'Thrill of the Grill' is Coming to Alaska

Individual moments often accumulate to deliver an impact that resonates beyond their solitary existence. Like individual frames of a movie, when put together, they tell the whole story. In FY22, USO Alaska rolls out the “Thrill of the Grill” program. This program will deliver grills, fuel for the grills, grill tools, spices/sauces, and essential food items to various remote locations in Alaska where our service members and their families live. This exciting program came about through several impactful individual moments.

Moment #1: In May of 2021, the USARAK Commanding General, MG Andrysiak, briefed the USO West Region Board on the Army’s new Arctic Strategy. During his briefing, MG Andrysiak explained some difficulties troops and young families have living and thriving in Alaska. From the sometimes-daunting task of moving from Point A to Point B, to the higher costs of living (fuel, housing, food, utilities), to the unique Alaskan needs that our families face (snow tires, engine block heaters, extreme cold weather clothing), he detailed some of the challenges our service members have in Alaska. Marilyn Cohen, the USO West Region Board Chair and a member of the USO’s Board of Governors, reflected on his comments, “I had never thought of all that. It had a huge impact on me.”

Moment #2: USO Alaska’s first-ever Advisory Board meeting. Before the meeting commenced, Marilyn got a video tour of the USO Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. During her video tour, she spoke with Barb Knaak, Center Operations Supervisor for the center. Barb explained the sustenance life that many service members in Alaska live. Fishing, hunting, gathering, and canning/freezing. In fact, it is not uncommon to see our USO dinners feature Moose Chili, Caribou Brats, or Salmon dip.

Moment #3: Shortly after the USO Alaska Board meeting, the West Region Board met in San Diego. During this meeting, Marilyn connected with Lorin Stewart, the USO’s Vice President of Regional Board Relations. Lorin told Marilyn about his trip to Alaska during their conversation, where he observed service members in the barracks using a grill the USO provided. He said the service members were so appreciative, and it was evident how much the grill meant to them.

With the moments mentioned above percolating in Marilyn’s mind, she was struck with a big idea. Providing grills, grill tools, fuel, and hard-to-get food items for our most remote service members in Alaska. Hence the program “Thrill of the Grill” was born. Shortly after that, Marilyn spoke with her brother, Bert, and told him what she was planning. Without even being asked to support, Bert enthusiastically joined the cause, “I’m in!” A significant financial contribution from Marilyn and Bert will allow USO Alaska to bring the “Thrill of the Grill” to many remote areas of Alaska, including Ketchikan, Cordova, Seward, Kodiak, Petersburg, Sitka, Delta Junction, Black Rapids, Healy, and more.

Through several individual moments, a fantastic program for 2022 was visualized. Through a selfless and loving donation to our service members, it will be realized. We are excited to bring this program to our service members and their families in 2022. It is just another way the USO keeps our service members connected to family, home, and country throughout their service to the nation.

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