When you enter the door of the Naval Support Facility (NSF) Indian Head USO house, the scent of something like fresh baked spice cookies-and on this particular day Chick-fil-A sandwiches greets you along with the smiling faces of Barb Locke and the volunteer staff that day.
“Welcome to our little home,” Locke greeted me as I arrived amidst a busy lunch break. Several volunteers from Chick-fil-A and for the USO were on hand with smiling faces and plates heaping with cold salads, cookies and the ubiquitous Chick-fil-A sandwich for the steady stream of Sailors and Marines who entered the kitchen through the back door of the house, located just past the front gate at 14 Strauss Avenue. Each was greeted warmly and offered food, kind of like visiting grandma’s house – wonderful smells, lots of food and a welcoming smile.
Locke leads me to her office located in the back of the house,winding her way past tables of Marines who have stopped in for lunch and camaraderie, around another two who are engaged in a rowdy game of soccer on the X-box in the game room and by the one Sailor who is surfing the web at one of the computer stations set up in the game room.
“These two are here almost every day at lunch for a rematch,” Locke laughs as we step past the two who are engaged in a trash-talking match along with their video soccer game.
If you didn’t know you were at the local USO, you could almost imagine that you were back at home with the whole family and that is exactly what Locke is trying to create there — a home away from home for the active duty service members.
This is a part of the mission of the USO, a private, nonprofit organization whose charge is to support the troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services to our men and women in uniform. The goal of the USO, which was chartered by Congress, is to represent the American people by extending a touch of home to the military and home is exactly what Locke has created.
In her part-time role with the USO, Locke works to find ways to serve the active duty service members at NSF Indian Head, along with family members when possible. Her primary objective is to provide a safe space for the Sailors and Marines to relax, recreate and enjoy a home-cooked meal on occasion.
“Once a month we have a special lunch for our service members,” Locke explains. “Today it’s Chick-fil-A, but we also have had chili, fried chicken and lasagna, to name a few.”
In addition to the game room, there are also computers with internet; Sailors and Marines can bring their own laptop and use the Wi-Fi available to surf the web. There are two large screen televisions and plenty of comfortable seating to enjoy the game, your favorite primetime show, a video from the library or to just have a moment to read and relax. Service members are also welcome to make use of the pots and pans and kitchen amenities if you find the mood to try your hand as a Top Chef.
Super Bowl Parties, Pro-Wrestling and Unit Support
Locke is always looking for events and experiences for not only the active duty service members but also their families, and February is full of events for both.
“I am really excited about some of the upcoming events we have planned,” Locke said. “Northrup Grumman gave us a grant so that our USO could provide a Superbowl party this Sunday that we will be hosting at… the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF).”
Thanks to community generosity like the grant, Locke will have all of the typical foods that make a Super Bowl party great: wings, nachos, hot dogs, pizza and popcorn along with a donation of 100 cupcakes.
“We are going to have Cornhole, commercial bingo and other games with some really great donated prizes,” Locke said.
To provide support for the active duty families, the Indian Head USO has a monthly “Supermarket Sweep.”
“The Maryland Food Bank donates 6000 pounds of food for us; not just non-perishables but an entire pallet of fresh produce as well,” Locke shared. “All of the active duty [service members] are welcome to shop for free.”
Supermarket Sweep is always on a Monday and this month the event will take place on Feb. 22.
Every Thursday, the Indian Head USO also receives donations of bread products from the local Food Lion for active duty to choose from.
“We put the donations on a rack out back and all of our active duty are welcome to come by to pick up what they need,” Locke said. “We get bread, rolls, cakes and cookies.”
Throughout the year, the USO provides unit support with donations and services to enhance their quality of life. Sometimes the request is as simple as a donation of hamburgers and buns, prizes for events or even the use of the brand new grill that they have available.
“I have a monthly budget,” Locke said. “As long as we are providing support for the units then we are happy to help.”
One of the events upcoming for February is a Pro Wrestling event that is scheduled for Feb. 22 at the gym.
“They are bringing a ring and the wrestlers and the USO is bringing its mobile unit and will be providing hot dogs,” Locke said. “It is going to be fun for the entire family.”
A Call to Service
Locke does have some restrictions on the services she and the USO can provide; however, she is limited to working 29 hours a week.
“Right now we are opened from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. but I would really love to be able to be open for more hours,” Locke said.
To do that, however, she needs volunteers. Anyone who is 18 or older is welcome to volunteer even if they don’t typically have access to the base.
“We have a one page application, volunteer orientation and there is a vetting process for access, but we can provide volunteers with a one year volunteer identification card that will allow them to come on base to work with us,” Locke said.
“Supermarket Sweep is a great example of when we could use volunteers,” Locke shared. “I need at least four people for a successful event. I have several wonderful volunteers but we could provide so much more support and be opened later with a few more.”
For more information on volunteering with the USO on NSF Indian Head, you can fill out an application at https://www.volgistics.com/ex/portal.dll/ap?ap=865735279 or email Sheila@usometro.org.
If you are an active duty service member who just wants a taste of home and on days like today—a fresh free Chick-fil-A sandwich—stop by Bldg. D-62 just inside the main gate.
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