Little Things Often Mean the Most: How One Wounded Warrior’s Day was Brightened at the USO

Army Maj. David Keithan

Army Maj. David Keithan

After a brief surgical stay to repair the shoulder he injured during a 2006 tour in Iraq, Army Maj. David Keithan stopped into the USO Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany. He just wanted to “chill out and take a break for a minute” before walking the rest of the way to the Fisher House where he was staying.

After signing in, Keithan spotted a jar of spaghetti sauce and a packet of ramen on the counter and it transported him back to his childhood.

“I saw it and I just thought, ‘Man that looks good,’” Keithan said. “I know it sounds really, really weird but I used to eat that as a kid. I’d always throw the packet of flavoring in the Oodles of Noodles away because it was too salty and I’d put spaghetti sauce on it instead. It’s a quick meal and growing up I used to eat it that way all the time.”

Whether it’s the smell of fresh cooking, a familiar brand of coffee or just the “howdy” of an American volunteer, it’s often little things inside each USO center that connect troops to their communities back home.

Keithan, who has been in the Army more than 18 years, asked a USO volunteer if it was okay if his wife – who was traveling with him – cooked him some spaghetti the way he likes it.

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“It wasn’t anything gourmet, but it was exactly what I wanted at that moment,” he said. “It’s like chocolate chip cookies made by Grammie. Grammie loves her American service members, and when you eat that cookie you feel connected … and you love her like she’s your own grandmother. I don’t care how young and how tough these soldiers think they are, they all have mothers and grandmothers and they know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Being from a small town in Maine, Keithan says it’s the little things that continue to bring him back to the USO. On one USO visit, he found his favorite local brand of coffee from Boston, which reminded him of home. Another time he was just comforted by hearing a friendly northeastern accent.

“It comes from everywhere,” Keithan said. “We all have different cultures in the States and all these little things come from the people who donate to the USO and as little as those things are — it could be a packet of sauce from your favorite local fast food chain — it brings you back home in that moment.”

‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

Coaches Rich Ellerson, Chip Kelly, Tim Murphy and Ron Zook Lift Spirits on First-Ever USO/Morale Entertainment Tour

Four of today's top college football coaches pose for a group photo outside the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The coaches are in the region as part of a nine-day, six-country USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

“It’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to spend some time with our young men and women serving overseas, who get up every day and fight for the rights of others. The men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces embody the true spirit of heroism.” -Rich Ellerson, West Point

The USO, in conjunction with Morale Entertainment, recently deployed four top college football coaches overseas as part of a nine-day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour to Germany and South West Asia. Making the 15-hour journey to boost morale and bring a touch of home to troops were West Point head coach Rich Ellerson, University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy, and University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook.

As Tim Murphy explained, “This was not something I had to think about and I committed to it on the spot. We have two recent Harvard Football players who are at Camp Pendelton (Calif.) as Marine Corp offices awaiting deployment to Afghanistan and it’s the least I can do to show my spport for them and all the brave men and women of our armed forces.”

This is the first USO tour for each coach. During the trip, the group is scheduled to visit six countries in nine days to sign autographs and take photos.  They’ll also be participating in panel discussions and leading flag football competitions with troops. Among some of the places visited so far are, McConnell Air Force Base and the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

We’d like to thank American Airlines, which provided all domestic and international travel support for each tour participant as part of its office of Veterans and Military Initiatives; and Under Armour (UA), for donating athletic apparel to service members throughout the tour. And, as part of Under Armour’s Freedom initiative, the coaches will guide troops through an official UA Football Combine aboard an aircraft carrier and lead U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force in the 3rd consecutive “UA Dust Bowl” flag football game!

And while the Troops get a chance to kick back with some of today’s best coaches, it’s the coaches themselves who are humbled to take part in their first tour:
“To say that my USO tour has had an impact on me would be an understatement,” said Ron Zook of University of Illinois. “There is something profound about following in the footsteps of our troops and taking part in the activities that shape their everyday lives. I only wish everyone had this opportunity.”

University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly takes time out to sign autographs for some of his youngest fans as part of his week-long USO/Morale Entertainment tour abroad. This is Murphy's first overseas tour to visit U.S. troops. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy takes time out to chat with a Wounded Warrior Project representative at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. In the region to boost troop morale and talk football, Murphy, along with three other college coaches, are scheduled to visit six countries in nine days as part of their first USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook takes time out to sign autographs as part of his week-long USO/Morale Entertainment tour abroad. This is Murphy's first overseas tour to visit U.S. troops. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

Four of today's top college football coaches mingle with troops during a recent visit to the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The coaches are in the region as part of a nine-day, six-country USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

The Whigs Invade Europe on USO Tour

 

The Whigs (L-R) Tim Deaux, Julian Dorio and Parker Gisbert perform for troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, on the band's first-ever USO tour, May 22, 2010. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

 

Athens, GA-based rock band The Whigs are currently traveling through Germany and the UK on their first USO tour.  journey abroad to Europe and rock out with military families as part of a nine-day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  The tour kicked off last week and the trio has performed five hi-octane USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour concerts for troops and their families.

Locations visited include USAG Grafenwoeher, USAG Hohenfels, Spangdahlem Air Base, Ramstein Air Base and RAF Alconbur.  The Whigs have also visited the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.  During their visit, the band will also sign autographs, pose for photos and tour multiple military posts.  Check out some fresh photos!

 

The Whigs singer/songwriter Parker Gisbert performs for troops at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, May 22, 2010. The rock band recently set out on their first-ever USO tour, entertaining troops serving in the UK and Germany. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

 

 

Rock band The Whigs (L-R) Tim Deaux, Parker Gispert and Julian Dorio (far right) pose with troops at Ramstein Air Base, May 22, 2010. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

 

 

Rock band The Whigs (L-R) Tim Deaux, Julian Dorio and Parker Gisbert (far left), pose with the stage crew, before performing for troops at Ramstein Air Base, May 22, 2010. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)