USO at Atlanta Airport Stays Open Around the Clock for Stranded Troops as Ice Storm Shuts Down Travel Across the Region

Trapped in the airport: Stranded troops found refuge at the USO of Georgia's Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport after Tuesday's ice storm paralyzed travel in the region. USO photo

Trapped in the airport: Stranded troops found refuge at the USO of Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport after Tuesday’s ice storm paralyzed travel in the region. USO photos

Army Pfc. Lindsay Rosel left her home in Illinois before sunrise Tuesday to attend basic training while her husband, Army Spc. Joseph Rosel, stayed behind with their two kids.

By the time she arrived in Atlanta, however, two inches of snow and ice had paralyzed the metropolitan area, stranding her along with hundreds of other troops and their families at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

It’s now Thursday, and many of them — including Rosel — are still there, being cared for by USO volunteers.

Some troops have been stuck at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport since Tuesday.

Pfc. Lindsay Rosel, center right, and other troops have been stuck at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport since Tuesday.

“We’ve been open and operating 24 hours per day, feeding and serving thousands upon thousands of nervous recruits, expectant mothers and unaccompanied families who were on their way to see their sons or daughters, brothers or sisters graduate from boot camp,” said Mary Lou Austin, CEO of USO of Georgia.

Austin – who hasn’t left the airport since the storm hit on Tuesday – went through a similar “snowpocalypse” nearly three years ago to the day. She knew she would be short-staffed because of the icy roads, so she called in reinforcement volunteers. One of them was Vietnam-era Marine Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter, who couldn’t wait to repay the USO for the help he received as a young lance corporal more than 40 years ago.

It took Hunter three hours to get to the Airport, but he was determined to help.  He quickly realized that it wasn’t the young soldiers who needed his help most, but instead the young wives and family members traveling with small children.

Many of those mothers had placed their diaper supply inside their checked luggage. Luckly, the USO had an emergency supply. And when they needed a place to lie down, Hunter constructed rest areas out of of body-length ottomans.

“They are stuck here for who knows how long,” Hunter said. “One had a son who was 2 years old, laughing and having fun — it was an adventure for him — but she also had [an infant], and was probably 8 months pregnant on top of that.”

Hunter was amazed at how quickly Army recruits jumped in to help out with the toddlers so these mothers could tend to their infants. But for Rosel, taking action was the natural thing to do.

“My group alone was more than 300 recruits,” she said. “For many of them, it’s the first time they’ve left home. They’re all so confused and lost because they haven’t had any training yet. I don’t even want to know what would have happened had the USO not been here. Honestly, they probably wouldn’t have eaten.

“If we had been trying to do all of this without the USO … we definitely would have had problems,” she said. “It would have been chaos.

“I’m so thankful we had the USO. They brought warmth and comfort to an otherwise cold and desperate situation.”

 

New USO Center Opens at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait

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CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – With U.S. forces slowly drawing down in the Middle East, the USO is re-allocating its resources to the remaining places it can best serve the most troops. On Nov. 3, the USO opened a new center on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, with some of the gear that was packed up after the summer closure of USO Camp LSA on Ali al-Salem Air Base.

With many of the current personnel rotating home, the outpouring of support for the center opening was an example of service members looking out for each other.

“With a USO center on Camp Arifjan, it will be a lot easier to call home directly,” said Spec. Noshoba Ann Davis of Deville, La. “Also, I really enjoy getting to volunteer and give back to our base community.”

USO staff has been providing services and building up the center at Camp Arifjan for several weeks in anticipation of the opening.

“In the months leading up to the center being ready to open, we did a lot of outreach on base,” said DeAnne Dotson, a USO duty manager at Arifjan. “What I found was that everyone had a USO story, whether it was being stranded in an airport and finding a place to rest and a hot meal or being sent off on their deployment, or visiting a USO on a previous deployment, everyone brings that story with them. When people would hear that a USO was opening up on Camp Arifjan, they were so excited.

“The free phones and Internet are the two pillars of staying in touch with your loved ones, and already today they have proven to be a huge hit. There are no phone cards, no operators, just pick up the phone and call.”

The troops on hand were happy to talk about their appreciation for what the USO provides.

“This is my third deployment, and the USO has been with me through different stages throughout my career,” said Maj. (Chaplain) Jim Lewis of Kent, Ohio. “When I was stateside, I was working with the USO to help send off units that were deploying. My first deployment I flew out on Christmas Day, and ate Christmas dinner at the USO in the airport. I know because of all the wonderful experiences I have had with the USO around the world that my deployment at Arifjan will be much better because there is a USO center here.”

–Story and photos by Eric Raum

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USO, Jack Daniel’s Team Up to Toast to the Troops

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More than 5,000 Operation USO Care Packages were assembled Thursday by military spouses as part of the 20th “Toast to the Troops” care package assembly event. USO North Carolina volunteers and Jack Daniel’s employees took part in the event at the Fort Bragg fairgrounds. Following the assembly event, country music star and Army veteran Craig Morgan treated more than 3,000 troops, military families and members of the Fort Bragg community to a free concert.

“If it were not for these men and women who are serving, the people we are packing these bags for, we would not live in the country we live in today,” Morgan said.  “And it is imperative that we take care of them.”

The USO and Jack Daniel’s have worked together on these events for eight years. The USO has distributed more than 2.3 million care packages since the program began in 2003.  In addition to providing service men and women with needed items, the care packages serve as a touch of home and a reminder to our troops that America is always by their side.

–Story by USO Story Development

USO Liberty Bells 2012 Troupe Refresh

The USO Liberty Bells, a traveling song and dance troupe based out of Times Square in New York City, looks for new talent at the start of each year.

At their annual auditions, Bells from the previous year return to show off their talent, and new performers try out for a panel of judges.  This year, the Bells plan to add about six new singers to the troupe.

“There is so much talent out there,” said Ray Kennedy, USO Liberty Bells Director and Choreographer. “The new singers that auditioned this year and the returning Bells sang from their books and man, did they raise the bar!”

These amazing singers and dancers perform at hundreds of shows each year, entertaining tens of thousands, and carrying on the morale-boosting entertainment tradition of the USO.

“I’m a huge fan of the Liberty Bells,” said John Pray, USO Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff. “Not simply because they are incredibly talented performers, but because they do so much to help us lift the spirits of troops and their families.”

Judges will reveal the final list of 2012 USO Liberty Bells this spring.   But in the meantime, watch the video below to learn what being a USO Liberty Bell means to one performer who just completed her first year. — Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Wounded Warriors Report Improvements in Care Continuity

At the second annual USO Wounded Warrior and Family Caretakes Conference in Fayetteville, N.C., I had the rare opportunity to listen to the concerns of some of America’s most severely wounded troops, their families, and their caregivers.

A common concern quickly bubbled to the surface: continuity of care.

“The military case managers are great and did a lot for us in the beginning,” said Luana Schneider, caretaker of her severely wounded son, Army Staff Sgt. Scott Stephenson. “But they were handling multiple cases and didn’t have the nationwide reach and tape-cutting abilities we needed for continued, specialized care when we got back home.

“The real savior for us has been our federal recovery coordinator,” added Schneider. “It’s a fairly young program with limited resources, but it’s become critical to us to have someone who knows Scott and his medical history. Without someone to coordinate and do some of the administrative legwork for us, we would be lost out there in Kansas where there are no VA surgeons specializing in burn treatment.”

The Federal Recovery Coordination Program (FRCP) is a VA program that provides support for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of those wounded warriors dealing with what the VA considers “catastrophic” injuries, such as severe burns, amputations, traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress.

Each coordinator develops an individual recovery plan with input from the multidisciplinary heath care team, the veteran, and their family or caregiver. They track the care, management and transition of recovering veterans all the way through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the civilian world.

Stephenson didn’t have a “designated red-tape cutter” when he get out of the hospital in 2007, but according to his mom, it was his specialized needs that helped launch the program just one year later. His coordinator has since been working behind the scenes to get him the highest level of care by the top surgeons in the field of burn care and management.

“I truly believe I’ve received the best care possible with the technology available at the time,” said Stephenson.

“I was actually pretty impressed when I researched and visited the top civilian burn surgeon out in California to see what he could do about getting me a prosthesis,” said Stephenson. “When I mentioned my surgeon was Dr. [Steven E.] Wolf, he looked at me with wide eyes and said, ‘Son, burn surgeons don’t come any better than Dr. Wolf.’ That made me feel like I was really being cared for by the best, and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Health care professionals like Dr. Wolf continue to learn from our combat wounded to improve the treatment of unique combat burn injuries, and the VA continues to improve programs like FRCP to give veterans the continuity in care expected from the most medically advanced country on Earth.

In addition to burn care, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury also continues to develop best practices for case management in its own field.

In fact, on Thursday, Sept. 22, DCoE will hold a public webinar on that very subject. The session is free and open to the public. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Voice Avenue Supports Troops and the USO

The singing group Voice Avenue, who are finalist on the NBC show “Sing-Off” and who are supporting the USO’s mission with proceeds from their song “Wishing on a Chrismas Star” performed to a capacity crowd of more than 3,000 at Starthmore Concert Hall in Bethesda, MD last night along with Michael W. Smith.

The group told the audience about their love for our troops and encoured evenryone to support the USO.

Yesterday they were moved at witnessing the changing of the guard and wreath laying at Arlington National Cenmetary yesterday. Afterwards they spent time thanking the Soldiers who guard the Tomb and who oversee the burial of our honored heroes.

Last week following their concert in Dallas they visited the USO at DFW and performed for troops and thanked them for their service.

Later this week Voice Avenue will be in Cincinnati, St Louis and Hosuton where local NBC affilaites will have them on to promote the USO and where they will visit USO Centers.

For a video of Voice Avenue on FOX 5 DC discussing supporting the troops and the USO, click here.

“Wishing on a Chrismas Star”

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