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How do you keep your spirits afloat among the crew of an aircraft carrier struck by coronavirus in the face of social distancing and quarantine?
The USO aims to cheer up hundreds of sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt as they isolate themselves in Guam after the COVID-19 epidemic on the ship.
From old-fashioned care packages that need to be meticulously cleaned up to providing internet access to quarantined seafarers, the USO is adapting to the situation as the country strives to overcome the pandemic, says Alan Reyes, non-profit chief operating officer and rear admiral in the Naval Reserve.
“In a quarantine situation, there is not much going on face to face,” Reyes told Fox News. “There is so much going on digitally. “
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The carrier was faced with a serious impact of the virus, with more than 400 confirmed cases among crew members as of Thursday, its captain relieved of his command – and the Acting Secretary of the Navy resigned for handling this dismissal.
So the crew could benefit from some of what the USO has to offer.
Celebrity tours are now done online, said Reyes. Care packages are broken down by hand, disinfected by a small team working in a warehouse and then repackaged before being delivered to sailors.
And the USO has set up Wi-Fi hotspots so that self-insulating crew members can use their devices to stay in touch with friends and family without having to pay for smartphone plans abroad .
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“Connectivity is the big thing we do,” said Reyes, noting that in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, “everyone is more physically disconnected than ever. “
Thus, the provision of connectivity can range from the installation of fixed lines and computer desks in Internet centers, as in the aftermath of September 11, or it can mean the establishment of a Wi-Fi infrastructure on the fly and even help deployed soldiers make video calls for life events that they may not come home to see in person.
“Like society, over the years everything has gone over to Wi-Fi and cell phones,” said Reyes.
The response to Guam is due in part to the USO’s close relationship with the Ministry of Defense. Its teams are integrated into military installations around the world and have a direct vision of the services that members need at each location.
With thousands of sailors disembarking from the USS Theodore Roosevelt and local facilities not equipped to provide them with all toiletries, Internet access and other needs, the USO has seen where that could help, said Reyes.
It has more than 250 facilities worldwide dedicated to showing back-to-home support for US military personnel.
The nonprofit has spent decades finding ways to support the military at home and abroad, including sending celebrities to military bases for concerts and other events.
But as the nature of the entertainment industry changes, so does the USO’s approach.
For example, musicians now rely more on the income they earn from performing live than on album sales, Reyes noted. This means they may have less time to spend on extended visits to military sites. In the midst of social isolation, the USO has set up virtual performances, as well as more intimate celebrity appearances where service members can chat with them online one-on-one.
These solutions will likely remain in the USO toolbox after the coronavirus crisis has passed.
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“This old adage that necessity is the mother of invention is very relevant to us right now,” said Reyes. “Even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, we will still look for ways to use technology to connect our service members and their families here at home. “