Lawmakers give state grant to USO for programs

Liberty USO pres­id­ent Joe Brooks dis­cusses the pro­grams offered by the or­gan­iz­a­tion. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

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 twar­

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