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.”

Volunteers Keep Spirits High (and Somewhat Dry) During USO Kandahar Flash Flood Cleanup

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you deploy to the desert, flooding isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Still, a group of USO volunteers and staff bailed out USO Kandahar from a messy situation over the weekend when flash flooding filled some of the center’s rooms with ankle-high water.

“We had a great group of volunteers that were quick to help us get all the furniture and boxes upstairs and to the theatre, which was higher ground and less likely to be affected by the water,” USO Kandahar’s Deborah Ayers wrote in an email. “Within an hour and a half, the water was about 3 inches deep in two of the back rooms, and had pushed forward about halfway through the tent. At that point, the tent had been cleared out except for the volunteers, who went out front to assess the damage.

“[USO Kandahar] has experienced floods almost every year, so this was somewhat expected, and thanks to the amazing cooperation and coordination of the volunteers and staff we got away with minimal damage and we’re up and running again!”

USO Brings Super Bowl Festivities – and a National TV Cameo – to Troops Around the World

Troops attended USOs around the world last night to watch the big game. And even though this year’s Super Bowl was a blowout, they still had a great time. Take a look:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

NBC’s Al Roker Going on USO Tour in 2014

Al Roker

Al Roker

Beloved celebrity weatherman Al Roker announced Tuesday morning that he’ll go on a USO Tour in 2014 as part NBC’s Today Show’s Shine A Light series.

The NBC series is a year-long initiative by the show focusing on service and giving back to communities in need.

From the Today.com:

Al’s goal is to join a USO tour, helping to bring a little bit of America to our troops stationed all around the world.

“A few years ago I went to Afghanistan … You see it on TV, but nothing can prepare you for what these men and women are dealing with,” Al said. “We still have a lot of American troops in harm’s way, and I want them to know that they’re remembered.”

Dates and locations for Roker’s tour are still to be determined.

Roker officially joined the Today Show in 1996 and also hosts Waking Up With Al on The Weather Channel.

Last month, NBC highlighted the USO Christmas Convoy, which hit 50 remote locations in Southwest Asia to bring cheer and gifts to American troops who couldn’t make it home for the holidays to be with their families.

Liberty USO, Phillies Provide Surprise Holiday Moment for Two Recently Deployed Troops

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Eileen Smith’s eyes filled with tears. Capt. Bud Evans shared a long embrace with his son. No matter where you looked, one thing was clear: Liberty USO had created another USO Moment.

The Phillie Phanatic – in his Phanta Claus outfit – handed holiday stockings to two service members who recently returned from Afghanistan on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. In each stocking was a free trip to Philadelphia Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Fla., including US Airways travel vouchers, hotel accommodations, an informal meet-and-greet with Phillies players and first pitch honors at a game. (Check out video of the event here.)

In addition to the surprise, Phillies personnel, Liberty USO staff and board members and host John Brazer assembled the final Operation Stocking Stuffer (OSS) care packages, which will go to troops serving overseas. The OSS shipments will bring USO Liberty’s care package total to more than 5,000 in 2013.