WASHINGTON — The USO wants to entertain troops even to the ends of the Earth.
So planners there have been working on ways to fit a portable projector and screen, an Xbox, DVDs, magazines, snacks and a global high-speed Internet hook-up into a container about the size of an ammo box.
They’re still trying to figure out how to fit Guitar Hero controllers in there.
The project, USO officials said, is part of the nonprofit’s efforts to adapt to the new expeditionary nature of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the challenges of a more mobile and dispersed military.
"We like to think we’ve become expeditionary with the military," said Edward Powell, president of the USO. "Instead of having a fixed base where we always work out of, now we have to go exactly where the servicemembers are when they need us."
The smaller portable entertainment packages, developed with help from Blackwater, cost about $5,000 each and could go into Iraq and Afghanistan as early as September. Officials said they’re working out a few more details to make sure the modified equipment can stand up to the transport and temperature demands.
Powell said he envisions them heading out to posts with fewer than 50 troops, giving servicemembers in the most remote reaches of the world a way to connect back home and relax when not on duty.
Eventually, he’d like to give them to sailors and Marines at sea as well.
In addition, by December USO planners hope to have a mobile trailer stocked with televisions, computers, microwave ovens and gaming systems ready to drop in places like Djibouti and Kandahar, Afghanistan with slightly more infrastructure than the sparse forward operating bases.
The "USO in a Box" approach, Powell said, is a response to troops’ request for help at established bases that are still too remote to get full-time USO staff.
"We’ve found that in those cases, they’re happy to get their own (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) staff in there if we can supply the equipment," he said. "It a way to get all the services from a USO delivered into someplace new."
The trailers cost $100,000 each, and are being developed with other military contractor partners. Powell said numerous technologically savvy groups have stepped forward with money and ideas to get the recreation equipment out to the troops.
"This is their country, too, and they want to help," he said.