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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Block Leave Enters Baltimore

Donna Miles of Air Forces Press Service has been reporting on holiday homecomings for the past two days: “’This is a nice, quite place, where they let you take a load off your feet,’ said Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Nao Lewis.”

The USO Lounge at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport offers military travelers a respite from crowded airport terminals, particularly during the holiday season. DoD photo by Donna Miles

He’s speaking, of course, about a USO Center, in this case the one at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport.  And other Centers around the country continue to see huge upticks in the number they serve.

As Troops stream through airports on Block Leave, USO Centers continue to adapt to their needs.  The USO at Philadelphia International Airport slept 100 on Saturday night, as snow blanketed the East Coast.  Things had calmed down by Wednesday afternoon, though the staff continued to meed unique requests.

“Do you have a refrigerator?” one Troops questioned as he entered the Center.  After the staff confirmed that they did, and that he could use it, he unloaded a knapsack with nearly 60 pounds of deer meat it in, bound for Christmas dinner at points south.  Just another day at the USO!

The BWI USO was running with a staff of three…augmented by 230 volunteers!

Miles reports, “Airman Ronald Carr, who just finished Air Force basic training, grew up in a military family that taught him to appreciate the USO. ‘It’s good to know that this is basically an all-volunteer operation, with a volunteer staff and donations that keep it running,’ he said. ‘It makes me feel good about my service, knowing that people care about what I do.’

Army Pfc. Taylor Walther, a California National Guardsman returning home for a holiday break from training at Fort Eustis, Va., said he’s already had the chance to check out several USO facilities, and never walks away disappointed. ‘They’re all good. When you go there, they’re all friendly, they all tell you to help yourself and make yourself at home,’ he said.”

Read the complete story here!

Block Leave – DFW USO Helps the Time Pass Quickly!

Sgt. 1st Class Carl Manns, provost marshal office noncommissioned officer for the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, enjoys the Dallas Mavericks, NBA Basketball game, Dec. 8, when his rest and relaxation return flight to Iraq was delayed. The USO provided the tickets to Manns and seven other Soldiers, and the Mavericks rolled out the red carpet for the Soldiers. (Courtesy Photo via Blackanthem))

“As service members travel to and from their destinations for rest and relaxation from deployment, groups like the United Services Organization help to make their travel experience a little easier.

For Sgt. 1st Class Carl Manns, of South Bend, Ind., and a provost marshal office noncommissioned officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kan., being stuck at the Fort Worth-Dallas International Airport wasn’t such a bad thing.

After realizing that he was going to be at the airport longer than expected to to some baggage delays, Sgt. 1st Class Manns said that he went to the airport’s USO where he and seven other Soldiers were given free tickets to attend an NBA basketball game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns, Dec. 8…”

Read the entire story at Blackanthem Military News!

Block Leave Keeps the St. Louis USO…Busy!

A volunteer at the James S. McDonnell USO took these photos, showing just a few of the thousands of Troops traveling through Lambert Airport on their way home for Block Leave.  Arriving via bus, Troops made their way to the Center as early as 2:00AM.  By the end of the season, over 8,000 Troops will fly out of St. Louis!

Thanks to all of the USO staff, volunteers, and everyone who comes out to greet the Troops!

Block Leave – Midwestern Style!

The USO Illinois Center’s at Chicago-area airports will be open 24/7 through Monday, with thousands of Troops and their families passing through O’Hare and Midway over the weekend. Real the full story from!

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Block Leaves – It Continues to be a Good Thing!

Fort Gordon Soldiers leave for Christmas Break and will travel through USO Georgia on their way home!
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Video courtesy WJBF News.

Today it’s also St. Louis’s turn to manage the thousands of troops traveling for Block Leave.  And it’s going great!

Pvt. Joseph Hancock, Company F, 795th Military Police Battalion, loads his duffel bag into the van of his friend, Desiree Hendley, left. Hancock is returning home to Indianapolis, Ind., for Holiday Block Leave. The Holiday Block Leave gives Soldiers an opportunity to spend the holidays at home. (Photo courtesy

Todd Nelson, Directorate of Plans, Training and Mobilization operations specialist at Fort Leonard Wood explained, “Once we get to the St. Louis airport, there will be drill sergeants from the 1st Engineer Brigade to offload the Soldiers and get them checked into the correct airlines. The St. Louis USO, in conjunction with many other agencies, will be on hand to offer the Soldiers free entertainment and things to do while they wait for their flights.  Then, in January, we get to do the whole process in reverse, but this time, everyone already has their return ticket.”  Read the full story here from

Indeed, for the St. Louis USO this is the busiest day of the year.  As is reporting, “Buses from Fort Leonard Wood began pulling up at Lambert about 3 a.m. today. That’s when the disc jockey inside the USO started playing songs, taking requests for everything from rap to country music.  Some of the soldiers won’t catch flights home until 6 or 7 p.m., so they’re in for a long wait at the airport. Kathy O’Connor, executive director of the USO of Missouri Inc. said the USO tries to make it a party atmosphere. Local businesses have donated food. The troops can have their pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.  ‘Everything we have for them is free,’ O’Connor said as she stood at the James S. McDonnell USO Reception Desk. ‘We try and give them a holiday sendoff.'”