USO on Indian Head naval base to close
Popular hangout for service members shut down
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.”
Naval Support Facility Indian Head USO center supervisor Barbara Locke receives a plaque in her honor from Gunnery Sgt. Maribel Coleman.