USO Pacific: The show will go on at Yokota
December 22, 2003
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — United Service Organizations-Pacific officials have shut down their branch office here but vow to keep the mission intact.
USO Pacific Director Frank Herrmann said Thursday that the organization is consolidating Kanto Plain operations at its regional headquarters on Okinawa. Angela Durko, the Pacific marketing director, is now managing all activity on the Japanese mainland.
“We’ve closed the AMC terminal lounge at Yokota, but in no way are we pulling out,” said Herrmann, who’s been with the USO for eight years. “We’re not going to ignore people up there. We still have a mission.
“We’re going to continue with our programming and assisting with quality of life for families and troops. We felt we could still provide that and support the USO tours from down here.”
Rae Roche, who served as acting director of USO Yokota for the last eight months, said she wasn’t given a specific reason for the decision but indicated it had been discussed for some time.
“It’s been in talks for a couple of months now,” she said, adding that Herrmann met with a high-ranking military official at Yokota in late November just prior to the closure.
“I was the only one there for many, many months, so I wore many different hats.”
Yokota military officials declined to comment.
When fully staffed, Roche said, the Yokota office — which was responsible for USO activities at Misawa Air Base, Camp Fuji, Yokosuka Naval Base, Atsugi and Camp Zama — had four or five employees.
Herrmann said the move was a result of resource re-evaluation but conceded the lack of volunteers at Yokota played a part in the decision.
“Many things were considered, and that was just one,” he said. “The USO runs on volunteers predominantly. It’s definitely one of the factors that went into the decision. But nothing else will change, and support for the USO mission will still be carried out on mainland Japan.”
Roche, who’s worked with the USO for two years, plans to stay on as a volunteer. Herrmann called her a “valuable asset” who figures to be a primary point of contact for Durko when events or programs require attention on the Kanto Plain.
“Okinawa has a huge center down there,” said Roche. “They’ll be able to handle operations and take care of the bases, just from a distance.
“The USO provides a home away from home for our military communities. They will definitely continue with the mission.”
USO Pacific has centers across the theater, including two at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, five on Okinawa and four in South Korea. Two Marines also work part-time in the USO lounge at Fuji’s community center.
The organization also operates mobile canteens that travel to remote areas of South Korea and Okinawa not directly served by USO, Herrmann said. They’re equipped with refreshments, board games, televisions, Internet service and mini stages for live performances.
No other Pacific offices have been targeted for closure, he added.
Earlier this week, USO officials announced the opening of a new center in Kuwait. Based at Camp Wolverine, it’s equipped with Internet and e-mail access and will provide a link to family and loved ones back home.