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.”

Thank You, Mary Parry!

USO Fort Drum Director Karen Clark prepares for the center opening in front of a photo of Mary Parry, in 2008. (USO photo by Jason Cutshaw)

Who is Mary Parry?  “I think Mary Parry is one of the USO’s greatest ambassadors; sharing our story of support for the Troops better than anyone I know.  She has stories about the USO through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the conflicts of today,” says Fort Drum USO Center Director Karen Clark.

“Mary has been with the organization since the beginning and sixty-nine years later the USO Fort Drum is honored when she stops by the Center for a special event. When Mary is at the USO Fort Drum there is mutual admiration.  She hugs or shakes the hands of Soldiers thanking them for their service, and they will shake her hand and thank her for her service also.  We are blessed to have such a dedicated and loyal USO volunteer in New York but we need additional help.  Hopefully other patriotic citizens will follow in Mary’s footsteps and will contact their local USO to volunteer.”

We know that many of your have followed in Parry’s footsteps, and her impact on the community has been tremendous.  As Newzjunky.com reported: “Nearly 20 years before her involvement with the GWNC Chamber, Mrs. Parry became active with the United Service Organizations.

“Franklin Roosevelt had said, ‘We need something for the military,’” Mrs. Parry said. “They started the USO and, in June we graduated, and six of us gals went down and figured, ‘We’re going down and dance for the soldiers.’”

Mrs. Parry moved to Watertown in 1959 where she ran the USO headquarters out of the YWCA building on Public Square.”

Thanks, Mary Parry, for all of your years of service.  And thank you to ALL of our dedicated volunteers around the globe who make sure the USO is there for our Troops and their families…Until Every One Comes Home.

Fort Drum 3rd BCT Homecoming

On Jan. 21, 2010, the USO welcomed home Fort Drum’s 3rd BCT in style after a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.  Nearly 800 soldiers and their loved ones were treated to an evening of food, entertainment and a special performance by the Fort Drum Army band.  Comedians Steve Burr and Dan Liberto brought laughs and smiles, with Johnny Spezzano of The Border 106.7 (WBDR-FM) and Whirlin’ Disc DJ’s keeping people on their feet.  The event was made possible by Alfred Weissman, longtime USO supporter and New York businessman.  Welcome home!

Soldiers relax upon returning home (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

Soldiers relax upon returning home (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

A Fort Drum Band drummer entertains during the event (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

Delicious food made homecoming extra special for those returning from deployment (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

Comedian Dan Liberto cracks 'em up during dinner (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

There to show support were Col. David B. Haight, 3rd BCT commander, with Mr. and Mrs. Weissman, Karen Clark and Lt. Col. Jeffrey Abbott (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

A 3rd BCT Soldier cuts loose on the dance floor with his son (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

Comedian Steve Burr takes the stage and the laughs continue (USO Photo by Jason B. Cutshaw)

The Weissmans with the Haights and Karen Clark - thanks for making this possible! (USO Photo by Jason B. Rickshaw)