WASHINGTON -- The USO logistics facility at Fort Belvoir spans 12,000 square feet, serves thousands of troops overseas and their families in the United States, and works as a feeder system for all the USO locations in the Metro area. Over several decades, more than a million goody packages have
WASHINGTON -- The USO logistics facility at Fort Belvoir spans 12,000 square feet, serves thousands of troops overseas and their families in the United States, and works as a feeder system for all the USO locations in the Metro area. Over several decades, more than a million goody packages have been stuffed at this facility and sent to the troops.
In other words, the facility, and its services, are essential.
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There was only one problem -- without a proper heating and air conditioning system, the facility was only usable a couple of months out of the year. The lack of a temperature-controlled environment meant nonperishable food items were not accepted, which limited the goods they could send overseas to the troops.
That all changed this year. As part of the All-Star Legacy Program, Major League Baseball, the Nationals and the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore renovated the building, installing new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems as well as commercial-grade refrigeration units.
This will allow the facility to significantly expand services to military members and their families stationed throughout the nation's capital region.
"The All-Star Game is not just the game itself on Tuesday night, or the Home Run Derby," said Mark Lerner, the Nationals' managing principal owner, at the official unveiling Thursday morning. "It's the stamp that baseball and the Nationals leave behind. This facility will benefit thousands of military members around the world. It's one of the great things that USO does. It's an organization of the highest caliber, and we're honored to be working with them."
Each year, MLB Charities works with the host clubs and their foundations to invest approximately $5 million into the community, through its All-Star Legacy Initiative. To date, more than $85 million has been donated since the initiative began in 1997.
The renovated USO logistics facility is one of several beneficiaries of the monetary commitment made by MLB and its partners this year. Thursday's unveiling included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and remarks by several dignitaries, including Lerner, former Nationals pitcher Sean Burnett, President and CEO of the United Service Organizations-Metro Elaine Rogers, Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Christopher Tomlinson and MLB Vice President of Social Responsibility Melanie LeGrande.
Burnett, a veteran of nine Major League seasons who pitched for the Nats from 2009-12 and again in 2016, recalled fond memories of getting to know members of the military during his time playing in the nation's capital. The visits to Walter Reed Military Medical Center were especially meaningful.
"To look at them, they are true heroes," Burnett said. "To watch them do what they can do is very inspirational for all of us. To see them battle through adversity and see their courage, it really hit home, and you could take that home. A bad day on the field really wasn't so bad, when you sat down with the soldiers and saw what they were going through on a daily basis, just to get back to health and get back to their families."
With the new heating and cooling capabilities, the USO logistics facility at Fort Belvoir will increase the number of products and supplies that can be stored at the facility, including the addition of bulk perishable foods to the inventory distributed to the nine USO-Metro locations.
The facility also serves as an important program and event venue, and renovations will expand USO-Metro's reach and provide more programming through the year.
Lt. Col. Tomlinson, who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan and oversaw much of the renovations, marveled at how quickly the project came together.
"What was truly impressive is how the installation, Major League Baseball and the Nationals came together to do it quickly," Tomlinson said. "From what it was before, it takes a lot of work. Everybody just coming together to make it happen in less than a year is pretty impressive."
Rogers, who has been stuffing goody bags and serving the USO for more than four decades, expressed gratitude for the use of A/C and heating.
"We didn't even know what those two words meant," she said. "We have had over a million packages that were stuffed in this building over the years. Now, we have tens of thousands of packages that we're giving to the troops as they get on the plane, leaving from BWI Airport and going over to warzones. This is going to allow us to really step this up."
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.