USO: Q&A with the Okinawa Director
NAME: James P. VanEtten, Jr., but I like to go by Phil VanEtten
POSITION: USO Director Okinawa
TIME WITH USO: I’m a newbie and just started Jan. 4. I did my last four years of active duty with the Marine Corps here in Okinawa and retired in July 2009 after 27 years with the Corps. I remained on island so my daughter, Christal, could graduate from Kubasaki High School with her peers. FYI, she just graduated from Western Washington last month. I worked for Booz Allen Hamilton for 6.5 years after retirement in support of III MEF mission requirements before starting with the USO.
Why did you join the USO?
When I was 12 years old, my neighbor John Dugger recommended I read Gale Sayer’s autobiography, “I am third.” From that time on, I tried to live a lifestyle of putting others first. His book had a tremendous impact on me and changed the way I think. I spent an entire Marine Corps career trying to put others first. In late fall of 2015, a good friend and mentor of mine saw the job opening for the USO Director here in Okinawa and forwarded the hiring link to me. After reading the information, I saw an opportunity to apply my skills and experience to a job that “always puts others first”. My lifestyle and the mission/purpose of the USO could not align any closer. I’m so happy now!
What makes the USO so special?
One could argue that the USO is special because of its employees and leadership. Or because of the commitment from so many great citizens back home whether they be movie stars, musicians, or those every day individuals and organizations who donate to the USO in support of our military service members. All would be good answers. But in the end, I think the USO is special because of our volunteers who are committed to taking care of American’s finest. The USO has 600 employees and over 30,000 volunteers. In order for us to provide programs, entertainment and services at nearly 200 USO locations worldwide, including Afghanistan, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Italy, Japan, Guam, South Korea, Djibouti and the United States, we need the dedication and support of our volunteers. We could not perform the mission of the USO without them. Those volunteers along with our dedicated employees make up the pillars of the USO’s success.
What’s the USO’s target audience?
The short answer is America’s military service members, but we must go beyond that audience. Our new mission is: “The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country, throughout their service to the nation.” In order to keep our military’s service members connected, we need to work with their families, their military leadership, and community leaders. Often times, we have familes deployed here in Okinawa and we need to work closely with them, too. Family Readiness is critical to making and sustaining a successful warrior and is also a force multiplier to our commanders. So overall, we target America’s military service members and their families. Please note the last six words of our new mission statement. We will connect service members throughout their service. So the USO can now be found in MEPS stations all the way until our warriors transition back to the civil sector.
What are some of goals you have as the new USO director on Okinawa?
We are trying to establish a framework and organization in Okinawa (and the region for that matter) that will insure we successfully accomplish the new mission of the USO. For 75 years, we strived to “lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families,” which was a great mission. But now we focus on the days ahead and what will need to occur over the next 75 years to insure that we provide that connection and sustain it through our service members’ military service. For me, I need to provide the resource and tools to the great team we have here in Okinawa to enable their continued success. For example, the USO Center at Camp Hansen sees over 85,000 service members per year. I need to provide a framework to my team that will keep the doors open longer at other centers like Kinser and Courtney, so that their foot traffic/users will increase along with support to our service members there as well.
Where to do you see the USO in another 5 years?
I think in the next 5 years, we will see remarkable changes in the USO. We are not just coffee and donuts anymore. We will start with some new programs to help our service members’ transition back into the civil sector and increase their successful transition. From there, there will be changes in how we support what I call the expeditionary side of the USO. There are probably many other changes on the horizon, but one thing that will not change is our commitment and dedication to our service members and their families.
- 4 FEB: USO Kinser Grand Opening
- 4 FEB: 75th Anniversary celebrations around the island(all USO locations)
- 4 FEB: USO Camp Schwab 40th Anniversary celebration
- 8 FEB: Super Bowl showing in HD + breakfast/snacks (all USO locations)
- Mid-FEB (exact dates TBD): NFL Handshake Tour - Featuring: Head Coach Chuck Pagano and Mike Adams-Safety, Anthony Castonzo-Offensive Tackle, D’Qwell Jackson-Linebacker, Robert Mathis-Outside Linebacker, Pat McAfee-Punter
- 27 FEB: 45th Annual Service Salute, sign up at http://usoservicesalute.eventzilla.net (Butler Officers’ Club)
- 13 MAR: USO Hansen 40th Anniversary
- 17 MAR: St. Patricks Day Event USO Hansen
- 19 MAR: Shop-N-Drop Donation Drive Camp Courtney Commissary
- 26 MAR: Easter Egg Hunt Celebration USO Kinser
- 27 MAR: Henoko Easter Party USO Camp Schwab
- 27 MAR: USO Hansen Easter Event
- 18 MAR: Movie on the Lawn USO Camp Courtney
- 15 APR: Shop N Drop at Hansen Exchange
- 8 MAY: Mother’s Day Event (All USO locations)
- 14/15 MAY: Pacific Okinawa Players (POPS) Performance USO Futenma
- 19 MAY: Shop N Drop at Camp Courtney Commissary
- 5 JUN: Father’s Day Event (All USO locations)
- 11/12 JUN: MCAS Futenma Flightline Festival (USO Futenma)
- 18 JUN: Shop N Drop at Hansen Exchange
- 17 JUN: Movie on the Lawn USO Camp Courtney
- 4 JUL: 4th of July celebrations (All USO locations)
- 16 JUL: Shop N Drop at Camp Courtney Commissary
- 6/7 AUG: Hansen Fest (USO Hansen)
- 20 AUG: Shop N Drop at Hansen Exchange
- H2Go 5K USO Kadena
- Glo Run 5K USO Hansen
- 1 OCT: Shop N Drop at Camp Courtney Commissary
- 15 OCT: Shop N Drop at Hansen Exchange
- 7/14/21/28 OCT: Movie on the Lawn Freaky Friday Series USO Camp Courtney
- 28 OCT: USO Hansen Halloween Carnival
- 28 OCT: USO Futenma Halloween Party
- 29 OCT: Henoko Halloween Party USO Camp Schwab
- Date TBD: What to Expect When You’re Expecting Baby Showers with Heidi Murkoff
- 5 NOV: Shop N Drop at Camp Courtney Commissary
- 24 NOV: Thanksgiving celebrations (All USO locations)
- Color Blast 5K (Camp Lester)
- 17 DEC: Shop N Drop at Hansen Exchange
- Date TBD: Henoko Christmas party USO Camp Schwab
- Holiday celebrations (All USO locations)
- 31 DEC: New Year’s Eve Celebration (Select USO locations)