Breaking the Roles: Chef Michael Deihl

U. S. Army Sergeant Sherree Vannoy, 28, from New York City is served lunch by USO Volunteer Larri Milligan the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO on Feb 14 as part of the Operation Chefs Unite Valentine's Day buffet. (USO Photo by Michael Clifton)

Continuing this week’s HuffPost Impact series “Breaking the Roles” is today’s profile of Michael Deihl, the Executive Chef at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, and one of the founders of Operation Chefs Unite.  OCU is an ongoing partnership between the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the American Culinary Federation and USO of Georgia to feed Troops traveling through the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

The interview shows that preparing meals for service members is about much more than just food: “Deihl’s favorite holiday to feed the troops is Christmas. Each December 25, Deihl rises at 4 a.m., ‘getting up when Santa’s just putting his sleigh away,’ to prepare a lavish traditional feast for soldiers. Deihl says, ‘I never felt the spirit of Christmas. I thought I did, but I never felt it until I started getting up early to feed the soldiers.'”

Click here to read the full interview!

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Our Volunteers are the Best!

We here at the USO couldn’t do what we do without the support of our amazing volunteers around the world.  Recently we’ve received a couple of great emails from volunteers, letting us know about their USO experiences.  Enjoy!

The first letter is from Michigan:
“Dear USO,
Lorraine and I [two USO volunteers -ed.] met  Lee and Sue Scherwitz at our USO tent.  Lee shared his story that in 1966 he met Sue at a USO Dance at Selfridge AFB in Mt Clements, MI and in 1967 they were married.  Lee has great memories of the USO and has a special date with the USO in his life! Lee served in the US Air Force for 26 years, serving Vietnam though Desert Storm.  He is currently the Airport Director Southwest Michigan Regional Airport (BEH).

Have a great USO Day,
Welton and Lorraine”

Lee and Sue Scherwitz at the USO tent in Michigan; they met at a USO Dance at Selfridge AFB and have been married for 43 years!

And this great letter is from Georgia:
“Hi Everyone,
I had the most wonderful day yesterday and wanted to share it with my Atlanta friends.  Steve and I volunteered a day at the USO at Hartsfield Airport.

We started our day getting there around 6:45am, signing in and prepping the food area with drinks. Then we were assigned the duty to greet the military as they arrived at the airport and positioned ourselves in our USO aprons and welcoming signs and cart at the top of the escalator where all the passengers exit to go to baggage claim.

The day started (7:00am) as the young men (mostly) and women came up the stairs to be greeted by loved ones excited to see their daddies and sons home for R & R (Rest and relaxation for 2 weeks) after being away for 8 months. They are so young and tears welled in my eyes!!!! Can I do this today??

As the morning went on things slowed down and we become the official airport greeters, helping direct many to baggage claim and ground transportation. Then around lunch time the flights started coming in from all over the country bringing back the young men and women who are returning to the war front. Some greeted us with looks of Where am I, Where do I go, Big smiles or those already starting to get back into their game faces. But not a single one was not happy to have us there, to let them know where to go and to direct them to the USO where they can rest and eat a hot lunch and get refreshments. I can DO this!!! We were told we could leave around 1:00 but I turned to Steve and said I can’t leave yet they are still coming, I have to do this. We stayed and greeted till 2:45, when after several waves of passengers had arrived no more soldiers were in the groups. Almost 8 hours later!!!! One of the best 8 hours I have spent in a long time.

People came up to us to thank us for supporting the troops, some didn’t know what was going on and we explained to them what the USO is all about. A volunteer program receiving donations from corporations and just regular folks.

So next time you come up those escalators take note what you see. Most folks just walk past our military, don’t notice them, they are invisible. Most have very little money, very young, very polite, they are the best of the best, I could not be more proud to be an AMERICAN.

I will do this again soon.

God Bless America, God Bless those soldiers I interfaced with yesterday, they will be in country by Saturday, God be with them and protect them and all those fighting to keep us FREE!!!!


USO is There for Troops Stranded by Volcanic Ash

The recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland has no doubt thrown a wrench in the plans of thousands of travelers.  None more so than Troops stationed around the world who are deploying or returning home.  It’s times like these that the USO faces the challenge of serving huge numbers of stranded Troops and we’re proud to say we’re rising to the occasion.

UPDATE: From WUSA 9, “Volcanic ash has delayed many troops heading overseas out of BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport…Some troops are getting hotel rooms, some are staying with friends, and others are taking advantage of the USO lounge.” Watch the video below!

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First Lieutenant, Richard Cobb, U.S Army, from Florida has been stuck at the Philadelphia airport because of affect of volcano explosion affecting air travel. He was photograph at the USO, at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, April 20, 2010. (Photo by ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS)

At the USO Liberty Center – located in Terminal A at Philadelphia International Airport – Army Lt. Richard Cobb found himself with plenty of time on his hands as he waiting to continue on to another flight during leave.  As reported by Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News, Cobb and others saw one connecting flight to Europe after another canceled, with no immediate information on when they’d be re-booked.  The stranded Troops who found their way to the USO, however, were weathering the delays just fine:

“I could talk about these [USO volunteers] for days,” said Cobb, 26, who’s assigned to the 95th Military Police Battalion, stationed in Mannheim, Germany. “Their hospitality has been unbelievable. The beds and showers are great. They’re constantly asking me if I want something to eat, if I need a wake-up call, if there’s anything they can do…these guys really deserve the publicity. They do a phenomenal job.”

This support comes at a cost, though, as USO Centers are straining their resources to serve thousands whose flights are delayed.  As numerous sources – including WAVY in Norfolk, VA – are reporting, USO Centers like the one at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta are serving up to 1000 soldiers in a 24-hour period, well over the daily average.

Donations of items like bottled water and packaged snacks are especially appreciated in times like this.  Click here to find your local USO and learn how you can help!

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Holidays at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO

While many have been enjoying time home over the past couple of weeks, there are some Troops who spent Christmas preparing to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan.  At the Jean R. Amos USO Center at Hartsfield-Jackson, though, the mood was positive and hopeful.  Deployment is never easy, but homemade Christmas cards, the support of volunteers, some delicious food, and Santa himself made the day a little bit better for those deploying out of Atlanta.

As Bill Liss of NBC 11 in Atlanta reported, “The troops were gathering at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO above the Airport Atrium.  And there to bring a festive holiday spirit were 63 USO volunteers and 8 top Metro Atlanta chefs serving up a festive holiday banquet.  Many of the troops were heading into active war zones on Christmas day for the first time.”

MyFox Atlanta interviewed Mary Lou Austin, the CEO of USO Georgia, whose sentiments reinforced the importance of the USO’s mission to families this time of year: “Today’s a very special day.  We try to make it as much like home…home for the holidays.”

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UPDATE!  The City of Jacksonville USO made Christmas dinner possible for 1300 Marines from Camp Lejeune.  Check out the video below and read the full story from Eyewitness News 9.  “Gunny Claus” himself (their terms, not ours!) traveled 3,000 miles from the North Pole to provide encouragement

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