By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Staff Sgt. Dare Adesoji is training at North Fort Hood for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan, far away from his home and loved ones in Boston, so when he needs to relax and get his mind off work, he has limited options.
Thanks to USO Fort Hood and the efforts of locals businesses, he and other troops who visit North Fort Hood to train now have a home away from home.
After almost two years of planning and work, a USO center was opened on the first floor of Building 56480 on Headquarters Avenue at North Fort Hood recently. The center opened its doors more than three weeks ago, but hosted a grand opening March 16.
North Fort Hood is home to National Guard and Reserve units who are training for upcoming deployments. Other troops, including Marines, have been known to train at facilities there, too.
"It really, really means a lot," Col. Gary Brito said of the center.
Brito leads First Army Division West's 120th Infantry Brigade, which oversees much of the training at North Fort Hood. Other Division West training brigades that operate at Fort Hood include the 479th Field Artillery Brigade and the 166th Aviation Brigade.
National Guard and Reserve units mobilize and deploy to Fort Hood, Brito said. They can live and train at North Fort Hood for anywhere from 15 to 90 days and from there they go on to Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan.
Any rest period they can have to get away from the grind is good, Brito said.
Adesoji, a soldier in the Massachusetts Army National Guard's 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, played Madden NFL on one of the center's video game systems last week, his second visit since arriving at Fort Hood in mid-February. The USO North Fort Hood location is not only a morale booster for a two-time deployer like him, but a big one for the new soldiers.
"It's kind of like bringing home back for them," he said.
The new facility has a snack bar, pool tables, a library and areas for playing video games and watching movies. Much of what fills the center was donated by businesses and organizations that have long supported USO Fort Hood. Those include USA Discounters, Dominos Pizza, PepsiCo Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Mars Inc.
The USO, which stands for United Service Organizations, is a private, nonprofit group that aims to boost the morale of troops, whether they are in the United States or deployed to combat zones. The organization does not receive Defense Department funding and relies on donations and volunteers.
Brito remembered attending part of a USO tour in the late 1980s when he was stationed in Germany as a young second lieutenant. He saw the organization's biggest celebrity supporter, Bob Hope; singer and actress Rosemary Clooney; and Miss Universe 1988, and has supported the USO's efforts ever since.
The USO has long provided an enduring comfort to those in uniform, Brito added.
Among the officials at last week's grand opening was Robin Crouse, USO Fort Hood director. She and other USO employees and volunteers worked around the clock to set up the center. Soldiers training at North Food Hood even stopped by to help assemble furniture and organize the center since its initial opening.
Crouse is based at USO Fort Hood, which is located in Building 1871 on 50th Street. It is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and training and federal holidays.
Providing a second USO at Fort Hood was important because soldiers are soldiers regardless of the units in which they serve, Crouse said.
These troops mobilize and train at North Fort Hood, she said, and the new location fits with the USO's goal of giving those in uniform a home away from home. During the grand opening last week, the center was filled with noise and activity as soldiers from First Army Division West and visiting National Guard units played pool and video games, watched movies and feasted on Domino's Pizza and candy.
Crouse reveled in the sound of laughter and chatter. She loves that the stress of training can be eased by a snack, movie and warm smile, she said.
Visitors to USO North Fort Hood will continue to see improvements to the center. Crouse said officials plan to continue adding features and services to make the location even homier than the entertainment centers, coffee tables and comfortable couches it already has.
Current hours of USO North Fort Hood are from 2 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, though Crouse has already received requests from soldiers to be open more.
For more information on the USO at Fort Hood, call (254) 768-2771 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open hours at the North Fort Hood USO will increase as more volunteers come forward, said Robin Crouse, USO Fort Hood director.
Those interested in volunteering must register at www.usovolunteer.org. The next volunteer orientation is March 30 at North Fort Hood.