‘A Big Smile and a Bullhorn’: Admiral Praises USO After Chicago Airport Experience

On occasion, the USO gets notes of appreciation from senior military leaders. Now-retired Army Gen. Carter Ham lauded the USO’s efforts in helping the freed Algerian oil-workers-turned-hostages back in January.

RDML Kirby, John

Rear Adm. John Kirby

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Navy Chief of Information, dropped one of those notes to USO Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Frank Thorp two weeks ago. Kirby had just watched his son, Colin, graduate boot camp and traveled with him to Chicago O’Hare International Airport where he encountered a familiar sight.

Here’s the story in Kirby’s words:

[T]he real purpose of this note is to let you know how utterly impressed I was by the USO volunteers at O’Hare airport.

As I mentioned, my son graduated from Navy boot camp last Friday. I had the great fortune to be there with my wife. What a day.

Late that night, as they typically do at [the Navy Recruit Training Command], the new sailors were sent by bus to the airport to await their flights out. Colin was going to Charleston on a flight that left at 0600. Some kids weren’t leaving until after noon.

Didn’t matter. RTC dropped them all off at O’Hare at around 0100 to wait.

Who was there to meet them? A USO volunteer with a big smile and a bullhorn.

He separated them into groups based on their departure times, then marched them all up to the USO facility to drop off their gear and relax. Some stayed there. Some, like my boy, opted to go somewhere else to eat.

But all of them were made to feel welcome and proud. All of them were treated like war heroes by the staff there.

And it was the middle of the night.

I have to tell you, I got a little thick in the throat watching those volunteers check these kids in and answer their questions (some had never traveled on their own) and make them feel special.

They didn’t have to do that. But somehow, I got the feeling that they really believed they DID have to.

We didn’t stay with Colin all the way till his departure time. Some parents did. We figured he’d want a little time with his buddies. Besides, we weren’t worried about him.

He was at the USO.

–Preface by USO Story Development