Holidays at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO

While many have been enjoying time home over the past couple of weeks, there are some Troops who spent Christmas preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.  At the Jean R. Amos USO Center at Hartsfield-Jackson, though, the mood was positive and hopeful.  Deployment is never easy, but homemade Christmas cards, the support of volunteers, some delicious food, and Santa himself made the day a little bit better for those deploying out of Atlanta.

As Bill Liss of NBC 11 in Atlanta reported, “The troops were gathering at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO above the Airport Atrium.  And there to bring a festive holiday spirit were 63 USO volunteers and 8 top Metro Atlanta chefs serving up a festive holiday banquet.  Many of the troops were heading into active war zones on Christmas day for the first time.”

MyFox Atlanta interviewed Mary Lou Austin, the CEO of USO Georgia, whose sentiments reinforced the importance of the USO’s mission to families this time of year: “Today’s a very special day.  We try to make it as much like home…home for the holidays.”

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UPDATE!  The City of Jacksonville USO made Christmas dinner possible for 1300 Marines from Camp Lejeune.  Check out the video below and read the full story from Eyewitness News 9.  “Gunny Claus” himself (their terms, not ours!) traveled 3,000 miles from the North Pole to provide encouragement

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Operation Proper Exit

Today, the USO is serving troops and their families all over the world.  Our top priority is to support those serving in harm’s way, those who have been wounded as a result and their families.  But advances in communication, aviation and medical technology means that thousands of wounded troops who would have died in earlier wars are now able to survive.

When an American troop falls on the battlefield, he or she is usually picked up by a med-evac helicopter within a matter of minutes and flown directly to an aid station or combat support hospital.  From the moment the first medic or corpsman reaches him, he will receive the absolute best medical care available on Earth.  Those seriously wounded will receive emergency surgery for stabilization and then be transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and on to Walter Reed or Bethesda here in DC, or to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

There, the long journey of putting body and life back together begins.  But there is one thing that no hospital stay or rehabilitative process can completely provide, and that is closure.  You see, when many of our troops are wounded in combat, they are evacuated so quickly that when they regain consciousness, they are in a hospital, separated from their unit, from their friends, and not yet in the arms of their families.

For some of these warriors, it is important for them to be able to retrace their steps, back to their Forward Operating Base, to the roads they patrolled, to the places where their lives were forever changed.  This retracing brings closure, and closure aids healing.

We’ve seen this with veterans of World War II retracing their steps to the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima.  We’ve also seen this with veterans of other wars.  Many of these men had to wait decades before they could return and achieve closure.

Americans often ask, “What else can we do for our troops that would be really special and meaningful?”

Operation Proper Exit is a great answer.

With USO support, the Troops First Foundation has begun taking some of our wounded veterans back to Iraq.  The first group, all amputees with new prosthetic limbs, recently retraced their steps.

Their mission was to answer one question:  Was it worth it?

Of course, this ultimately is a personal question for each of these brave troops.  We cannot experience what they have.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this short video that lets us tag along on their journey.