USO Rapid Response Gaming Kits Strengthen Connections Between Service Members

In an era where connection is vital, the USO has revolutionized how service members stationed around the globe find camaraderie and joy through gaming. The rollout of USO Rapid Response Gaming Kits has not only transformed downtime for these men and women, but has also bridged the gap within military communities, encouraging friendships that last long after the deployment is over.

What is a USO Rapid Response Gaming Kit? These kits come packaged in a tactical case, durable even in austere environments. When opened, there are between six to eight Nintendo Switches, controllers, connection cords, battery packs and a collection of around ten games.

Gaming is a fun activity that helps service members relax and unwind. It also enables them to connect and interact with their peers. | Photo credit USO Photo

“The kits alone look amazing,” said Manny Arroyo, center manager of USO Romania. “When you open it, everyone’s eyes just light up in awe.” Manny has used the gaming kits to bring fun to service members in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary. “The kits were something no one had ever seen before.”

Gaming in the most popular program we have right now. The impact on service members is incredible because it has no boundaries, no language. Everyone gets together, sits down and has a great time. Everyone just plays together.

One critical aspect that makes the gaming kits so effective in austere environments is that no Wi-Fi is needed for military members to play. The kit plugs straight into a TV, so even when the weather is bad or they are out in the field, service members can still escape and relax from their daily tasks. And if there is no television, people can play directly from the screen on the Nintendo Switch. For this reason, these kits were some of the first programming elements the USO brought when service members began to touch down in Eastern Europe.

Spc Juan Rivera plays games on the Nintendo Switch, part of a USO Rapid Response Gaming Kit. | Photo credit USO Photo

Spc Juan Rivera, a dedicated U.S. Army medic, has experienced the invaluable role gaming plays in maintaining morale during deployments. “The gaming kits do a really good job of keeping soldiers occupied, so they’re not thinking too much of how much they miss home.”

Whether it’s a Mario Kart tournament or a casual game night, these kits provide a much-needed respite from the rigors of deployment, bringing a sense of normalcy in even the most challenging environments.

“They’re really fun systems,” said Juan. “I have seen how they affect a lot of people, especially in the hospital. I’ve seen a whole squad get together in the USO or on one or two screens, just piled up looking at these games. They’re playing together, yelling at each other. It does really bring people together.

Sgt Angel Herrera games with friends at USO Romania. | Photo credit USO Photo

Sgt Angel Herrera, a U.S. Army soldier with almost seven years of service, echoes this sentiment, emphasizing how gaming fosters camaraderie and alleviates stress. “The gaming kits contribute significantly to bringing people together. It also gives people the opportunity to compete and escape reality.”

For Angel and many other service members, the USO isn’t just a place for snacks — it’s a home away from home where they can unwind and connect, no matter where they are in the world.

When Michelle Runyon and her team opened USO Camp Albertshof in Hohenfels, Germany, they had no internet connection for service members and their families. The USO Rapid Response gaming kits were a great alternative for their new gaming area. USO staff and volunteers were able to set up fun and exciting Mario Kart and Smash Bros tournaments for their community using the kits.

Soldiers deployed to Hungary have fun with the USO Rapid Response Gaming Kit. | Photo credit USO Photo

“During our first rotations when we opened, we would use the gaming kits every day,” said Michelle. “It was packed. Depending on what kind of training and how much they are allowed to train, service members didn’t have anything with them. We were handing out four Nintendo Switches a day.”

When the Camp Albertshof team set up the gaming kits, soldiers were so excited. They didn’t anticipate the USO would have such great entertainment options that would allow them to play together. Michelle and her team witnessed many heartwarming moments of connection that happened because of these gaming kits.

USO Rapid Response Gaming Kits can be used virtually anywhere - perfect for service members deployed to austere locations with no access to entertainment. | Photo credit USO Photo

“When we set up games like Mario Kart, soldiers and families would play together,” said Michelle. “One British soldier was so thrilled to play Mario Kart with a kid, he gave him one of his unit patches. So now this kid has a cool British army patch just for showing up and hanging out with him.”

Verizon’s generous support to USO Europe, Middle East and Africa further underscores the significance of these gaming initiatives.

“Verizon has a strong tradition of supporting the military community, and donations to organizations like the USO play a critical role in carrying this mission forward,” said Kyle Malady, CEO of Verizon Business. “As the executive sponsor of Verizon VALOR, our employee resource group for the more than 8,000 veterans and 500 military spouses part of our workforce across the globe, I see firsthand how important the work of the USO is to those in uniform, and it is personally important to me that Verizon Business contributes.”

As the U.S. military continues its expansion into Eastern Europe, the USO will remain by their side, providing evolving opportunities for gaming and connection.

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