Elaine Rogers, former CEO, USO-Metro

Looking back, Elaine Rogers said with a laugh, she had no idea what she was getting into in 1974 when she took over running USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, which was best known now as USO-Metro and now is known as USO National Capital District.

“I was clueless at 24, what a board was and things like that,” Rogers said. “But I think that really helped me because I was so ignorant of so many things. I had no idea what we would turn into.”

With Rogers leading the way as president and chief executive officer, USO National Capital District grew from an annual budget of $100,000 to more than $10 million annually in cash, goods and services; its volunteer roster grew from 50 to 1,500.

Included in that tremendous growth was a partnership with the Military Bowl that has spanned more than a decade. The game is now named the Military Bowl presented by Peraton, benefiting the USO.

“The metropolitan area of Maryland, Virginia and D.C. has the largest population of military personnel and their families. There is the Pentagon and all of the defense companies and veterans. The numbers are so amazing,” said Rogers, who retired in March 2021, passing her post to Lisa Marie Riggins. “And [the bowl’s previous sponsor] Northrop Grumman was one of our most supportive partners and they were moving to Northern Virginia. The partnership absolutely made sense.

“When the Military Bowl came along, it was a dramatic impact for our USO. It was incredible publicity to be featured with the Military Bowl and Northrop Grumman. It was a great way to talk about programs and the support we needed. And we were to give military families the opportunity to come to the Military Bowl right in their backyard. It was a great opportunity.”

As the Maryland Terrapins beat the East Carolina Pirates, 51-20, in the 2010 Military Bowl, a precedent was set: Complimentary tickets were available for service members and their families, the Military Bowl made a significant contribution to the USO and awareness was raised for the nation’s military.

“On the PR side of things, it has been tremendous,” Rogers said. “You’re on national TV and people saw USO logos and we’d do an on-air interview. It was a great way to get the message out: ‘Here’s how you support our military.’ And of course the funds raised by the Military Bowl went directly to programs we were doing all around the metropolitan area and at military hospitals.”

USO National Capital District’s partnership with the Military Bowl has continued to expand and includes, among other things, a joint pregame reception with Medal of Honor Recipients and the Home of the Free … Because of the Brave Dinner. USO National Capital District also often brings recovering service members, their families and caregivers for retreats at Patriot Point, the Military Bowl Foundation’s 294-acre farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

“It’s been an amazing partnership,” Rogers said. “A lot of wonderful things have come out of this partnership and we’re very proud that we all came together to thank our troops and provide the needed services that we do.”