Iwen returns ‘home’ to serve as new USO Fort Riley director
Jill Iwen, new director at the USO Fort Riley poses for a picture at her desk in her office at the USO Fort Riley. Photo by: Jessica Healey, POST.
Story by: Jessica Healey
1ST INF. DIV. POST
USO Fort Riley welcomed a new director June 24. Standing a total of 4 feet 10 inches tall, Jill Iwen smiled wide as she returned home to the Fort Riley area to accept the position as the new director.
USO Fort Riley has only two paid positions and services about 5,000 people a month in and out of the center. Everyone else who works at the USO is a volunteer.
"I really truly believe that the USO is a representation of a grateful nation," Iwen said.
The USO has been at Fort Riley since 2007 and has been in its current building at 6918 Trooper Drive since May 25, 2010.
The Fort Riley area has been Iwen's home since 2001, and she said it isn't too different from her hometown of Ulen, Minn.
"I grew up in the country in Minnesota, and you could describe it as 'Little House on the Prairie' meets 'Leave it to Beaver,'" Iwen said.
Iwen said she grew up with two sisters and wanted to join the Peace Corps when she graduated from high school.
Instead, Iwen attended Concordia College in Moorehead, Minn., and majored in accounting. After which, in 1988, she began working in banking and finance.
Eventually, her career path led her to a position with Pioneer Services, which is a lender that offers military financial services. It was in this position that Iwen first started getting acquainted with Fort Riley and Soldiers.
"I had lived in the Fort Riley area out by the lake since 2001, and the only thing I knew of Fort Riley and the 'Big Red One' was that they were the folks across the road that made my china shake in my china cabinet," she joked. "I just knew they made a lot of noise."
While working for Pioneer, Iwen had the opportunity to work with Fred Davenport and Dick Young, who were both former command sergeants major at Fort Riley.
"They set me up for success, and taught me, you know, the ins and outs of the Army," she said. "They were my mentors."
After a successful career in the Fort Riley area, Iwen was asked to transfer to Fort Hood, Texas. It was at Fort Hood that she became involved with the USO.
Iwen didn't want to leave Fort Riley because it was her comfort zone, she said, and it was home to her. After nine months at Fort Hood, she learned about a position opening at USO Fort Riley, and she was encouraged to apply.
"This is my passion. I love taking care of people; I love taking care of Soldiers," Iwen said.
She learned she had gotten the job the day before her birthday and said it was the best birthday present ever.
"Passion makes you an owner of what you do, rather than a renter," Iwen said.
Being the USO Fort Riley director is her dream job, she added.
"I still pinch myself," she said.