Updated: Mar 7
Featuring Elaine Rogers, President USO-Metro
Presented by Defense Credit Union Council
Story by Kellie Gunderman | Photography Courtesy of USO-Metro
We’ve all heard of the USO. We know them as the patriotic organization that brings great entertainers to troops stationed around the world and provides hope and support to wounded warriors and their families. What you may not know is that the USO is a nonprofit, charitable corporation with charters located across the country and even overseas. Their mission: To strengthen America’s military service members by boosting troop morale and keeping them connected to family, home and country. However, caring for the family units living within our nation’s military was not always one of the USO’s primary objectives.
As the largest charter of the USO, USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore (USO-Metro), has been serving our nation for 79 years. Founded in preparation for World War II, USO-Metro has always been an organization that is vital to our nation’s military success - maintaining high morale for the service members who became America’s first line of defense during WWII. The charter also served our men and women in Vietnam and led us through the trials and tribulations of war in the Middle East.
When Elaine Rogers became the President of USO-Metro in 1977, it was the post-Vietnam War era. Vietnam was a war that shook our nation to its very core and resulted in 58,000 American lives cut short. In the aftermath of this nineteen-year war, the draft was decommissioned. Our service would thereafter be known as an all-volunteer force and with that all-volunteer force came older, more established service members with families. Suddenly, USO-Metro saw a need to evolve and create programs to not only care for our service members, but their families as well. Elaine did not know it at the time, but when she accepted the position of president of USO-Metro, she was about to embark on a journey that would forever shape the way we support our military - spearheading an evolution that would turn USO-Metro into what it is today.
Elaine was just 24-years old.
“It’s been my whole life. I grew up in the USO. I love meeting heroes every day. I love my job. I’m so passionate about what I do. It’s been the adventure of a lifetime," admits Elaine.
A native of Harrisburg, PA, Elaine graduated from Catawba College in Salisbury, NC and went to work for organizations such as the Red Cross and the Pennsylvania Department of Social Services before finding her home with USO-Metro in 1976. Just one year later, she was responsible for the charter, leading the charge to support those who chose to serve - especially those with families.
“We quickly learned we had to change our whole organization. Our priority remained on the service members, but we knew that we had to begin creating programs that provided support to the families as well.” - Elaine Rogers
Elaine knew that the support system at home was just as important to a service member as the quality of boots on his/her feet, the equipment provided to them for combat, or the quality of the vehicles helping them to reach their destinations. Caring for someone’s family was a sure way to boost the morale of an individual service member.
When asked what drove USO-Metro to make so many positive changes for our military families, she said, "We wanted to become that home away from home that so many military families needed. The military families needed support and the service members needed that peace of mind that their loved ones would be cared for no matter what."
Among the programs currently available to military families through USO-Metro are Your USO Meal, Movies on the Lawn, seasonal festivals, couples’ retreats, the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program for children, food assistance, Turkeys for Troops, Trees for our Heroes and services for fallen soldiers. Click here for a full list of services & programs.
Though the focus of USO-Metro has evolved to include families, that does not mean the traditional services offered to service members have vanished. The USO was created and continues to exist to be the representative of the American people to our military and Elaine promises that this will never change.
Elaine went on to discuss how the USO has continued to support our troops and boost morale. “In times of war, especially following 9/11, we’ve brought entertainment and sports to military hospitals. We have had the opportunity to work with Bob Hope, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks and Terry Bradshaw. We work hand-in-hand with military hospitals at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir, providing music therapies, art therapies and adaptive sports opportunities. These therapies not only help the wounded, but also their families.”
Elaine says she cannot choose a favorite program; they all hold a very special place in her heart. But Project USO Elf is a popular program amongst military families in the Washington-Baltimore region. This program allows corporations the opportunity to ‘adopt’ military families and shop for items on their Christmas lists. USO volunteers then accept the items, wrap them and provide them for pick-up at USO Fort Belvoir.
Through all of its history, through the evolution of programs available to service members, and the focus that has been placed on supporting those service members through supporting their families, there is one key piece that in 79 years has never changed: the USO volunteers who make it all possible.
Though USO-Metro's board of directors, leadership and staff have dedicated their lives to these advantageous programs, Elaine knows that none of it would be possible without the donors, corporate partners and, most of all, the volunteers. “Our volunteers are vital to lifting the spirits of our troops and their families. They take the time to welcome visitors at our center or local airports, cook homemade meals and ensure our events run flawlessly. They lead with their hearts and serve our nation’s heroes with integrity.”
To members of the community who are interested in becoming involved with USO-Metro, as a donor, please CLICK HERE.
If you would like to volunteer, CLICK HERE.
To the service members and their families who are out there overcoming obstacle after obstacle, living their best lives in such unique circumstances, Elaine wants you to know that USO-Metro says, “Hello!” You are the heart and soul of our nation and when you need USO-Metro, they will be here.
To Elaine, her team, and her countless volunteers who have made all of this possible, we thank you. Thank you for 79 years of service to our nation’s heroes. We look forward to celebrating your 80th anniversary with you in February 2021.
Meet Elaine Rogers
President and Chief Executive Officer of USO-Metro
Today, USO-Metro is the largest USO affiliate in the world. With ten locations and a “deployable” Mobile USO, USO-Metro provides signature USO services across the greater metropolitan Washington, D.C. and Baltimore region where more than 300,000 troops and their families reside.
Under Elaine Rogers’ leadership, USO-Metro has significantly increased the scope and depth of the programs it provides to active duty military and their families, as well as wounded, ill and injured service members and their caregivers. The organization focuses on needs-based programs and services which include morale-building programs, entertainment, ticket distribution, six USO Centers, a Mobile USO and four USO airport lounges that serve 500,000 service members and their families living and traveling throughout the National Capital Region.
For more information on Elaine or USO-Metro please visit www.usometro.org