Sherry Ems, executive director of the USO of Central and Southern Ohio, and Bob Hope impersonator Bill Johnson.

Sherry Ems, executive director of the USO of Central and Southern Ohio, and Bob Hope impersonator Bill Johnson.

FLORENCE – When the Kentucky National Guard was called to assist with hurricane relief in the Caribbean in early November, the USO went into action.

Members of the Kentucky Guard learned of the assignment only a day ahead of their scheduled departure. The USO put together care packages with food and toiletry items for the military units called together to aid hurricane recovery.

“The USO is still around,” said Sherry Ems, executive director of the USO of Central and Southern Ohio. “The USO is more than Bob Hope and entertainment.”

Ems’ branch of the military support organization covers 65 counties in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, including Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. In a presentation to the Florence Rotary Club on November 6, she said the non-profit organization is considering a name change to identify its service area more clearly.

The USO, created in 1941, gained fame for its entertainment programs for the United States Armed Forces during World War II and the Vietnam War. Hope, a vaudeville comedian and actor, came to be known as the USO’s “one-man morale machine” for his tours of war zones with entertainers during the Christmas season.

USO support has expanded well beyond entertainment shows, but morale boosting is still integral to the operation of the 200 locations around the world.

“Bottom line, our mission is to keep service members connected to home, family and country” from the moment they enter the armed forces until they leave, Ems said.

USO of Central and Southern Ohio maintains lounges for military travelers at four airports in the region including Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (Concourse A and Concourse B). The lounges provide free WI-FI, snacks and a comfortable place to relax for active-duty and retired military.

In addition, USO offers a number of programs designed “to not only take care of the soldier, but also the family behind them,” Ems said. Among the programs are the following:

  • United Through Reading – a recording of the service member reading a book for family to listen to while the soldier is deployed.
  • Read2Connect – a recording of a service member’s child reading a book for the soldier to listen to while deployed.
  • Marry Me Military – a bridal expo with free wedding gowns and ball gowns for service members and family.
  • Operation Military Kids – a one-week summer camp for military children run like a military base so children can see their parents are safe while deployed.

“They (the children) see they’re not alone and other kids are in the same circumstances,” Ems said. “It has a huge impact on the kids’ lives.”

And it’s one more way USO boosts morale.

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