USO on Indian Head naval base to close

Pop­u­lar hang­out for ser­vice mem­bers shut down

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By CHAR­LIE WRIGHT cwright@somd­news.com

The United Ser­vices Or­ga­ni­za­tions of Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton-Bal­ti­more has de­cided to shut down the USO cen­ter at Naval Sup­port Fa­cil­ity Indian Head.

Cit­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, the group will re­place the ameni­ties of­fered by the cen­ter with mo­bile ser­vices and tran­si­tion a por­tion of its pro­grams to other de­part­ments.

“USO Metro se­nior lead­er­ship and se­lected board mem­bers did a com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of our fi­nances, as they do ev­ery year,”

said John Falin, di­rec­tor of cen­ter op­er­a­tions for USO Metro. “At the com­ple­tion of that anal­y­sis, it was dis­cov­ered that the cost for the Indian Head cen­ter is over­whelm­ingly above the nor­mal cen­ter cost.”

The USO is a pri­vate, non­profit in­sti­tu­tion whose mis­sion is to pro­vide mil­i­tary per­son­nel with meals, recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties and morale-boost­ing events. Metropoli­tan Bal­ti­more-Wash­ing­ton is the largest chap­ter char­tered by the USO, with 10 lo­ca­tions serv­ing nearly 300,000 mil­i­tary mem­bers.

The Indian Head cen­ter was pop­u­lar among ser­vice mem­bers, with some vis­it­ing ev­ery day. It fea­tured a recre­ational room with game con­soles and a com­puter sta­tion, large­screen TVs for watch­ing movies and sports, as well as daily snacks and re­fresh­ments pro­vided by the vol­un­teer staff.

Most im­por­tantly, the USO pro­vided a respite

from the daily grind.

“Just like ev­ery other place in the world, work is stress­ful,” said Lance Cpl. Alexan­dra Lav­ina. “When we’re out in the sun all day, we just want to get back in­side and hang out for a lit­tle bit. It was the best place for us to stop by at the end of the day.”

In ad­di­tion to video games and var­i­ous treats, the cen­ter also of­fered spe­cial lunches for the troops. Cen­ter su­per­vi­sor Bar­bara Locke and her team of vol­un­teers pre­pared fried chicken, lasagna, chili and other meals once a month for hordes of hun­gry ser­vice mem­bers. The last such meal took place on Thurs­day: a bar­be­cue on the patio of the USO build­ing. Around 60 troops and their fam­i­lies chowed down on ham­burg­ers, hot dogs, bar­be­cue and Rita’s Ital­ian Ice.

Locke came to the or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2014 as the part-time su­per­vi­sor. Her po­si­tion was ex­tended to a full-time gig in Oc­to­ber of last year. Ser­vice mem­bers pre­sented her with a plaque at the bar­be­cue to thank her for what she

has done for the cen­ter.

“When I first got here, the USO [wasn’t] what it is now,” said Sgt. David Hernandez. “Bar­bara Locke has built it up to what you see to­day. My­self and my Marines ... take ad­van­tage of the USO be­cause it has been such a great op­por­tu­nity for us to gather some­where where it’s a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment.”

Locke also runs a monthly Su­per­mar­ket Sweep, where the Mary­land Food Bank do­nates 6,000 pounds of non-per­ish­ables and fresh pro­duce. Ser­vice mem­bers shop for free and are able to ob­tain gro­ceries that aren’t avail­able in the area. Indian Head lacks a su­per­mar­ket and the naval base has only the Navy Ex­change, which sup­plies a lim­ited as­sort­ment of food items and bev­er­ages.

“Of all the USOs to close, that place is one they kinda need it more than other places,” said USO vol­un­teer Bill Pierce. “There’s very lit­tle in­fra­struc­ture out there. There’s very lit­tle for the Marines and the Navy per­son­nel com­pared to a lot of other bases.”

Pierce added that it seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive to pro­mote Locke to a full­time role, only to close the cen­ter eight months later. Even fur­ther, vol­un­teers were given three weeks no­tice of the clos­ing — a stark con­trast to the six­month ex­ten­sion given to the NSF Dahlgren cen­ter when it met a sim­i­lar fate.

“We un­der­stand busi­ness de­ci­sions, but what we don’t un­der­stand is not ad­dress­ing our is­sues and the very short tim­ing of the whole thing,” Pierce said. “That didn’t give Indian Head any time to seek al­ter­na­tive ways to save money.”

The Mo­bile USO Pro­gram will re­place the phys­i­cal cen­ter and pro­vide sim­i­lar ameni­ties, but on a less-fre­quent ba­sis. The 34-foot-long trailer dubbed “The Mo­bile” travels to lo­ca­tions in the USO Metro re­gion that do not have brick and mor­tar fa­cil­i­ties.

The rig is out­fit­ted with TVs, gam­ing con­soles, cell phone charg­ing sta­tions and other de­vices. The pro­gram tries to put on a min­i­mum of three to four events at each

in­stal­la­tion, said field op­er­a­tions man­ager Sha­lyn Bar­rett. It will also at­tempt to in­cor­po­rate the spe­cial monthly lunches into its mo­bile of­fer­ings.

“We’re go­ing to start com­mu­ni­ca­tions with com­mand and get a rap­port go­ing with them,” Bar­rett said. “We want to make sure we work with com­mand and head up to those lo­ca­tions to fill the need they have in what­ever event is go­ing on at that point in time.”

The Unit Sup­port Pro­gram will also be a part of the Indian Head op­er­a­tion, con­tribut­ing re­fresh­ments and equip­ment on a smaller scale. This could in­clude a cake for a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion, cases of wa­ter for a 5K run or a bounce house for a com­mu­nity gath­er­ing.

Falin ex­plained that three pro­grams pre­vi­ously of­fered by the Indian Head USO will be shifted to other en­ti­ties — namely Morale Wel­fare and Recre­ation (MWR), the Fam­ily Readi­ness Of­fi­cer and the Chap­lain’s of­fice. While the cen­ter will be closed for the time be­ing, Falin did not rule out a po­ten­tial re­open­ing.

“We will con­tinue to serve the com­mu­nity here in Indian Head, it will just be through another depart­ment,” Falin said. “For this fis­cal year, the de­ci­sion has been made. USO Metro is al­ways open to possibilities.”

For the fore­see­able fu­ture, ser­vice mem­bers at NSF Indian Head will press for­ward with­out their fa­vorite hang­out spot.

“It’s re­ally sad to see it go, but we’ll prob­a­bly work through like we work through ev­ery­thing,” Hernandez said. “We’re Marines — that’s what we do.”

STAFF PHOTO BY CHAR­LIE WRIGHT

Naval Sup­port Fa­cil­ity Indian Head USO cen­ter su­per­vi­sor Bar­bara Locke re­ceives a plaque in her honor from Gun­nery Sgt. Mari­bel Cole­man.

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