When you arrive in Iraq, you are far from home and in an unfamiliar environment. Most of Joint Base Balad consists of warehouses or working buildings dedicated solely to the Army mission, and it’s not a friendly, welcoming, or comfortable place.
As shown in past posts, JBB has many other ways to compensate. I’ve discussed the swimming pools, the rec centers and gyms, the movie theater, the wonderful food at the DFAC’s. One special place on JBB is the USO.
USO stands for United Service Organizations. The USO Website says “Since just before World War II, the USO has been the bridge between the American people and our men and women in uniform, conveying the heartfelt appreciation and support of a grateful nation. Whether it is a quiet place to go for rest and relaxation, movies refreshments, or a friendly face, the USO consistently delivers its special brand of service to the military.” You may remember learning about Bob Hope or other entertainers going around during WWII to entertain troops in connection with USO events. The USO has had facilities around the world dedicated to helping comfort troops. Today, the USO has some lovely facilities in certain major airports, such as the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, which include things like free meals and snacks, video taping soldiers reading books to their children, and even a place to sleep if you are stuck overnight at the airport. There are USO’s all over the world.
The JBB USO is primarily a place to hang out and relax. They have a big-screen TV which constantly has on a movie, two telephone rooms where you can phone the USA for free on a VOIP phone, and an internet room where troops can use computers. They also have game rooms, and a great many books, magazines, and other little presents (e.g. toothbrushes, sunscreen, etc.) for the troops.
JBB’s USO was the first in Iraq, and it’s likely the best. It’s located in one of the old Iraqi buildings, and surrounded by T-walls like every other building on JBB. It’s very close to the Post Exchange and right across from the main East Side rec center and fitness center, and so it’s in the middle of the action at JBB. Here is what it looks like in front:
When you enter, you see the front desk, which always has someone ready to offer help. They also have snacks, including cookies, popcorn, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (make them yourself). Of course, free water is available, as it is at most every building. The military is required to give you water. The front desk will set you up with a game, or a craft — they have these strings that people love to knot up to make bracelets, which is very fun and a nice way to make a souvenir from Iraq.
Here’s the front desk:
The computer room:
The lounge, where people could use Wi-Fi on their laptops:
And of course the bathroom, which never really worked all that well:
When I was leaving JBB, the USO was in the middle of a major renovation, and they were getting a great deal of brand new furniture. So it is likely that the USO now looks different than it did in these Aug/Sep. 2009 photos. One other big project was the installation of the movie room, which you can read about here:
You’ll see my photo at the grand opening, sitting next to the cute Air Force gal.
The USO has a very friendly staff. I would go there pretty much every day my entire year, sometimes twice a day, and got to know them all. It was a nice place to relax, read the Stars & Stripes paper, and maybe watch a movie. Here is the USO staff, including Eugene (far left), myself, a couple of military volunteers, and Suzanne Sigurdson:
My very favorite thing was “Family Guy Fridays” at the USO. This consisted of free pizza ordered from the Pizza Hut, and a FG marathon. It was a lot of fun to watch Family Guy with all the other troops, and hear everyone roaring with laughter at the crazy humor in that show. The USO is where I got hooked on FG.
Here is Suzanne with a couple of visiting USO honchos.
Suzanne is a very energetic and happy person, she always greeted me when I came in. Her husband lives in Iceland, while she works in Iraq. She is presently organizing a female football league, and I wonder how well that is going. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to take photos of the two young guys from Washington State who often staff the USO. They left for leave before I could photograph them. Those guys were 25 years old, and had long hair, which made them really stand out among the military crowd with the military haircuts. But they were good guys, no doubt about it!
The outside patio almost always had someone hanging out and smoking, or talking. It’s where I parked my bike every day. Even in the hottest parts of the summer, you’d see people hanging out here, especially in the evenings. It was always dusty, but people loved it. Here are a few soldiers hanging out on the back patio:
So anyway, this is my tribute to the Joint Base Balad USO. I spent so many hours there, and greatly appreciated all that the USO did for the soldiers and airmen at JBB! You are a great place, and a great organization. Thanks to all who worked at, or volunteered with, the JBB USO!!!
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