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Fresh off the Plane: USO Fort Drum Volunteers Try to Think of Everything When Welcoming Home Troops

FORT DRUM, N.Y.–After a long flight – and a longer deployment – a little Febreze sounds like a good idea.

While no one is recommending it as a substitute for proper hygiene, it’s a viable – and apparently welcome – quick fix for troops who’ve just returned from their deployment and don’t have the luxury of showering before reuniting with their families.

These are the things USO volunteers George and Alice Barton prepare for when they are among the first civilians to welcome 10th Mountain Division soldiers home.

George Barton receives a certificate of appreciation for his USO volunteerism at welcome home events from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard on July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

George Barton receives a certificate of appreciation for his USO volunteerism at welcome home events from Army Brig. Gen. Michael Howard on July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

“We tell them ‘OK, arms up for a shower before you see your family.’ And we give them a quick squirt,” a chuckling George Barton said July 15, a few hours before welcoming 293 10th Mountain troops back from an Afghanistan deployment. “They get a kick out of that.”

The Bartons have been greeting returning troops at Fort Drum for more than three years. George – a retired airman who also worked for U.S. Customs and Border Protection – welcomes troops with a hearty handshake the moment they clear customs while Alice helps facilitate the snack table, occasionally weilds the Febreze bottle and trades playful barbs with the men and women who’ve just returned from deployment. A host of other USO volunteers are on hand as well, doing everything from ringing a cowbell and yelling “Welcome home!” on the tarmac as troops stream off the plane to making sure those service members have plenty of distractions, coffee and snacks while they kill time before their official return ceremony.

USO volunteer Alice Barton mans the snack table as troops wait for their welcome home ceremony July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

USO volunteer Alice Barton mans the snack table as troops wait for their welcome home ceremony July 15 in Fort Drum, N.Y. USO photo

“It’s like being a mother to every one of these kids,” Alice Barton said before the July 15 ceremony. “I’m glad they’re back. It’s wonderful.”

“I appreciate what they’ve done because I know what they’ve done,” George Barton said. “I’ve been over in Iraq and Afghanistan and I know what it’s like over there and I know what they’re going through. I was only over there two, three weeks at a time. They were over there for a full year. So I appreciate when they come home, they’re glad to see green again most of the time.”

The Bartons – who spend their winters in Las Cruces, New Mexico – volunteer at USO El Paso as well, working with the USO Mobile program.

“For me the retirement’s great,” George Barton said. “And working with the service people – you couldn’t be with better people.”

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Music Room at USO Camp Buehring Helps Deployed Musicians Keep the Beat

For musicians serving in the military, finding a way to keep their musical skills in tune during deployments isn’t easy.

But for troops at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, like drummer and guitarist Lance Cpl. Jonathan Thompson, finding a place to grab a guitar and relax with a jam session is as simple as heading to the USO.

“Every chance I get I try and go to the USO,” Thompson said. “I can’t really tote guitars around with me on deployment, so the USO is the only way I get a chance to keep up with my music.”

USO Camp Buehring’s music room— which is stocked with acoustic and electric instruments — is an oasis for deployed musicians looking for a place to practice their skills or rock out with their friends. According to Thompson, he and his friends regularly have impromptu jam sessions like the one above, which they recorded and posted to Facebook recently.

“I actually wasn’t playing a song,” Thompson said. “I told my buddy Willie to just play some chords and I was going to just run with it for a bit and that’s what happened. I was not expecting people to actually watch it or think anything of it, we were just messing around, and my buddy Thomas decided to record it.”

Thompson also noted that service members who can’t carry a tune can still use USO Camp Buehring’s other programs and services like computer stations and telephones that connect them back home.

“For a lot of us, the USO is the only way we can call and talk to or see (via Skype) wives, husbands or newborns,” Thompson said. “In my case, the USO was the only way I could talk to my father [who] was hospitalized the past few days. Its about more than music at the USO.”

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Donate Today – It’s Free: Kroger Allowing Website Visitors to Give Its Money to USO Programs

KrogerSite

Our donors have a lot of great reasons for giving to the USO, but the one they seem to cite most often is that it just feels good to help the troops and their families.

Now, Kroger has a program where you can get that feeling without opening your wallet.

The national grocery chain came up with the creative idea to allow honoringourheroes.com/promotions visitors to allocate a virtual dollar in 25-cent increments to any of four USO programs that help troops and their families around the world. Kroger will then donate a real dollar – up to $100,000 – to the programs each visitor selects.

Those programs are:

  • USO No Dough Dinners: Aimed at enlisted troops and their families, the USO hosts these free dinners at many of its centers around the globe in the run-up to payday to both build community and allow service members to stretch their dollar as far as possible at a time when money is tight.
  • USO/United Through Reading Military Program: The USO partnership with United Through Reading lets troops preparing to deploy – or already overseas – record children’s’ books and send those recordings (along with a copy of the book, in most instances) back to their kids at home. It’s a great way to remind children that mom or dad are still thinking about them from far away.
  • USO/Hire Heroes USA Workshops: Transition to the civilian sector is a huge issue for today’s troops – especially those who were injured in the line of duty. The USO partners with Hire Heroes USA to teach troops from all backgrounds how to write a resumé, prepare for job interviews and even connect with local employers who may be recruiting in the area.
  • Families of the Fallen: When our service members pay the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, the USO is there in the aftermath to support their families. The USO assists with logistics for families traveling to repatriation locations around the country and also provides coping tools and support for spouses and children alike.

So go donate today. It’s free!

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Looking Back at the Messages of Thanks at the BET Experience

In case you missed it, the USO was on the scene at The BET Experience in Los Angeles on June 28 and 29. Attendees stopped by the USO Mobile inside The Los Angeles Convention Center to send messages of thanks to America’s troops.

While you can see the full video recap here on USO.org, check our our Instavid above and Flipagram below we produced on the convention center floor as attendees stopped by to share their gratitude.

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Fort Drum Youth Volunteer Gives USO Tip of the Cap at High School Graduation

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For USO Fort Drum volunteer William Zenyuk, decorating his graduation cap with USO Every Moment Counts stickers seemed like the most logical way to spice up his outfit for the big day.

“I spend the large majority of my time at the USO,” Zenyuk said.

Zenyuk, who was honored as this year’s Fort Drum Youth Volunteer of the Year, is one of USO Fort Drum’s most active young volunteers, and has volunteered over 1,000 hours in the past year and a half.

What initially began as a way to rack up service hours for the National Honor Society eventually turned into regular routine, Zenyuk said. From volunteering at USO Fort Drum events to helping with daily duties at the center, Zenyuk said he’s made his service to the USO a part of his every day life.

“My favorite part is listening to [troops], their stories and explain how their days are going,• and just talk,” Zenyuk said. “Cause a lot of them just like when you listen.”

Zenyuk, a who’s father served in the military, plans on attending Syracuse University in the fall to study pre-law and American history. He also said he’s planning to enroll in Syracuse’s Army ROTC program in hopes to become a JAG officer one day.

“I’m gonna go [Army] Reserves while I’m in college and hopefully choose to go active duty once I complete law school,” Zenyuk said.