10 Lessons from 70 Years at the USO

By | February 8, 2021

[February 8, 2021]  My final trip home to New York City after retiring from the U.S. Army took me through the Atlanta Airport; the largest airport in the U.S.  Atlanta remains a central air-transport hub and is the site of the biggest USO on the East Coast.  As I walked into this USO, it brought back fond memories of many trips across the world where the USO was a home away from home.

The United Service Organization (USO) began 80 years ago on February 4, 1941.  U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt wanted to create a support system for the nation’s Armed Forces.  Bringing together the Salvation Army, the YMCA, the National Catholic Community Service, the National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board; these six formed the USO.  It was created specifically to provide morale and recreation services to the troops.1

“The USO Mission Statement: The USO strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home, and country, throughout their service to the nation.”2

Yet, can we really gain lessons, especially lessons on leadership, from the USO?  I think so.  Here are some of those I believe need highlighting:

  1. Good leadership matters.
  2. Tune into the hearts and minds of people.
  3. Create an environment of trust and support.
  4. Stay calm during turbulent times.
  5. Actively seek feedback on your organization.
  6. Have a clearly articulated mission.
  7. Adhere to your core values.
  8. Develop a strategy and be prepared to change it.
  9. Ensure top-leadership support and commitment.
  10. Build external support.

These lessons are factors and propositions that serve as a compass for leaders seeking lessons from the USO.  If there is one thing the USO is, it is flexible and is tolerant of change.  The USO has a leadership culture often overlooked.  I was fortunate to work with many overseas when setting up new USO locations.  Those leaders are not that different from those in senior military positions.  They are certainly not pansies.3

Congratulations on your 80th Birthday, USO.  Once the risk of travel during our current pandemic is reduced, I’ll once again travel and grace the doors of the USO.


  1. https://www.uso.org/stories/2988-on-its-80th-anniversary-the-uso-looks-back-on-eight-decades-of-standing-by-the-us-military
  2. https://www.uso.org/about
  3. https://www.theleadermaker.com/core-values-uso/
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “10 Lessons from 70 Years at the USO

  1. Silly Man

    There are some large airports in the US that don’t have a USO. An example is JFK airport in New York City. WHY is that? I think that those who run the airport are leftists who don’t like the military, so why allow the USO to operate there. I know from those in the know that the JFK airport is this way and they drag their feet without ever saying “no” because they understand the pushback they would receive.

    1. Len Jakosky

      I agree, been there as well and talked to the senior staff about it. They just give excuses for their failure to allow the USO at JFK airport.

  2. Purse 5

    Transition Programs from the USO:
    “Whether it’s a trip home to visit the folks, a PCS, or looking toward civilian life, we know our service members and their families are on the move and we’re here to help. Military family in transit to reunite with a loved one? We can help you get from Point A to Point B with your sanity intact! Coming home from deployment? We’ll be there to greet you; and while you were away, we worked hard to keep you connected to your loved ones! If your transition involves trading camouflage for khakis, we can help there, too, with tools to get a resume squared away and practice for interviews. However you define “transition” during your military career, the USO is there.”

  3. corralesdon

    Another article on an excellent org, with great leadership. Shows what a vision and core values can do to help success.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Yes, indeed, thank the USO and all those that work there who are assisting our military service members. My cousin is a volunteer at the Dallas-Ft.Worth TX USO airport. https://dfw.uso.org/

    2. Roger Yellowmule

      If you need a snack break or want to enjoy a meal with your buddies or your family, find a USO center! The USO offers areas where guests may enjoy frozen sandwiches, pizzas, and a variety of tasty snacks! And the USO does much more than hand out snacks. The USO often receives tickets to exciting local, cultural, entertainment and sporting events like pro-football.

      1. Steve Dade

        RIght, Roger. Thanks for mentioning that. They are a wonderful organization. I don’t see how they can be so consistent in providing such great service.

  4. Rev. Michael Cain

    Another great organization. I think of all that Gen. Satterfield has highlighted, the USO is one of the best because they do good everywhere they go.

  5. Tom Bushmaster

    I too was fortunate to have been assisted in USOs across the country. Mostly in airports where you see traveling military personnel. The VOLUNTEERs are what make it happen. Thanks to those selfless volunteers for what you do.

  6. Army Captain

    As a military man myself, I have had the pleasure to visit many USOs over the past decade and I can say with firm opinion, that those in the USO have given our men and women of the military tremendous help, entertainment, and comfort in many many ways. Thank you USO.

      1. JT Patterson

        Yes, and so have I and I suspect many others who are Vets that regularly read this blog of Gen. Satterfield. Nothing like giving us an example of great organizations that have as their mission to help others.

  7. Doug Smith

    The USO has provided great service to our military personnel and their families.


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