USO: Q&A with the Guam Director
Name: Leigh Leilani Graham
Position: Area Director – USO Hawaii and Guam
Time with USO: 10 years
Why did you join the USO?
I was first in a USO at the age of six after saying good-bye to my father who was departing to Vietnam as part of his service in the U.S. Army. It was a devastating day for our family, and my mother, sister and I were inconsolable. Being the resourceful military wife that she was, my mother took us into the nearby USO to try to calm our crying and despair. We were welcomed with open and understanding arms, and received all the cookies we could eat! At the age of six “all you can eat cookies” made a lasting impression. When the opportunity to join the USO came later in my life, I recalled what an impact USO comfort had on our lives, and wanted to be a part of making that kind of difference in the lives of other military families. It has been 10 years now, and each day has been a rewarding, treasured blessing. I work with the greatest people in the world serving our nation’s finest – it’s hard to imagine anything more rewarding.
What makes the USO so special?
What makes USO so special are the people we serve – our nation’s heroes and their families! Our freedom as Americans has come at a great price since the birth of our country– the sacrifices of our nation’s military and the families who love them. So often the greatest suffering they endure is the tragedy of separation and loneliness. USO is there to connect our service members with family, home and country so they are always linked with the ideals and values they are fighting so hard to protect. Anyone who has ever been separated from family, home or country knows how much it means to receive a phone call from a loved one, a visit from a recognizable face, a taste of something familiar, or some other way to connect with everything that is missed. USO provides that connection in many creative ways around the world every day, and doing it for our service members and their families is what makes it special.
What’s the USO’s target audience?
America’s service members and their families.
What are some of goals you have as the USO director in the Hawaii-Guam Area?
Our primary goal in the Hawaii-Guam Area is to continue growing USO’s presence where our service members and families most need us. With the critical role Hawaii and Guam play in the Pacific pivot of our military, it is important for USO to stay “ahead of the curve” in meeting the connection needs of our military. We do this through the comfort offerings of relaxation and refreshment in our centers, through our celebrity and entertainment programming, and support programs designed to strengthen military families. Another critical part of our USO offerings, particularly in the Pacific, is our response to expeditionary needs in the current military operational tempo. This may require delivering a hot meal in the early morning hours to several hundred service members on a distant tarmac, or air lifting a traditional Thanksgiving meal to a secluded island where service members are training. USO has to remain as agile and responsive as our service members do in order to be there when they need us. We take pride in being able to answer the call that strengthens and connects our service members or their families whenever we can.
Where to do you see the USO in another 25 years?
I see the USO in another 25 years as the “go to” place for service members and families looking to stay connected with family, home and country that we have always been. Whether that means helping families connect through futuristic, “yet to be discovered” ways, or continuing to offer the very basic, human connectors such as a “taste of home” – USO will be there to answer the call.
75 years ago USO was providing a connection to service members on the front lines of World War II with a cup of hot coffee or a USO show near the front lines. Throughout the years – in every conflict – USO was there to provide the best connection to home that was possible at the time. In recent years USO provided state-of-the-art connectivity in war zones to connect service members with their families throughout the world. One of our newest programs, known as the Transition 360 Alliance, helps service members transitioning out of the military through a holistic approach to sourcing jobs, housing, family support programs and financial guidance.
This is just one recent example of how USO stays relevant with the current, most urgent needs of service members.
In 25 years, I have full faith that USO will continue to be on the cutting edge of technical, relevant and practical ways to meet the needs of those who serve our nation – to ensure they remain strengthened and connected in meaningful ways to their family, home and country.
- USO 75th Anniversary Celebration – “Where America’s Day Begins” – February 4
- Super Game Day at the Guam USO – February 8
- International Asian Furniture Bazaar – April 16-17
- Six Star Service Salute Celebrating 75 Years of the USO – May 14
- USO 75th Anniversary Golf For Our Heroes – Date TBD
- Stronger Families – programs to help strengthen military families (to be confirmed) – July
- Special Delivery – a huge baby shower for expecting military moms – September, 2016
- Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair – November
- Thanksgiving at the Guam USO – November 24
- USO 75th Anniversary Run For Our Heroes – December 10
- Christmas at the Guam USO – December 25
- Celebrity Tours & Distinguished Military Visits – THROUGHOUT YEAR
- Guam USO welcomes various celebrity tours and military visitors on a regular basis.
- Deployments/Homecomings – THROUGHOUT YEAR
- Guam USO supports deployments and homecomings for all branches of service with free refreshment/drinks, care packages, and deployment support gifts for children.
- Single Troop Support- THROUGHOUT YEAR
- Guam USO provides mobile programming center support for single and unaccompanied troops throughout the year.
- Gold Star Families/Families of the Fallen - THROUGHOUT YEAR
- Guam USO provides support to those families during this stressful time, including transportation and airport arrangements as well as local support for local Survivor Outreach Services.