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USO on the go

Iconic center stays busy in first year at Sill

One year ago today, on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United Service Organizations (USO) opened its first USO Service Center to be housed on an Oklahoma military installation.

Fort Sill is one of a fortunate few. Of 200 locations worldwide, only 22 USO Service Centers are on Army, Navy or Air Force installations.

A year later, Fort Sill's USO Center is a thriving place, having expanded its hours of operations and answered the call for new missions. Ever since the nonprofit organization decided to renovate Building 3265 on Crane Road and reach out directly to active duty service members, USO has had a tremendous impact here. Jennifer Kirby, senior director of USO Oklahoma, has tallied more than 81,000 individual visits to the center so far.

USO can count many milestones since its arrival here:

• On Dec. 8, 2016, one day after its Fort Sill grand opening, USO established a presence in two rooms of the Oklahoma City Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), located in the Federal Building at 301 NW 5th in downtown Oklahoma City.

• On April 18 USO hosted a "What to Expect Baby Shower" here at which best-selling author Heidi Murkoff offered helpful advice for new or expecting moms.

• The Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce took its cue from USO in adopting the theme "The Force Behind the Force" for its Armed Forces Day parade. It also brought in a USO Show Troupe from New York City to perform at the Armed Forces Day luncheon on May 19.

• The next day, Kirby and staff member Jen Troxell brought the USO's mobile unit to the Central Mall parking lot to provide snacks and drinks for the 500 soldiers and Marines who were lining up to march in the parade. They also used the mobile unit at the center for a Memorial Day weekend barbecue for a crowd of 400-plus.

• On June 20, officials here cut the ribbon to the USO Pathfinder offices inside the Soldier for Life Transition Complex, Building 2502 on Sheridan Road. Its purpose is to help service members transitioning to civilian life. David Rollins, site manager, and Missi Singer, USO transition coordinator, have assisted more than 400 transitioning service members since then.

Fort Sill's USO Service Center is celebrating its first birthday all this week, Kirby said. On Tuesday it hosted a Breakfast B4 Business event commemorating its first year of membership in the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. The USO Service Center will also be serving cupcakes at a reception from 4-5 p.m. today in honor of the happy anniversary.

"We are going to invite soldiers and families and to enjoy a cupcake. We'll encourage them to say 'happy birthday' and post it to social media. It'll be a great time to end the day and say happy birthday to USO at Fort Sill," Kirby said.

Cupcakes will also be sent to the MEPS for a simultaneous celebration by the staff up there, she added.

Since Jan. 1, the USO Service Center has been open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. The 7,200-square-foot facility boasts free Wi-Fi, eight free computers, printing (up to five pages), three large-screen televisions, eight gaming stations (four PlayStations and four Xboxes), a billiards area that includes shuffleboard, a pool table and a darts alley, and reading area with complimentary books.

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