside DOD   Partnerships

USO Offers Virtual Visits, Gaming During COVID Quarantine

April 28, 2020 | BY Katie Lange, DOD News

Entertainment in the age of the new coronavirus has turned virtual, and that has the USO adapting as well.

The USO traditionally holds live shows and tours all over the world featuring celebrities who entertain U.S. service members. The shows have been a staple of military service for nearly 80 years. Due to social distancing guidelines, though, those live shows and meet-and-greets were put on hold in late March.

"The USO has always been by the side of our military and their families, and COVID-19 does not change this," said USO Chief Operating Officer Alan Reyes. "Our mission of connection is more critical than ever before … to boost morale during the pandemic.”

Two service members on separate couches chat with a man on a video call.
Virtual USO
Service members video chat with Alex Paul of the music group The Chainsmokers while practicing social distancing.
Photo By: USO
VIRIN: 200402-O-ZZ999-873

Nearly 62,000 Defense Department personnel, including active-duty medical staff, National Guardsmen and the Army Corps of Engineers, have been called on to support COVID relief efforts across the country. The USO wanted to continue its programming to support them, so it did some rearranging.

New Ways to Connect

With help from industry leaders, the USO has quickly shifted to virtual programming and engagements for troops and military families. To express gratitude for all the military community is doing to help, celebrities are doing virtual base visits and making one-on-one calls to service members. 

A screenshot of a woman putting unbaked cookies onto a pan.
Virtual USO
A Facebook Live video with Martha Stewart offered service members, military spouses and military children a chance to learn how to spend quality time together in the kitchen.
Photo By: USO
VIRIN: 200409-O-ZZ999-072

Prescreening events, online workshops, classes and question-and-answer sessions will be available through June. Another bonus: A USO channel is set to launch this summer on the gaming system Twitch that will let NBA and NFL players livestream and play video games virtually with service members.

Upcoming engagements include virtual events with novel writer Gillian Flynn, comedians Sarah Silverman and Craig Robinson, and singers Ciara, Trace Adkins and Ne-Yo.

So far, the virtual entertainment has included:

  • Actor David Boreanaz of the CBS show "SEAL Team" took part in video calls with service members at USO Al Asad, Iraq.
  • Grammy award-winning musicians The Chainsmokers held a livestream Q&A with service members in Southwest Asia.
  • Comedian Iliza Shlesinger spoke with service members across USO West and Hawaii about her new Netflix series, "The Iliza Shlesinger Sketch Show." 
  • Culinary icon Martha Stewart hosted a cookie decorating session from her own kitchen for military families on Facebook Live in support of the Month of the Military Child. 
  • Actor Miles Teller and director Joseph Kosinski, who worked together on the much-anticipated “Top Gun: Maverick” sequel set to come out in December, took part in a livestream Q&A with service members in Bahrain. 

A video meeting shows two computer boxes; one with a man and one with a woman.
Virtual USO
Comedian Iliza Shlesinger, right, joins a virtual USO tour during the COVID-19 pandemic while livestreaming a question-and-answer session and comedy hour for service members around the world.
Photo By: USO
VIRIN: 200411-O-ZZ999-396

Recent USO tour veterans are also recording video messages of thanks and support that will be shared with the military communities with whom they interacted.

For more information on the USO’s virtual programming, check out the organization’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit uso.org.