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Konrad Braun, area director, USO Kaiserslautern, Col. Jason Edwards, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander and Megan Rivera, manager of the Baumholder USO, top row, left to right, and other dignitaries, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019.
Konrad Braun, area director, USO Kaiserslautern, Col. Jason Edwards, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander and Megan Rivera, manager of the Baumholder USO, top row, left to right, and other dignitaries, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Konrad Braun, area director, USO Kaiserslautern, Col. Jason Edwards, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander and Megan Rivera, manager of the Baumholder USO, top row, left to right, and other dignitaries, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019.
Konrad Braun, area director, USO Kaiserslautern, Col. Jason Edwards, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz commander and Megan Rivera, manager of the Baumholder USO, top row, left to right, and other dignitaries, cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Sgt. Herman Morales of the 44th Expeditionary Support Battalion out of Baumholder, Germany, plays the Star-Spangled Banner at the grand opening of the USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Sept. 9, 2019.
Sgt. Herman Morales of the 44th Expeditionary Support Battalion out of Baumholder, Germany, plays the Star-Spangled Banner at the grand opening of the USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Servicemembers, civilians and families climb the stairs to the new Baumholder, Germany, USO center on Smith Barracks, moments after the ribbon-cutting. More than 300 people came out for the opening Sept. 9, 2019.
Servicemembers, civilians and families climb the stairs to the new Baumholder, Germany, USO center on Smith Barracks, moments after the ribbon-cutting. More than 300 people came out for the opening Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
USO volunteers dish out the food at the grand opening of the new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019.
USO volunteers dish out the food at the grand opening of the new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
People enjoy the food at the grand opening of the new USO center in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019.
People enjoy the food at the grand opening of the new USO center in Baumholder, Germany, Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
A row of laptops sit in the computer room of the new Baumholder USO center on Smith Barracks, letting servicemembers connect to loved ones worldwide. The art is courtesy of the base health clinic.
A row of laptops sit in the computer room of the new Baumholder USO center on Smith Barracks, letting servicemembers connect to loved ones worldwide. The art is courtesy of the base health clinic. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)
Visitors check out the movie room at new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, after its grand opening, Sept. 9, 2019.
Visitors check out the movie room at new USO center on Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany, after its grand opening, Sept. 9, 2019. (MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES)

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.”

svan.jennifer@stripes.com Twitter: @stripesktown

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