The United Service Organizations (USO) celebrated the grand opening of its first-ever United Kingdom-based center at RAF Lakenheath on Nov. 4th. The facility is designed to serve the 25,000 U.S. visiting forces stationed across the United Kingdom, from the RAF Lakenheath/Mildenhall/Feltwell tri-base area and beyond.
“This is a historic day, opening the first USO in the U.K.,” said USO President and CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II. “The U.K. is our closest ally. We’ve been here since 1948, since the Army Air Corps.”
Dr. Crouch thanked “our U.K. hosts and British citizens for close and long support,” acknowledging that their partnership along with the support of the American people is essential to the success of our military. Col. Jason Camaletti, Commander of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, acknowledged the tremendous team effort and collaboration required to bring the center into existence.
The event welcomed a crowd of service members, civilians and volunteers, who enjoyed the opportunity to tour the facility and share in a buffet lunch. A Flag Football Experience hosted by the NFL (a longtime partner of the USO) that afternoon gave families a chance to visit the USO and get a feel for the types of community-engaging activities the new center will provide.
Considered “the force behind the Forces,” the USO has a long tradition of providing programs, activities and entertainment for service members and their families at more than 250 locations around the globe. Their diverse collection of services is designed to support those in uniform through the entirety of their time in service.
The Lakenheath facility offers a comfortable, modern lounge with abundant seating, convenient technology to include a CAC-enabled computer lab with solid WiFi, and plenty of entertainment options, including foosball, ping pong, a pool table and even a PS5 PlayStation. A variety of donated snacks and a coffee machine are available, too.
“We want this to be a place for people to just come and relax,” said Geno Mendiola, Center Manager for the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl and on-site lead for the past month. He encourages anyone in the area to stop in to enjoy the space. Airmen recently returning from a deployment received a warm welcome with the opportunity to take advantage of the center’s amenities.
Mendiola emphasized the importance of building a sense of family, home and country within the community with the programs and activities to be offered through the new USO. While the USO continues to offer a variety of virtual programming, the center will provide opportunities for people to connect in person. Coffee Connections, bingo, trivia night and karaoke are just a few of the events expected on the calendar. Volunteers organized a sign-making workshop for families ahead of the recent homecoming and look forward to similar community activities in the future.
Taylor Bedford, a USO volunteer, highlighted the variety of volunteer opportunities available. “There are lots of ways to get involved,” she said. “From greeting to helping with activities to making snacks to running programs. We welcome volunteers to come in and play to their strengths in the areas they specialize in.”
For now, the site will be open for drop-ins from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though as the volunteer base grows, hours will increase.