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USO Returns To The Road As Pandemic Fears Diminish

The country band LOCASH performs before a crowd at Naval Base San Diego, June 29, 2021.
Steve Walsh
The country band LOCASH performs before a crowd at Naval Base San Diego, June 29, 2021.

One sign that the US military is slowly reopening, the United Service Organization (USO) is making its first stops since the pandemic began.

Live USO events had vanished for more than a year. Tuesday night, the USO held its first event at Naval Base San Diego that included Matt Walsh, star of the TV comedy "Veep," Miss America Camille Schrier and the county band LOCASH.

The USO is known for its live events at bases around the world, but it turned to virtual events during the pandemic. Bob Kurkjian, president of USO West said part of their job is to combat isolation among troops.


“Mental health and mental resiliency is so important in the military right now. It’s so incredibly important that we get folks back out into the world,” he said.

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Naval Base San Diego is still at Health Protection Condition Bravo, which means not everyone is back to working on base. Sailors who aren’t vaccinated were still required to wear masks, or avoid the USO event.

Roughly half the US military has been vaccinated. That's not enough to stop the delta variant, says General John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

“The delta variant is very dangerous and we don’t have a high level of vaccination in this country to where we’re going to get to any broad based immunity,” Hyten said.


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The vaccine is still optional for troops, so participation varies. The carrier USS Lincoln is deploying with over 90% of the sailors vaccinated, Hyten said.

Military Times reported Wednesday that the Navy has the highest vaccination rate, 77%, and the Marines have the lowest rate at 58%, according to the Defense Health Agency. The numbers don’t include civilians who work for the Department of Defense, who had the highest death totals from COVID-19 among people who work for the defense department.

The vaccine is still under an emergency use authorization, and troops are not required to become vaccinated.

Hyten said the USO is following the rules put in place at each local base where the tour stops. Typically, this kind of USO tour is reserved for overseas bases. It started Sunday at the American base at Guantanamo Bay Cuba. The USO makes a second stop in San Diego, at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Wednesday evening.