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USO fulfills mission to serve

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mikayla Heineck
  • 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The United Service Organizations Northwest (USO NW) Shali Center and mobile events programs have adapted their operations to accommodate service members and families during the COVID-19 pandemic here.

Due to public health mandates, the Shali Center USO temporarily suspended its building operations, March 20. The facility is now open with limited hours and seating.

Dan Lochner, manager of the Shali center, is also in charge of the USO NW mobile events program, which is based at McChord. The mobile events program travels to events in the Pacific Northwest area to serve military members and their families.

The mobile program is mainly what has been active in the past five months.

Since the temporary suspension of operations, the USO, primarily the mobile program, has served about 34,380 people, which has already exceeded 2019’s estimation of 30,000 people served.

“We used to go out around base to do events, and provide hot dogs, chips and lemonade and those kinds of things, but we can’t do that anymore,” Lochner said. “So, the question became, ‘what can we do?’”

In late April, the USO mobile program gave away free fast-food sandwiches to Airmen and their families. They used a drive-thru method where food was passed through vehicle windows and served 500 people in about 40 minutes.

“It was great being able to still do things like that during a pandemic,” said Airman 1st Class November Alger, 62nd Aerial Port Squadron airfreight journeyman. “It was like a small bit of normalcy in a hectic time, and a nice change of pace from the dining facility.”

Shortly after the sandwich giveaway, Lochner began working with the first sergeants at McChord to coordinate and distribute snacks among Airmen living in the dorms.

The USO regularly receives donations of what Lochner calls “the four C’s” - coffee, cookies, candy and chips. They are trusted with the responsibility of distributing those donations to service members. Additionally, leadership in different units will sometimes pick up donations to give away to members of their organizations.

“Something else that I came up with is turning one of our USO vehicles into an ice cream truck,” Lochner said. “We have done ice cream giveaways through the housing areas on base four times now, probably serving about 1,600 people.”

Lochner explained that for him, it is not just giving someone a free ice cream cone. What is important is the idea that USO volunteers were there to show they care, especially in times of need.

“I love this organization so much I just keep getting more involved,” Lochner said. “It keeps me busy, but I don’t consider it work.”

In its nearly 40-year history of commitment to serving active-duty military and their families on McChord, the USO here has shown its dedication to fulfilling their mission of service, even during a pandemic.

For more information on the USO programs on JBLM and volunteering, please visit the following website: https://northwest.uso.org/shalicenter