USO returns to Baumholder after more than a decade's absence
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 9, 2019
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — A former French army bathhouse at Baumholder now serves as a place for U.S. soldiers and their families to unwind and connect while off duty after the USO returned to this hilly outpost, northwest of Ramstein Air Base, for the first time in more than a decade.
More than 300 people at the grand opening of the USO’s newest center in Europe enjoyed a free Hawaiian buffet and toured the center’s many rooms, including a large kitchen, a sitting area with four flat-screen televisions, a computer room, a play area for kids, and a small movie theater equipped with a popcorn machine.
“It’s an investment in this community ... a place for everyone to go,” said Col. Jason T. Edwards, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander.
“I’m just so ecstatic that it’s here.”
The previous USO at Baumholder shut in 2005, amid a post-Cold War drawdown of forces on the base and across Europe.
That trend has been reversed during the past several years, and about 4,000 soldiers are currently assigned to the post, Edwards said.
Although he couldn’t comment on whether the base population would continue to grow, U.S. Army Europe has announced plans to move more units to Baumholder. There are also plans to renovate base housing and replace the two schools on post.
Building 8106 on Smith Barracks, a former bathhouse for the French who occupied Baumholder after World War II, underwent extensive upgrades to meet current building codes and house the USO. The garrison contributed $200,000 to renovations, and the USO added $100,000, said Konrad Braun, USO Kaiserslautern area director.
It’s the newest USO in Europe, which operates about 20 centers across the Continent, Braun said.
Overseas, the USO is open to all U.S. military ID card holders and their families, he said.
“Our mission is to strengthen our servicemembers by connecting them to family, home and country,” Braun said,
First Lt. Alexandra Pogany, 25, an ordnance officer at Baumholder and a USO volunteer, said she was excited to see the center open.
“The soldiers have been asking for one for the longest time,” she said. The center “provides another common space” for soldiers and their families to hang out, on a post where there aren’t many such places.
“No matter when, they’re going to have a place to go,” she said, noting the center is open every day, year-round. “It’s definitely better than staying in the barracks.”