Lawmakers give state grant to USO for programs
In his 28 years in the military, Pennsylvania Army National Guard Col. Michael Konzman has been deployed to Iraq, Germany, Korea and elsewhere.
At each stop, he’s been able to count on the USO for support, whether it’s offering live entertainment shows or morale-boosting comforts of home.
“You name it, the USO is there,” he said. “The USO is a fantastic organization.”
Konzman, deputy commander of the 28th Infantry Division’s 55th Heavy Brigade Combat Team, was at the Pennsylvania National Guard Armory recently as the Liberty USO — which handles all of Pennsylvania and south and central New Jersey — received some really good news.
State Sens. Mike Stack and Larry Farnese delivered a $100,000 check, courtesy of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
Konzman said the USO deserves the money. He’s especially impressed by the organization’s assistance to the families of fallen soldiers. Staff and volunteers work with Philadelphia International Airport security, airlines and car-rental companies to lessen the stress on families en route to Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base, where those who have given the ultimate sacrifice are taken.
“There is no finer organization in the world. Period. End of story,” he said.
The funds will be used to provide meals to 65,000 soldiers and their families at the Liberty USO center at Terminal A-East on the tarmac level of the airport.
The 5,000-square-foot facility provides services to soldiers and their families who are departing to, or coming home from, overseas military service.
Around the clock, military personnel and their loved ones have access to meals, Internet, showers, laundry, bunks, a library, game room and a home theater.
Liberty USO has been serving the needs of active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel for more than 60 years.
“What the USO does is so, so important,” Farnese said at the July 13 news conference.
The armory, at 2700 Southampton Road, is located in Stack’s district.
The lawmaker, a lawyer, is a member of the Army National Guard, serving in the Judge Advocate General Corps. He credited Gov. Tom Corbett and former Gov. Ed Rendell with supporting efforts to deliver funding for the USO.
The way Stack sees it, the organization provides the “niceties of home.”
“The USO makes a huge difference in the soldiers’ and their families’ lives,” Stack said.
In 2010, Liberty USO served more than 135,000 soldiers and their families.
Joe Brooks, a Pine Valley resident who serves as president and chief operating officer of Liberty USO, explained that the USO’s territory includes nine military bases and more than 20 National Guard armories and Reserve readiness centers.
“The USO’s never closed,” he said.
Besides offering day to day support, the USO engages in special projects.
As an example, it is celebrating Christmas in July by sending stockings with DVDs, CDs, beef jerky and Sudoku puzzles to overseas troops.
In addition, the organization teamed with Farnese to collect soccer balls for soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and the youths of both countries.
Also, the initiative provided phone cards for soldiers. Brooks was touched by an e-mail he received from a member of the Tennessee National Guard, thanking the organization for allowing him to be able to talk to his daughter on the day she graduated from kindergarten.
“That was from a phone card from South Broad Street,” he said.
Liberty USO has a staff of six that serves all of Pennsylvania, along with New Jersey from Trenton to Cape May. There are 300 volunteers who donated 35,000 hours in 2010, keeping the airport location open well beyond the typical 9-to-5 time.
Brooks stressed that the USO is a non-profit agency that relies on donations from the public and grateful VFW and American Legion posts.
“We don’t receive one dollar from the federal government,” he said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com