FORT RILEY, Kan. (WIBW) -- TV and radio stations across the state, including 13 News, are helping mark the 72nd birthday of the USO with a one day fundraising event.
It's being called "Operation USO Support Kansas"- a way to give back to those who serve in uniform.
It is the USO’s goal to show service men and women just how much they are appreciated for their service.
At Fort Riley, the state-of-the-art USO center on Custer Hill is open year round. It's designed to be a home away from home to help take away some of the day to day stress that comes with being in the military.
April Blackmon, USO Director explains: "The USO’s mission is to lift the spirits of troops and their families. Here at Fort Riley, we have our USO center which is the bread and butter of our program, if you will. Our center serves as our home away from home for troops and their families- a comforting place to visit, get a snack, play some video games, rest, relaxation, make phone calls home. It’s our way of saying thank you to our troops through different little things that we do."
The USO is headquartered at Fort Riley but they work to serve members of all branches of service across the state of Kansas.
"Whether it’s an active unit at Fort Leavenworth who’s getting ready to deploy or a reserve unit out of Kansas City who is getting ready to head out, we go throughout the state to support our troops. We do care packages for our deploying troops, care packages for our troops in theater and then homecoming kits to welcome home the single soldiers," Blackmon added.
Other services include things like a private phone network for troops to stay in contact with families and activities for children whose parent is deployed.
From coat drives and concerts to meals and even just a friendly conversation, volunteers help make it all happen.
"It’s something that, as a disabled vet, I’m not able to work in a regular paying job because of my limitations. Here, they work around my limitations. It’s a way for me to give back. I can’t serve anymore as an active soldier so this is my way of giving back to those that are," said Jeff Crippen, a volunteer.
Since its opening in 2010, the center has logged nearly 90,000 visits. Combine that with the other programs and services across the state and the USO in Kansas has helped troops and their family members more than 320,000 times.
"We know how important the USO is to local soldiers and retirees and their families as far as for morale and recreation," said Kirk Crabtree, a local Business sponsor and Army veteran.
The USO is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations to survive. Their goal this year is to raise $75,000 to help fund their programs and operations.
"That’s the most important part- is to see the smiles on the men and women in uniform and their families. That’s where our donations go to- is to help the families and the service members," said Jan Herrington, a volunteer and retired Marine.
"As we see the conflicts die down in theaters overseas, we’re going to have a lot more soldiers and family back home who have been dealing with over a decade of war and at that time, that’s when we’re going to start to see some issues that manifest themselves. We’re going to see a need to keep the force resilient to help recover from back-to-back combat tours and shift to a more garrison-type environment. For us, we have an additional special mission that’s going to continue for a long time and that’s where the support of our fellow patrons in Kansas and our fellow citizens is going to be even more crucial," Blackmon told WIBW.
"Operation USO Support Kansas" will take place this Monday, February 4th. The call center phone bank will be open from 7 AM to 7 PM. To make a donation, call 1-855-USO-GIFT (876-4438).
You can also go online to www.uso.org/donatekansas. Anyone who gives $25 or more will receive a USO t-shirt. The shirts will take approximately 6-8 weeks for delivery.