Why Volunteer? Denee Hammond Explains Why She Gives Her Time at USO New England

Whether it’s about patriotism, family or being part of something bigger than themselves, USO volunteers each have personal reasons for giving their valuable time.

USO New England volunteer Denee Hammond took a moment recently to talk about why she does it.

“When they see the USO in an airport thousands of miles from home, they come back to that one moment when they may have met a USO volunteer,” she said. “Maybe they saw us at a Patriots game, maybe they came with us on a Polar Express event for their kids Š but they remember those letters and it immediately brings them back home, and they feel connected.”

Iron Man: Why One Volunteer Has Shown Up at the USO (Almost) Every Day it’s Been Open the Last 5 Years

Henry Edmon talks with troops at the Fort Leonard Wood USO center. USO photo

Henry Edmon talks with troops at the Fort Leonard Wood USO center. USO photo

If you’ve been to the Fort Leonard Wood USO center recently, you’ve probably seen Henry Edmon.

A familiar face to new recruits and longtime area residents, the Sudbury, Ontario, native has proudly volunteered at the USO every Thursday through Sunday, which are the days the center is open, for the past five years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s wedding in May 2013.

“Everyone here at the USO thought it was funny he would worry about missing his shift for his daughter’s wedding,” wrote USO Fort Leonard Wood Center Director Kelly Gist in an email. “But that just goes to show you the level of commitment he has to the USO. [He] loves all that we do here, we are his extended family, but we sure weren’t going to let him miss his daughter’s wedding.”

According to his daughter, Janis Edmon, her wedding wasn’t the first time Henry has worried about missing his volunteer shift for a special occasion. When Janis visits Henry, he always tells her that he’ll still be volunteering at the USO, and she is welcome to join him.

“When I used to come home for Christmas, Easter and everything, we were at the USO,” Janis said.

“He loves working there and he always wants to make sure that, you know, he’s dependable and there for them, and it’s awesome, because it’s like a little family. So, he likes going there, and I like him going there.”

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A Canadian and American Army veteran of three and 23 years, respectively, Henry began volunteering at the USO center in central Missouri after he retired.

“I will always remember the help that the USO was to me during the Vietnam War,” Henry wrote in an email. “It was the least I could do to give back to an organization that helped me so much.”

According to Gist, Henry takes the USO’s spirit-lifting mission to heart, making him a popular guy on base.

“Just to see that every day, the compassion he has, the loyalty … we wish there was more like him,” Gist said.

Henry especially enjoys chatting with new recruits going through basic training. He frequently shares his military experiences with young soldiers to both encourage them and ensure them they’re not alone.

“These soldiers are learning from our volunteers, and him especially,” Gist said. “When you have a solider just come in from basic and he might be sitting there wondering, ‘Am I going to make it through the next few weeks?’ And [then] Henry comes up and says, ‘It’s okay. You’ll make it.’ They really take that to heart.”

Those heart-to-heart interactions have led some troops to seek Henry out when they return to Fort Leonard Wood years later.

“It’s really neat to see them come back around and they remember him,” Gist said. “You can just tell they have a love for him and it’s really neat to see that.”

Henry says he hopes troops he serves will pay the encouragement forward.

“Maybe, one day, when they have the time to give back, they will remember what we did here, just as I remembered the impact the USO [had] on me,” he said.

Full Circle: How One Kind Moment Created A USO Volunteer for Life

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

When Nancy Flores stepped off a plane in Germany in 2003 with just her luggage and her cat, there was supposed to be someone from the military there to pick her up. There wasn’t.

“I saw that USO sign and thought, ‘I can go there. They will help me!’”

She was right. A USO volunteer invited her inside the center where more volunteers took the then-23-year-old’s luggage, looked up the phone numbers to her husband’s unit, gave her a snack and even cut down a plastic cup to make a water dish for her cat.

Her husband, now-retired Army communications Sgt. Johnathan Flores, had sent the duty driver to pick her up, but they had left an hour late and were stuck in traffic. It was something the volunteers at the USO at Frankfurt International Airport had seen before.

“At a very young age, I was alone in a foreign country and that was a very huge relief for me to find the USO,” said Nancy, who was 23 at the time. “[My husband is] my security blanket in those situations, so being alone in that situation was scary.”

When the driver arrived, the USO volunteers helped her on her way, and that singular moment of compassion spawned Flores’ lifetime commitment to both the organization and the military community.

“Seven years later I found out we had a USO on Fort Hood and as soon as I could I started volunteering,” she said. “I enjoy every day making soldiers and their families smile.”

She currently volunteers once or twice a week from four to six hours at a time, helping anywhere she’s needed, from flightline welcome home events to working behind a desk in a center.

But her favorite program by far is the Story Time Early Literacy Workshop. She’s volunteered once a month at the USO Fort Hood/Military Child Education Coalition event for the last three years, helping feed breakfast and read books to pre-school-age children who attend with their parents.

But her connection to the USO runs even deeper than a missed ride and the resulting volunteerism. Her son, Johnathan Flores Jr., 10, has watched her husband deploy three times. Nancy says it was the USO that made it possible for her husband and their growing boy to connect.

“We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

The first time her husband deployed, Jonathan Jr. was only 3 months old. Nancy knew she would have some contact with her husband over the Internet, but didn’t know which moments he’d get to see from afar.

“Daddy does bed time,” she said. “That was a moment every day. And when he left it was sad that we had to break that pattern.

“But then out of nowhere we received these books he recorded at a USO center.”

When the USO/United Through Reading packages arrived, Flores broke down in tears knowing bedtime was back on again.

“I had no idea it was even coming,” she said. “Every night we played the video and, even though it was the same story, it was a moment with Daddy. He knew that Daddy cared.”

“We have that memory,” she said. “And that’s a really cool moment for us. Every time my son was missing Daddy we’d pop in that DVD.

“We were very honest with him that Daddy was away protecting America and doing his job. He learned really young to deal with it and I believe the USO was part of making that happen naturally.

“Now, even though we’re not technically in the military, we’re still very much a part of the military community. We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

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.”

National Volunteer Week: Frank and Helen Marsh

Frank and Helen Marsh represent the lifeblood of the USO: our volunteers. Frank served as a parachute rigger in the Marines from 1955 to 1957, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant before he got out. He and his wife Helen found their USO volunteer opportunity through the Knights of Columbus, where Frank has been a member for almost 50 years.

We caught up with the Marshes at the USO Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif.,  where they handed out energy bars, snacks and refreshments to wounded warriors competing in the archery event.

USO Centers Around the Globe Celebrate National Volunteer Week

As National Volunteer Week comes to a close, here’s a look at a few of the scores of celebrations held at  centers around the world. The USO’s 27,000-plus volunteers  donated more than 1.375 million hours last year in service to America’s troops and their families..

USO Fort Hood

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday's event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday’s event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood held a luncheon Wednesday to honor its volunteers who logged a total of more than 22,000 hours last year.

“I’m really proud to stand here and see how many amazing people answer the call,” USO Fort Hood Director Robin Crouse told the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald, which covered the event.

Read more about the event in the Herald’s story.

USO Forward Operating Base Fenty

VolBlog_Fenty

USO Forward Operating Base Fenty volunteers share a joke – and a cupcake – during National Volunteer Week. USO photo

The USO at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan showed its appreciation to volunteers – almost all of whom are troops themselves – with some baked goods. They posted photos of the volunteers earlier this week.

“Thanks to all the great volunteers at Fenty for all you do for your fellow soldiers!” USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes wrote in a Facebook comment about the celebration.

USO Houston

USO centers know how to get creative. To celebrate National Volunteer Week, the staff at USO Houston put together a JibJab breakdance video.

USO Houston had 248 volunteers donate 20,056 hours to their center last year.

USO San Antonio

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USO San Antonio volunteers pose at Wednesday’s USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at the USO’s airport center. USO photo

USO San Antonio held a USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at their airport facility on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, ‘We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,’” the staff wrote on its Facebook page.

–Story by USO Story Development