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Spc. Samuel Soza, 367th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
COB BASRA, Iraq – 11.26.2009
A sidewalk café in the middle of the desert would be plenty of cause for a Soldier to pause for a moment's consideration.
But with the grand opening of the largest USO in southwest Asia at Contingency Operating Base Basra, a café is just one of the many hometown influences that went in to creating the facility aiming to give deployed service members
"We wanted to bring a touch of home and create a place where service members could have fun and relax," said Sarah McConnell, of Eyota, Minn., director of USO Basra.
The café is complete with glowing lampposts that would fit any downtown locale and the fireplace, hi-definition televisio, and card table areas all have their own respective "living room" feel.
Besides those and the dedicated Guitar Hero and Rock Band room, the "battle stations" containing X-box and Playstation 3 consoles and a spacious cinema, consideration was given to the colors, layout and even lighting of the facility, according to McConnell.
Also featured are three United Through Reading rooms where service members can record a video of themselves reading a book and send it home to a loved one with the book. This is one of the most popular features, said McConnell.
The creation of a similar, but slightly smaller, USO at Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, which McCOnnell was involved with, served as an invaluable model for creating the one on COB Basra.
"We didn't reinvent the wheel, we just tweaked it," she said.
The facility operates from 10am until 6am the next day, every day.
According to Gary Bibeau, regional vice president of the USO, native of Wyoming, Minn., the project totaled nearly $400,000, much of it donated, and faced many logistical hardships along the way but was worth it all.
"The payback is immediate when you see them come in," he said.