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USO center opens at Naval Submarine Base in Groton

Groton — The United Service Organizations and Navy officials on Thursday celebrated the opening of USO Center Submarine Base New London, the only USO center in the state and a project years in the making.

It's located next to the library, in a spot that was formerly a storage space and was heavily renovated, thanks to financial support and volunteer hours from Pratt & Whitney.

The center includes six Apple computers, snacks and coffee, a TV, a video game area and board games. The USO has more than 250 locations around the world.

Brian Whiting, president of USO of Metropolitan New York, said the idea for the center began as a conversation at Fleet Week with Bob Kydd, director of Morale, Welfare and Recreation on base.

Whiting said they first wanted to make sure there was a need, and about three years ago, they made a decision to create a USO center on base, working with MWR to identify a space and build it out.

"We want to make a difference in the lives of those who sacrificed so much for our nation," said Lisa Anastasi, chief development and marketing officer for USO.

Anastasi and Whiting noted that USO has been running programs on base for many years, such as giveaways of hundreds of bicycles to families, submarine homecoming events and, during the coronavirus pandemic, vouchers to order a takeout meal and a movie for a night in.

Anastasi also pointed to baby showers for pregnant military spouses, giving them a chance to meet other moms and form a community when their husbands are deployed.

But Anastasi said having a brick-and-mortar location, which will be mostly staffed by volunteers, will allow USO to do a lot more.

For example, it will help military spouses find their passions; provide support to servicemembers experiencing the loss of a family member; and connect those leaving the service with jobs, housing and medical care. Anastasi said having a physical location also allows for more videotaping, such as for the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program.

"We at the USO provide an opportunity for the American public to directly interact with our military and say thank you," Whiting said.

He also said he is looking to bring the USO Show Troupe to the sub base in the near future.

"The USO means so much to service members around the world. We know it as a place of refuge," said Capt. Todd Moore, commanding officer of Naval Submarine Base New London.

Command Master Chief Kellen Voland said the center provides the chance to "come in, take a break from the Navy for a minute," grab coffee and hop on a computer.

"It just doesn't look as military, and it kind of gets people out of that headspace," he said, adding that it's "giving folks a break, whether it's from studies or operations on the waterfront."

City of Groton Mayor Keith Hedrick, a Navy veteran, said when he was serving in San Diego, "the home away from home was the USO" and it was a safe place.

New London Mayor Michael Passero and East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson also attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

e.moser@theday.com

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