Juice And A Snooze: How The USO Helped Ease One Military Mom’s Travel Woes


The McClanahan family. Photo courtesy of Michelle McClanahan

When Michelle McClanahan headed to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on her way to Pennsylvania, she didn’t anticipate spending the rest of the day in the Atlanta airport.

But since she and her daughter, Sophia, were flying on a non-reservation status to her grandfather’s funeral — thanks to a perk Michelle’s husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob McClanahan, had in an earlier job —  they had to wait until seats became available on a plane from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

It was a long wait.

After several hours of boredom mixed with the sadness and stress of losing her grandfather, Michelle spoke to her husband, who suggested she head to the airport’s USO center.

Not expecting much, Michelle decided to take his advice and went to the USO Jean Amos Center at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

When she arrived, a volunteer helped her sign in and gave she and her daughter some food. A USO volunteer even went out to purchase some juice for Sophia, since the center only had water and soda at the time.

“I was blown away at how welcoming they were to my family,” McClanahan wrote in an email. “They even comforted me when I started crying over my grandfathers passing!”


After enjoying the refreshments and a much-needed nap, Michelle says a few volunteers even offered to play with Sophia and walk around the center with her.

“I will definitely be using the USO again,” she said. “It represents to me a safe place to go when you feel like you don’t have any options. It represents a family environment.”

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.”


A Thank You to our Volunteers

The Corporation for National and Community Service asks Americans to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King every year by making the observation of the King Holiday a national day of service.  On a day like today, we would like to take the opportunity to thank the thousands of volunteers that make possible what we do at the USO.

One volunteer can make all the difference - Thank You!

We thought it might be best to express the gratitude we have for our volunteers – and the joy they have in serving our men and women in uniform – by sharing a letter we recently received from one volunteer to all the others:
“Dear Mary Lou Austin and Volunteers,
Commercial Property Professionals wants to personally take a moment to thank Mary Lou Austin (President, USO of Georgia) for allowing us the opportunity to be a part of the busiest day at USO Atlanta in years; additionally, we want to thank all of the volunteers who made January 3, 2010 such an overwhelming success for USO Atlanta. Through your efforts we fed over 4,500 troops moving through the airport, of the 4500 approximately 3,900 were returning back to Forts Gordon and Jackson to continue their training prior to deployment with their assigned units. The other 600 were en route to various locations around the country and around the world; some to spend time with families, some to continue training and some to protect the freedoms that so many take for granted.
Wednesday December 2, 2010 Nick Nichols of Nichols Neal Construction (my right hand man in serving USO Atlanta) and I went to a meeting hosted by the USO Atlanta, there were personnel from the military, airport, police, airlines and other USO volunteers in attendance. lt was at this meeting that we began to realize the scope of the undertaking and knew we had better get busy. Early the next week I sent out an email to many of you that have either served with us at USO Atlanta or had expressed an interest in doing so, within hours my phone and email were burning up with request to help, along with request to get others groups involved. Over the next few weeks we had the plan down and the volunteer slots filled, so much so that we had to turn volunteers away.
For those that had the opportunity to be on site at USO Atlanta it was an amazing day that won’t be forgotten. I cannot tell you how many volunteers came up to me throughout the day making comments regarding the quantity and most importantly the “QUALITY” of these “ALL VOLUNTEER TROOPS”, that’s correct every one of the Troops we served ‘VOLUNTEERED” for this duty. Every USO Atlanta volunteer I spoke with expressed how polite, respectfuland appreciative allof these young men and women were (they were thanking us, are you kidding me?). The other comments I heard most often were “I can’t believe how young they are” and “l can’t believe how many young Ladies there are.”  What l didn’t hear was rudeness, complaining or otherwise bitterness, just thankfulness and gratitude!
Sunday’s USO Atlanta experience was truly a community effort…we offer our sincere thanks to USO Atlanta and all ofthe volunteers (many of whom were not mentioned) who made donations of time and money. Withoutyou this day would not have possible. Without our great military and the young men and women serving, America’s survival as we know it is not possible!  God Bless our Military and God Bless America!”