USO Arizona Volunteer Sacrifices Sleep so Stranded Troops and Families Have a Place to Stay

When Michelle Selby showed up to volunteer at the USO Arizona center at the Phoenix International Airport last week, she had no idea it was going to be an overnight shift.

But after a large sand storm (called a haboob) blanketed Phoenix — and stranded many traveling service members and their families overnight in the airport — Selby decided to make sure they had a comfortable place to spend the night.

“It makes you feel good when you can do something like that,” Selby said.

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USO Arizona is normally open to service members and their families daily until 8 p.m., unless special extended hours are requested ahead of time. But Selby chose to stay up all night so the USO Arizona center could stay open for the stranded military travelers.

“I just kept thinking, I wouldn’t be able to sleep when I got home,” Selby said. “As tired as I was getting, I couldn’t get myself to leave.”

Initially Selby thought she’d be able keep the center open until 10 p.m. But before she knew it, it was midnight, so she decided to keep the center open for as long as she could stay awake.

“I just didn’t have the heart to go wake them all up and say ‘You guys have to go sleep on the floor out in the airport, I’m going home to my comfy bed,'” Selby said.

Selby, whose son serves in the Air Force, hopes her actions inspire others to volunteer for the USO.

“My whole incentive when I’m at the USO is to try to treat people like I would want my son to be treated and taken care of,” Selby said.

USO at Atlanta Airport Stays Open Around the Clock for Stranded Troops as Ice Storm Shuts Down Travel Across the Region

Trapped in the airport: Stranded troops found refuge at the USO of Georgia's Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport after Tuesday's ice storm paralyzed travel in the region. USO photo

Trapped in the airport: Stranded troops found refuge at the USO of Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after Tuesday’s ice storm paralyzed travel in the region. USO photos

Army Pfc. Lindsay Rosel left her home in Illinois before sunrise Tuesday to attend basic training while her husband, Army Spc. Joseph Rosel, stayed behind with their two kids.

By the time she arrived in Atlanta, however, two inches of snow and ice had paralyzed the metropolitan area, stranding her along with hundreds of other troops and their families at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

It’s now Thursday, and many of them — including Rosel — are still there, being cared for by USO volunteers.

Some troops have been stuck at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport since Tuesday.

Pfc. Lindsay Rosel, center right, and other troops have been stuck at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport since Tuesday.

“We’ve been open and operating 24 hours per day, feeding and serving thousands upon thousands of nervous recruits, expectant mothers and unaccompanied families who were on their way to see their sons or daughters, brothers or sisters graduate from boot camp,” said Mary Lou Austin, CEO of USO of Georgia.

Austin – who hasn’t left the airport since the storm hit on Tuesday – went through a similar “snowpocalypse” nearly three years ago to the day. She knew she would be short-staffed because of the icy roads, so she called in reinforcement volunteers. One of them was Vietnam-era Marine Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter, who couldn’t wait to repay the USO for the help he received as a young lance corporal more than 40 years ago.

It took Hunter three hours to get to the Airport, but he was determined to help.  He quickly realized that it wasn’t the young soldiers who needed his help most, but instead the young wives and family members traveling with small children.

Many of those mothers had placed their diaper supply inside their checked luggage. Luckly, the USO had an emergency supply. And when they needed a place to lie down, Hunter constructed rest areas out of of body-length ottomans.

“They are stuck here for who knows how long,” Hunter said. “One had a son who was 2 years old, laughing and having fun — it was an adventure for him — but she also had [an infant], and was probably 8 months pregnant on top of that.”

Hunter was amazed at how quickly Army recruits jumped in to help out with the toddlers so these mothers could tend to their infants. But for Rosel, taking action was the natural thing to do.

“My group alone was more than 300 recruits,” she said. “For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve left home. They’re all so confused and lost because they haven’t had any training yet. I don’t even want to know what would have happened had the USO not been here. Honestly, they probably wouldn’t have eaten.

“If we had been trying to do all of this without the USO … we definitely would have had problems,” she said. “It would have been chaos.

“I’m so thankful we had the USO. They brought warmth and comfort to an otherwise cold and desperate situation.”