Publication Date: 2/13/2013
Author: Eric Raum and Joseph Andrew Lee

Three years ago, the USO erected a small center on Forward Operating Base Shindand, a dusty airfield in the eastern plains of Afghanistan where the wind never stops blowing. It was built from whatever could be locally acquired. The dust-covered, olive drab tent looked like a prop from M*A*S*H*, but it was never meant to be a permanent location.

The interior of the tent was lit with a string of work lights - the yellow kind, with an exposed light bulb covered with a wire mesh. Plywood everything. The only warmth - or touch of home - was the wall of greeting cards hung up with a string, available for troops to send to loved ones on special occasions. 

On a windy day, the whole tent would shake uncontrollably. Chains and extension cords would flop around, beating at the side of the canvas tent. But FOB Shindand had that small-town feel, and though the USO there wasn't much to look at, it was appreciated.

As time passed, however, the majority of the troops' quarters were moved to the other side of base. The size of the USO was no longer as much of a hindrance as the distance. After three years in their make-shift center, the time had come for the USO to finally put down roots and build what they had planned from the beginning. 

A new location was procured and three tents were erected in the midst of where the troops now live. Calling home from the USO would no longer mean taking a long bus ride to the other side of base after a longer day. Instead, it would be just a stop on the way back from chow time.

Construction for the new center started in late October and concluded on Super Bowl Sunday, when the center was officially opened with a ceremony in front of nearly 40 guests and distinguished visitors from around the area.

"It's been a long time coming and we are glad to finally be open," said USO Shindand Center Manager Frank Stinson, in his trademark booming Louisiana accent. "We had a lot of help from a lot of people to make this happen and we are finally open for business."

On a small-town FOB like Shindand, nothing is taken for granted. Every special event is celebrated by all who can be there. Air Force Lt. Col. Carrie Bausano, commander of the 56th Logistics Readiness Squadron, stopped by the opening ceremony to thank Stinson and the rest of the team for the new facility. She spoke of the importance of being able to stay in touch with loved ones and what it means to just relax every now and then.

"Troops from every command gathered wood and supplies and followed the lead of a single civilian contractor to get this job done," Stinson wrote in a subsequent email. "It was a community effort by the men and women who live and work here."

Now conveniently located on the far east side of the base, the new USO center boasts 16 telephones that dial directly to the U.S. for free, 16 computers with free Internet access and free Wi-Fi access throughout the three-tent facility. 

In addition to the expanded connectivity, the larger USO Shindand also offers troops two TV lounges and a movie theater boasting a 72-inch plasma TV.

Military dads and moms can use USO Shindand's new United Through Reading® room seven days a week to read and record books on video for their children back home. Also, gamers can play Call of Duty online inside the gaming room, equipped with 10 PlayStation®3 gaming systems.

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Photo caption: Troops enter the new USO Shindand. (Photo credit: USO)

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