The Fort Hood USO has great things planned in 2013.

“USO Fort Hood continually looks at the greater picture to fill gaps where we think we can bring flavor to the installation,” said Robin Crouse, director of the Fort Hood USO. “We put a lot of thought and purpose behind what’s not being done. How can the USO change to meet the needs of an ever-changing Army and its families?”

Fort Hood families can look forward to many of the same popular events that the USO has sponsored in recent years, as well as several new pilot programs, Crouse said.

This year, the Fort Hood USO, its 101 registered volunteers and anyone else who would like to volunteer, will continue to sponsor crowd-pleasing events from years past, like “Movies on the Lawn.”

“Movies on the Lawn is a great program,” Crouse said. “It’s an April to October time frame, and units host us on their own lawn, or we go to a housing area or community center and show a G-rated family movie that aligns with the Army family covenant. We provide free snacks, and we have costumed superheroes and princesses show up to interact with the children.”

It’s been their most popular program, she said, with more than 750 people attending some of the shows.

“When the superheroes come out, they get mobbed. The kids go wild,” she said. “We spent a lot of money on the costumes, but the return of investment has been fabulous.”

Another popular program that will continue is USO story time.

“About a year and a half ago we started USO story time, which is an early literacy workshop geared toward preschoolers and their parents,” said Isabel Hubbard, the Fort Hood USO programs manager.

Community leaders and USO volunteers read a book to the children, then offer a craft with a similar theme.

“It usually happens in the morning, and we serve a healthy breakfast to the kids, and coffee for the parents to help them wake up,” Hubbard said. “We try to get the whole family involved.”

United Through Reading

Another literacy-based program sponsored by the USO is the United Through Reading program, where a soldier can go into a USO and be videotaped reading a book.

“We burn that to a DVD, we take that DVD and put it with the book and a note from you, and send it to your loved ones, for free,” Hubbard said. “It’s to keep you connected even though you’re physically separated.

Crouse said that program is available worldwide.

“It allows a soldier to pick a book and read it to his children as if they were there. I’d like people to know that it’s not just for deployed soldiers,” Crouse said. “If you have children in a different state, in whatever circumstance that may be — a younger sibling, nieces and nephews — separation is separation. Come here for those momentous times in life — birthdays, graduations, holidays. All it costs is your time.”

Family game night was also added last year as a pilot program, but was so popular it had a waiting list.

“It’s family night unplugged,” Hubbard said. “We have board games for every age group. Families can reserve the table, and the games, and we serve them dinner. We bring everything — all they have to do is show up.”

In addition to the past programs, there are several pilot programs that both ladies were enthusiastic to share.

New programs include date night for married couples with no children, a teen dance and Mother’s and Father’s Day events.

Crouse said date night will include tables for two and classic movies under the stars.

“We’re bringing back the Mother’s Day princess breakfast and the Father’s Day superhero breakfast,” said Hubbard. “Those seats will be given away by lottery through our Facebook page.”

Lots of planning

All of these events take a lot of planning, and a lot of work, said Crouse – but that’s what the USO is here for.

“If there’s any message that we give, it’s that we’re trying to meet the needs of the changing Army and keep our family values very close to heart, because they’re so easy to be lost,” she said.

Crouse quoted the USO mission statement to drive home her point: “We are here to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.”

Crouse and Hubbard both encourage anyone who’d like to give back to the U.S. Military family to volunteer at the USO.

For information about participating in USO programs, go to the USO Facebook page.

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