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Special Services Service Clubs/Recreation Centers History
1917 - present
1917 - World War I, somewhere in France.  It was raining in the Salvation Army Camp. A homesick Soldier from Alabama was drinking hot coffee, commenting that he “sure would like a doughnut to go with it.” Soon the whole camp was chanting, “We want doughnuts! We want doughnuts!” The Salvation Army sister on duty said that if the men could come up with the ingredients and the equipment to cook them, she would make doughnuts.

Group of people around table

With the true “field expediency” American Soldiers are famous for, the men went to see what they could scrounge. Before long, they built an adobe stove using empty gallon fruit cans as a stovepipe. Using bacon fat for grease and other scrounged ingredients, the sister began cooking, continuing to fry doughnuts even when the wind and rain blew the tent over. She made 150 doughnuts that first day. Thus began the tradition of the “Doughnut Dolly”!

In July, 1940, the Morale Division was established in the Adjutant General’s Office, Department of the Army. By 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instructed the War Department to employ 100 Army hostesses for stateside and overseas duty. During the peak of World War II, there were 1,000 hostesses in “Service Clubs” around the world. In 1945, the Allied Expeditionary Forces Clubs were deactivated and those hostesses were among personnel sent to Germany to establish Service Clubs for the American occupation troops. In 1946, the title “Army Hostess: was changed to “Service Club Director.” 

In June 1950, ten divisions of the North Korean People’s Army advanced across the 39th parallel. President Harry S. Truman sent U.S. Forces into action. For the first time, Service Clubs were authorized to operate in a combat zone. The uniformed civilian women who served turned Quonset huts into hubs of social and entertainment activities. Personnel were recruited nationwide; single females, over 21, with a four-year college degree qualified.

When the U.S. Battleship Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese P.T. boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in August, 1964, America became directly involved in the Vietnam War. There were 52 Service Clubs in Vietnam, some housed in old buildings, warehouses or mess halls – improved as self-help projects. Under the most adverse conditions, Service Club women traveled by helicopters and trucks to bring recreation programs to thousands of Soldiers. Two Service Club women serving in Vietnam died in 1967 – 68.

The Service Club mission was to provide a “home away from home living room” -- a place where single Soldiers could escape from barracks life and enjoy themselves in a wholesome, alcohol-free environment. Service Club staff provided structured and self-directed cultural, social, creative and competitive leisure activities seven days a week, 365 days a year, free of charge, totally funded by congressionally appropriated dollars.

In 1974, “Service Clubs” were officially redesignated “Recreation Centers,” and the familiar blue uniforms, mandatory hats, heels, and gloves were history. For the first time, civilian men were hired. With more and more married Soldiers and Families living on post, the recreation center customer base broadened, resulting in expanded programming. To meet the growing interest in travel and ticket sales, the Information/Tours/Travel (ITT) program was established, eventually developing into a full scale worldwide travel business under recreation center staff management, .generating non-appropriated funds. 

By the 1980s, recreation centers were serving Soldiers, Families and retirees.  Financial “self-sufficiency” and “marketing” ushering in an era of change that required morale, welfare and recreation programs to generate a portion of the funds needed to support their operations. Recreation centers ran cash bingo and began charging fees for selected programs and ITT tours. 

The Army designated recreation centers, libraries and sports as “Category A, Mission Essential,” and authorized 100 percent appropriated fund support. “Mission essential” meant the responsibility to go to war where and when commanders expressed the need for relief from combat fatigue.

In 1989, recreation centers in Panama met the call during Operation Just Cause as staff provided services 24/7, housing Soldiers, providing services for refugees, and assisting commanders in any way necessary to accomplish the mission. During the 1990-1991 Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Army Recreation Centers, in partnership with Army Libraries conducted the Desert Shield/Desert Storm Creative Writing Contest. In the late1990s, HQ US Army Europe recreation staff mobilized to support troops involved in Operation Joint Guard, establishing a recreation center at Tuzla, Hungary.

In 1989, the Army rolled out a new program for single Soldiers, the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS).  BOSS was designed to be the collective voice for single Soldiers through the chain of command and serve as a tool for commanders to gauge the morale of single Soldiers regarding quality of life issues.  Recreation Centers became the home for BOSS. 

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