The three "USO in a Box" units will ship out to the warzone this month. (Mike Theiler / USO)
Users of the new "Box" will find wireless internet access, two rugged laptops to e-mail friends and family, four flatscreens to watch movies, a DVD player and three Xbox 360 gaming units and digital surround sound. (Mike Theiler / USO)
You no longer have to stop in to your nearest USO center to find a piece of home, kick up your feet and relax. The United Service Organizations has spent more than a million dollars to deliver home to you. Their new, state-of-the-art "USO in a Box" units ship out this month and feature all the amenities of home.
Well, a few of them anyway.
Users of the new "Box" will find wireless internet access, two rugged laptops to e-mail friends and family, four flatscreens to watch movies, a DVD player, three Xbox 360 gaming units and digital surround sound, all in an expandable cargo container than can be trucked, cargo-shipped, flown or heloed to the front lines.
"The U.S. military, despite its size, can move and deploy with speed and efficiency," according to a release, "and in order to support these brave men and women, the USO must have the same agility."
They run on their own diesel generators and use satellite links for reliable connectivity — so they're probably more wired than your home. And since they cost as much as an actual house, climate control isn't too much to ask: each unit has air conditioning and heating.
Each retrofitted Tactical Operations Center costs $400,000, and the USO plans to ship three of them overseas on February 6; another four units are on order.
"Everything we've done, both the Mobile USOs and the USOs in a Box, has been from the ground up and 100 percent customizable by the USO," said Tiane Harrison, the USO's media relations manager. "The driving thought behind the USO in a Box program is that the military has changed the way it does business, and it has become more expeditionary, and so has the USO."
The goal of the USO in a Box program is to provide the comforts of home - the USO's trademark - to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are far from home. And unlike a regular USO center, of which there are hundreds across the globe, the boxes can be moved to where they're needed most (in the case of the first three, Afghanistan).
"The USO can't put centers everywhere that we want to put them and we can't send staff to these remote and isolated locations like Iraq and Afghanistan," Harrison said. Once delivered, the units expand into operable entertainment centers within 20 minutes. The service members who have tested them out so far — mainly soldiers from Fort Belvoir, Virginia — remarked that they would have come in handy while they were serving overseas.
"From what I've heard," Harrison said, "a few [soldiers] were saying, ‘I just got back from deployment and this would have been awesome.'"