After 36 years, USO still brings community together

This year, the Stuttgart United Service Organizations office celebrated its 36th birthday (June 12) by giving out free hot dogs, cake and donated prizes on June 8.
It was a symbolic moment, since the USO Stuttgart has spent the past 36 years giving back to the military community here.

When it first opened its doors in 1975 on Robinson Barracks, the USO was little more than a two-room office providing information on the local community to service members and families.

“Any dependent who needed advice or help or entertainment could go there,” said Hildegard Göhrum, a local national who was on the original USO Council in 1975. “They were guaranteed to find a home away from home.”

Today, although the USO has moved several times and now has an larger office on Panzer Kaserne, its mission has remained the same: to lift the spirits of American troops and their families, and build partnerships with other organizations to deliver on the mission.

But the amount of programs has exploded. “There are a lot more tours; there are a lot more events at the Panzer USO,” said Ulli Wagner, Göhrum’s daughter and president of the local USO Council. “I see more interactions between Germans and Americans.”

One example of these ongoing partnerships is the USO’s 20th Annual Golf Tournament, set for July 23, which will bring Germans and Americans together for a friendly game. Winners will take home prizes from German and American sponsors, such as airline tickets to the U.S.

“We have a lot of support from the surrounding community,” said Stephanie Norby, USO Stuttgart programs and volunteer coordinator. “It will definitely be a good day.”

The USO also continues to offer weekly tours to various German and European destinations. A free “Steppin’ Out” tour is available every month for single or unaccompanied service members.

The USO German language classes will continue throughout the summer as well. The next term will run from July 11 to Aug. 11.

Free USO programs

In addition to paid services, the USO also offers many free programs.
The USO’s free salsa class runs every Wednesday from 7-10 p.m. and is now back at the USO. “Beginners, advanced — anyone can participate,” Norby said.
Community members can also stop by the USO for a free lunch on the last Wednesday of every month from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Some programs were developed specifically for families of deployed or deploying service members.

Family members can send a care package to their deployed loved one through the USO. They can also pick up deployment kits for military children, which include a toy bear, imprinted dog tags, a DVD dealing with deployment, and postcards to send to the loved one.

“It’s just another way to help them cope,” Norby said.  
Before deployment, service members can record a DVD of themselves reading a story through the USO’s “United Through Reading” program, to give to their children to watch while they are away.

Whether or not community members want to use the USO programs, they can always stop by the USO for free beverages and snacks, computer access, free DVD rental or to watch TV. “If they need a quiet place to read, study, or just to come and get away, we’re here,” Norby said.

It’s also a great place to learn about travel opportunities, Norby added. “We have a plethora of information about Germany as well as other countries in Europe,” she said.

While some programs — such as cooking in the USO kitchen and taking tours — haven’t changed in 36 years, others are constantly being introduced.
The best way to find out about the latest USO programs is to sign up for the weekly e-mail newsletter at the USO office, she said.

Or, to make a suggestion for a future program or tour, “come by or write an ICE comment. We are always happy to receive feedback and incorporate it into our planning,” she added.  

To sign up for the golf tournament or see a schedule of tours, visit The Kiosk, USO Stuttgart’s bimonthly magazine, is available online and at the USO, Building 2915, Panzer Kaserne.  
The USO Stuttgart is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information, call 431-3505/civ. 07031-15-3505.