By Sgt. Erica N. Cain

First Army Division West public affairs

Fort Hood's United Service Organizations hosted a soft opening of its new North Fort Hood location on Feb. 17.

"North Fort Hood has been a long time coming," said Robin Crouse, USO Fort Hood director.

The USO is a nonprofit, private organization that relies on individuals, organizations and corporations to support its activities. Even though the USO is not a part of the United States government, it is recognized by the Defense Department, Congress and president of the United States.

"We are a time-honored organization that doesn't miss a beat," Crouse said. "We continue to grow and change to meet the needs of what the military wants from us."

The North Fort Hood facility is still being organized and registering volunteers, but is open for the deploying troops currently training at North Fort Hood.

"Soldiers know the red, white and blue logo," Crouse said. "They know that that's a safe haven.

They know they can have a phone call there, or they can get on a computer and talk to their loved ones, or get something cold to drink, even a hug."

Currently, the facility contains state-of-the-art flat screen televisions, some set up for Playstation and X-Box 360 gaming and others arranged with couches and tables for a living room ambiance. The facility also has a kitchen with refreshments available for servicemembers at no charge.

"If we can make somebody's day better by playing a game or having a barbeque or an outdoor movie, it's all about saying thank you," Crouse said.

The USO has also partnered with the United Through Reading program. This partnership allows deployed troops to "virtually" read their children a bedtime story.

Servicemembers are videoed reading a book aloud, then the DVDs and books are mailed to the families at home.

All recording equipment, books, packing and shipping materials are supplied by the USO.

"I want the soldiers to feel that they are appreciated because they are giving up everything they have come to know to be able to serve their nation," Crouse said.

The grand opening for the facility is tentatively scheduled for late March.

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