Publication Date: 2/22/2013
Author: Eric Brandner

USO center managers are expected to do it all.

There are volunteers to check on, budgets to track and services to keep running. Letting the coffee pot run dry or the Internet go down are only the start of your worries.

For 14 weeks last fall, center manager Michael Eyassu oversaw all that and more by himself in a war zone.

Eyassu was the lone USO staff employee at USO Camp Marmal in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, running the center through the heavily trafficked holiday season, navigating a change in command at the base and somehow keeping a flow of supplies and services going to combat outposts in Marmal’s area of operations.

That’s why Eyassu was selected to receive the USO President’s Award, which is presented to staffers who have made a significant impact on their department or the organization and is the highest organizational honor a USO employee can receive.

While it would have been commendable for the Alexandria, Va., native to have just kept everything running, USO senior leaders were impressed by his ability to bolster Marmal’s capabilities.

“[Eyassu] generated a tremendous amount of volunteer support to get the center not only open, but he actually expanded the hours,” USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes said.

Force realignment around Afghanistan couldn’t have come at a worse time for Eyassu, who had to handle the influx of new units to Marmal all while juggling a command change at the base. He responded by working more hours and aggressively recruiting and training volunteers. That influx of volunteers allowed USO Camp Marmal to maintain high-quality customer service and cleanliness while keeping its services and programs running.

Eyassu – a USO employee since 2009 and the Marmal center manager since November 2011 – also helped units in the field request USO2GO shipments, working with USO Arlington to ensure the proper paperwork was filed to meet those troops’ unique needs.

“[He’s] a really superb representative of the USO, with tremendous accolades coming back from the military community about what he means to the troops out there,” Reyes said.

Through it all, Eyassu kept up with his logistical duties, too. According to Bruce Burda – USO vice president of operations for Southwest Asia – Eyassu stayed on top of his monthly reporting and even came in under budget for 2012, a result of close scrutiny of expenses while still offering a full slate of services.

“Mike’s attention to detail, creative problem solving and exquisite leadership skills have produced an amazingly successful USO center at FOB Marmal without any other USO staff support,” said Burda, who nominated Eyassu for the award. “Mike has clearly gone above and beyond his normal duties and my expectations, and is most deserving of this prestigious award.”

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Photo caption: USO Camp Marmal center manager Mike Eyassu, second from right, poses with troops during the USO Christmas Convoy on Dec. 23 in Afghanistan. (USO photo)

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