Safe From the Madness: USO of Illinois Gives Stranded Military Spouse a Place To Stay During Crazy Weekend

Siobhan Brennan-Sharer and her husband,

Siobhan Brennan-Sharer and her husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Sharer. Photo courtesy Siobhan Brennan-Sharer

When Siobhan Brennan-Sharer visited her husband in Chicago for Valentine’s Day weekend this year, nothing seemed to go as planned.

From the delay of her initial flight to Chicago from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to getting tangled in a 40-car pileup in freezing weather, Brennan-Sharer’s reunion with her husband — who she hadn’t seen in a month and half — was anything but magical.

“It was an all-around crummy weekend,” Brennan-Sharer wrote in an email. “Not how I wanted to spend the weekend with my husband.”

Improbably, things got even worse.

At the end of the weekend, Brennan-Sharer said her goodbyes and headed back to Chicago O’Hare International Airport for her flight home. When she arrived, Brennan-Sharer discovered her flight was cancelled and she wouldn’t be able to fly out until the next day.

Her husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Sharer, was on duty and couldn’t come pick her up. She called her mother, a retired Marine, for advice on what to do next. Her mom said to find the USO.

Brennan-Sharer headed to the USO of Illinois O’Hare Center, where she was greeted by volunteers who told her she could spend the night at the 24-hour center while waiting her flight. One volunteer even spent time chatting with Brennan-Sharer when she noticed she was crying.

“After all that had happened that weekend, it was awesome to walk in, see friendly faces that helped me and made me feel safe,” Brennan-Sharer wrote.

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“I was there for about 18 hours all together,” she wrote, “and it was great to be somewhere away from home and feel safe and not having to worry about how much extra this canceled flight was going to cost me.”

During her stay, Brennan-Sharer met a number of USO volunteers, including police officer Tim Walsh and his 7-year-old son, Rylan Walsh, who had skipped his Boy Scout pizza party to volunteer with his dad.

Brennan-Sharer — whose father is also a police officer — was particularly touched by the father-son duo, and gave Tim Walsh a challenge coin from her father’s sheriff’s department.

“[I] said he could keep it or give it to his little boy,” she wrote. “He [also] wanted to send me a patch and a challenge coin as [well], so I gave him my information and he just sent [the items] to me a few weeks ago.”

Even though her weekend didn’t go exactly as she had hoped — the airline even lost her luggage on her flight home — Brennan-Sharer still thinks fondly about her time at the USO of Illinois O’Hare Center.

“It was definitely a great place to just catch my breath from the crazy weekend,” she wrote.

USO Steps in to Help Stranded Military Teen and Give Worried Mom Piece Of Mind

Marlene Kenney and her family. Photo courtesy Marlene Kenney

Marlene Chapman and her family. Photo courtesy Marlene Chapman

Marlene Chapman never thought her kids would need the USO.

But after her 19-year-old daughter, Mareena Brown, found herself alone, upset and stranded overnight in the Denver airport, Chapman, who’s married to Air Force 1st Lt. Joseph Chapman, was relieved the USO was there to lend a hand.

“I can’t explain it, except to say, I am crying (again) thinking how relieved I was knowing she felt safe. Knowing she was safe,” Chapman wrote in an email. “I always thought it was for the ones serving, not their families.”

Chapman and Brown’s USO story began long before any plane tickets were booked.

A few years back, Chapman and her children lived in Colorado. That’s where Brown met her friend Cali Lurvey, whose father was in the Army. But military families rarely stay in one place for long. Eventually, Brown moved to Salt Lake City with her mother, and Cali relocated to Minot, South Dakota, with her family. The girls remained close and continued to grow their friendship, particularly when Brown struggled with health issues and Graves’ disease during high school.

Brown eventually graduated high school and started to regain her health. She resumed everyday activities, too, including getting a job at a local call center. After earning her first paycheck, Brown decided to spend the money to visit Cali. So she booked a flight to Minot, packed her bag and had Chapman drop her off at the airport.

“She was very nervous about traveling alone,” Chapman wrote. “I was even more nervous.”

When Brown landed in Denver, she received a series of flight delay texts, and later, a notification that her connecting flight to Minot was cancelled. Alone, and facing a night in the airport without her luggage, Brown called her mother, who suggested she head to Denver International Airport’s USO center.

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After signing in with a volunteer, calming herself down and fueling up on a sandwich and juice, Brown called her mother to let her know that everything was going to be alright.

“She told me to thank Joe (my husband) for being awesome and in the Air Force,” Chapman wrote. “She said the USO felt safe.”

Even though the center closed 10 p.m., Brown said the USO volunteers gave her plenty of snacks and books to keep her happy in the main terminal until the center re-opened at 6 a.m. The next day, Brown went back to the USO and spent her morning relaxing at the center before catching her flight to Minot.

After her experience with the USO, Brown told her mother that she’d like to look into volunteering at her local USO.

“I told her that we will all look into it as a family,” Chapman wrote. “I am grateful to the USO for helping me find peace of mind while she was traveling. We definitely want to be part of the USO community, family, organization.”

USO Volunteer Steps In to Help Stranded Soldier Get Some Shut-eye

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Lt. Col. M. DeLisa Deutsch poses during her holiday in Germany. (Photo courtesy Lt. Col. M. DeLisa Deutsch)

When Lt. Col. M. DeLisa Deutsch planned to meet up with Army friends in Germany over the holidays, an overnight layover near Washington, D.C., wasn’t part of her original travel itinerary.

Continued delays on her initial flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Dulles International Airport outside Washington — where she would catch her international connection to Germany — left Deutsch facing an unexpected overnight stay at Dulles with nowhere to spend the night.

Luckily, USO Dulles Lounge volunteer and veteran Lee Bauer was there to lend a helping hand.

“When I dragged my bags through the doors of the USO, I was greeted with, ‘Are you coming or going’ and I responded [to Bauer] that I didn’t really know,” Deutsch said in an email.

Bauer, who has volunteered with the USO since October 2012, immediately reached out to surrounding hotels to find Deutsch a place to rest her head.

“Within minutes he came to me with a smile and informed me he had a [free] room for me at a nearby hotel, (the Holiday Inn Chantilly),” Deutsch said. “He walked me to the shuttle, chatting about his time in the service, and wished me a good evening and safe travels. I appreciated him and the other volunteers at this and other USO [centers] more than I can say.”

After arriving in Germany, Deutsch also stopped by the USO Frankfurt International Airport to get some sleep.

“It was small, but the staff was kind and there was a couch and a blanket and pillow,” Deutsch said. “It was the first sleep I had since the redeye flight I was able to get on the following day.”

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.”