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USO Pivots To Serve Troops, Families Impacted By Coronavirus

San Diego child of a military family  listens to a virtual storytelling sessi...

Credit: USO

Above: San Diego child of a military family listens to a virtual storytelling session provided by the USO.

— As with other organizations that serve military families, the United Service Organizations (USO) has had to shift gears during the pandemic.

The group known for big events and family gatherings has had to upend its model to handle the fall out from the coronavirus. It cannot hold live shows. USO sites on bases such as Camp Pendelton are also closed at the moment, said Bob Kurkjian, president of USO West Region, which includes California.

Listen to this story by Steve Walsh.

“I really thought that we would have to slow down, given all the social distancing,” he said. “Given that we’ve suspended operations at most of our centers. The exact opposite has been true.”

They’re providing meals and personal supplies to sailors from the USS Roosevelt, which was forced to make an unexpected, extended stop in Guam to quell the Navy’s largest outbreak of COVID-19.

“We provided over $23,000 of medical supplies for the ship's use, primarily masks and gloves and personal protective equipment,” he said.

The USO estimates at least 10,000 U.S. troops are in isolation or quarantine around the world, including San Diego. The group is pivoting to serve them, he said.

“The human interaction that sustains them is largely gone at this point,” he said. “Their meals are being dropped off at the door.”

Troops spend their days largely in their room. The USO is providing WiFi, but also trying to be creative like shipping bean bag sets to let them play one at a time in the hallway, he said.

“The winner keeps pushing the game down the hallway and knock on the door and someone else comes out. But it gives them something to do,” he said.

The USO is also putting together weekly activity bags for the families of troops shut inside base housing. Volunteers have been told to stay home so, Kurkjian says, staff is doing most of the work.

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Steve Walsh
Military Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover military and veterans issues for KPBS and American Homefront, a partnership of public radio stations and NPR. I cover issues ranging from delpoying troops along the California border to efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans.

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