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.”

USO Houston Hosts Troops and Families at World’s Championship Bar-B-Que

USO Houston hosted around 1,200 troops and family members this past weekend at the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que on the grounds of Reliant Stadium in Houston. The exclusive event is a prelude to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which takes place at the same venue over the next three weeks. USO tour veteran and “BBQ Pitmasters” star Johnny Trigg cooked on the USO’s behalf in the competition.

Finishing Touches: Donor Wall Goes Up at USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir

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The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., has served thousands of troops since it opened in February. However, every building must undergo its final touches.

This week, the temporary donor wall in the center’s Great Room is being replaced by the final version, seen above in its mid-construction phase.

Our New Look

Yep, you’re still in the right place. Welcome to the new-look USO blog.

The new look comes amid several milestones: our 1,000th post, which came last month, and our 1 millionth visitor, which should happen sometime in the next three weeks.

And speaking of new looks, the USO has recently expanded its video storytelling operation. Check out these two stories from the last few weeks, both originally published on USO.org.

First, Gold Star Father Don Blanchard talks about his cross-country ride to honor his son who was killed in Afghanistan:

And here’s a look at last week’s USO 9/11 Service Project on Capitol Hill: