Brian Blueskye
Credit: Brian Blueskye

When in the military, our servicemen and servicewomen often miss the comforts of home.

That’s where the USO comes in. A lot of military members come through Palm Springs to get to and from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms—and the Bob Hope USO at the Palm Springs International Airport is there to fill the need. It has been in operation since December 2006.

During a recent visit to the Bob Hope USO, center manager Teresa Cherry offered a tour of the facility. It seems small at first, but once you get past the sign-in counter, the canteen, TV area, game room and other areas are sizable—and comfortable.

She explained why the Bob Hope USO in Palm Springs came to be.

“We have Marines and Navy (members) at Twentynine Palms, and when they were getting off the airplanes here, or were coming down here from up there, they had nowhere to go while they were waiting for their flights,” Cherry said. “So the Bob Hope USO provides them with a home away from home where they can come in and get something to drink, something to eat, and take a nap if they want to.”

During holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Bob Hope USO stays open all night and provides accommodations, because hotel rooms are often sold out or too expensive. Cherry said that up to 400 active military members will come through the center during those times.

Cherry, who is retired from the military, shared a story about serving with the USO in Iraq. At one point, the USO ran out of white bread to use for peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches—which caused a bit of chaos. However, the problem was solved adequately enough when USO volunteers located some rye bread.

“Peanut butter and jelly is one of those comforts from home they miss,” Cherry said.

On top of the services the USO provides at the airport, the organization is also active on the base in Twentynine Palms.

“We do homecomings and deployments. When a battalion comes back, we will meet them at the base. We’ll go up and provide hamburgers, hot dogs and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and keep everyone occupied until their loved ones come from the gate,” she said. “When the unit deploys, we’ll go up there and make brown-bag lunches for all the Marines and Navy who are getting on the buses, because they don’t know when their next meal will be, as they go from airport to airport. We’ve hosted the holiday party for the hospital, and we’ll do family days where we go up and provide the food for them. It’s just to let the families know that the United States of America is behind them.”

Cherry explained that one of the best ways for people to support the troops is to donate to the USO, because the organization provides services directly to troops and their families.

“The local USO will know what the family’s needs are, and what the unit’s needs are, and (the USO) can put together the family day or the outing or whatever they are going to do,” she said.

The families of servicemembers who are deployed often find themselves stressed and in need of a connection. The USO does all that they can to provide comfort to those families.

“A lot of the times, it’s because they don’t know where their loved one is, and because of operation security, (the military) can’t tell them where they are,” Cherry said. “They ask things such as, ‘Is he ok?’ or, ‘I heard there was a bombing.’

“There’s a program that the USO does called United Through Reading. The servicemember can go in, pick out a children’s book, and read the book; it’s being videotaped and stored on a mini-DVD, and then the book and the DVD is given to their child. (The children) can see Mom or Dad read to them, and they get story time. The big thing is staying connected, keeping the families busy, and helping the time go by quickly. Six months is a long time.”

People often think that the USO only provides entertainment to troops during war time. However, the USO is so much more than that.

“The USO was started in 1941, and we’ll be celebrating 75 years next year,” Cherry said. “When the USO was founded, six other organizations (came together) to form the USO. They were all doing similar things, and President Franklin Roosevelt said, ‘I need you to come together as one organization for the troops.’ Back then, it was about entertainment—Bob Hope, the USO on every corner, the dances with the service members and that kind of thing. As time went on, the USO had to evolve to meet the needs of the service members. Entertainment is a very small part of what we do.”

The Bob Hope USO provides services out of four Southern California airports, and it depends on the public’s help to survive.

“We’re a charter USO, and pretty much what that means is that we’re a franchise out of the national USO. … Being a charter center means that we are responsible for our own sustainment,” Cherry said. “We don’t get any financial assistance from the national USO or from the government. We are a nonprofit organization. Here in the Coachella Valley, we rely on the generosity of the people, organizations and corporations to continue doing what we do. It’s always (about) the donations and volunteers, because it is a volunteer organization, and I’m the only paid employee. When people donate to the Bob Hope USO here in Palm Springs, it stays locally, from here all the way up to the base in Twentynine Palms.”

For more information or to donate, visit www.bobhopeuso.org.

Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...