Snow Problem? No Problem: Some USO Centers Stay Open Late for Troops Despite Weather

You may have heard it snowed yesterday on the East Coast. While news of cancelled flights and videos of dogs-playing-in-snow likely snuck into your Facebook feed, we noticed a different, heartwarming trend. Our Facebook feed turned up several photos and notes about tireless USO volunteers and staffers at centers that were able to stay open taking care of stranded troops. Here’s a sampling:

From Liberty USO, which serves Philadelphia International Airport:

The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore was able to help stranded troops at Dulles International Airport thanks to three dedicated volunteers. (The center at Reagan National Airport stayed open overnight, too, hosting seven stranded troops):

And in Fort Drum, N.Y. – where the temperature was 8 below zero at noon today – the USO continued business as usual by welcoming home returning troops earlier this week:

Like what you see? You can help America’s troops, too, by donating to support USO centers and programs.

Moms Find Another Way to Give Back at USO

We’ll all be thinking of, calling and thanking our mothers Sunday.

But that doesn’t mean they’re taking the day off.

Hundreds of moms will be clocking in volunteer hours at USO centers across the globe this Mother’s Day. Some do it as a hobby. Others out of a sense of duty. And some give countless hours at USO centers to repay the treatment given to their families.

Here are the stories of two such volunteers – Pam Horton and Michelle Bajakian – in their own words:

Pam Horton, USO of North Carolina volunteer

Image

USO of North Carolina volunteer Pam Horton

My dad was career Army. I was raised to be patriotic, to have a strong sense of pride and love for our country. I still get choked up when I hear the national anthem! My dad retired when I was 16. Thirty-five years later, my youngest son enlisted in the Army.

We moved to Apex, N.C., just as our son finished up his training. He had been assigned to a unit that was already deployed!  We were at [Raleigh Durham International Airport] putting him on the plane, knowing we wouldn’t see him again until he returned home from Afghanistan, when we were approached by a woman from the USO. She thanked him for his service, thanked us for our sacrifice, told us about the USO center, asked if she could give him any snacks to take on the plane, thanked us again and went on her way. After my eyes stopped dripping, I thought, ‘I can do THAT!’ and went in search of her.

I enjoy talking with the people that come through the center, to find out where they’ve been, or where they’re headed. I try to be upbeat and chatty, to help pass the time for them. I’ve even learned to play a mean game of Crazy Eights! Sometimes, they don’t want to talk, so I respectfully give them their privacy. It’s all about making them comfortable and happy while they are in the center.

I thoroughly love that I can help ease the minds of moms who come into the Center with their children who are about to go to basic [training] or deploy. …

It sure sounds like I volunteer for me, doesn’t it?  It helps that I enjoy it, but it really is all about our military and their families. They sacrifice for us and we should show our appreciation for that.

Michele Bajakian, USO Fort Drum volunteer

MOTHERS051013_2

USO Fort Drum volunteer Michele Bajakian

“There are a lot of good reasons to volunteer with an organization like the USO, but I am a volunteer today because four years ago, the USO was there for my family when we needed them the most.

My husband was deployed to Afghanistan while we were living in Germany. I took my two children, who were 9 and 11 years old at the time, to visit their grandparents in Texas. I received a phone call from my husband, saying that he was being medically evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, because a mass was discovered in his neck.

Needless to say, I was very concerned and needed to get back to Germany fast. One of the flights from Texas was to New Jersey and we spent a sleepless night in their terminal. The next morning, we caught an early flight to Boston and had to wait several hours before our flight to Germany.

The kids and I were exhausted from a sleepless and stressful night. I saw the USO sign in the terminal and I felt so relieved. This was the first time that I had ever entered a USO. The people working at the center were so kind and thoughtful. There was a quiet room there and comfy couches to sleep on. My children and I were able to get some much needed rest and felt ready to continue on our trip after spending time with Boston’s USO.

The two years that followed were pretty tough, but my husband is now in remission from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He is doing so much better now and we have a lot to be thankful for.

Every time I see the USO sign, I think about that trip that my children and I made and who was there waiting for us in Boston four years ago. I completed my training at Fort Drum to become a volunteer [in March] and I am so happy every time I walk into the center. I volunteer for the USO because I want to be there waiting for some other soldier or their family who needs a little extra TLC, a cup of coffee, or a smile.

–Story by USO Story Development

Visit USO Wishbook to give troops a gift for Mother’s Day like a phone call home or a program experience for a family of a wounded, ill or injured service member.

Why I Volunteer: Suzy Hicks – USO Fort Drum, N.Y.

The USO is highlighting its volunteers from around the world to mark National Volunteer Week, which runs April 21-27. We asked a few of them to tell us why they give their time to the USO. Here is a reply from Suzy Hicks, a former service member, combat veteran and the current USO Volunteer of the Quarter for the Continental United States Region:

Volunteering with the USO Fort Drum is a fun and enjoyable way to give back to our service members who give so much of themselves every day.

VolBlog_FortDrum

USO Fort Drum volunteer Suzy Hicks, center, is a former soldier who did four combat deployments. USO photo

As a prior service member, I know firsthand the value that the USO has to the troops. From a comfortable place to grab a snack or a cup of coffee on base, at an airport, or even in deployed locations, the USO volunteers can be counted on for a smile and a friendly hello. Our mission is to lift the spirit of America’s troops and their families, and that is exactly what we do at the USO Fort Drum.

The family of volunteers at USO Fort Drum is made up of civilians, family members, veterans and even soldiers who work together to keep the center running smoothly six days a week while operating numerous other events we have going at any given time. I enjoy working with my fellow volunteers towards our goal of putting a smile on our soldiers’ faces. We have so many volunteers who selflessly give hours of their time each week to be there for our troops and their families.

Perhaps the most rewarding mission that I have had the opportunity to be a part of is Here When They Land. As a USO volunteer, I am able to be one of the first people to welcome our brave heroes back from deployment. After a long journey back to the states, these soldiers are always happy to see us with our fresh hot coffee and snacks. It is an honor to personally welcome home and thank our troops for a job well done. I can’t think of a better organization to be a part of!

–Suzy Hicks, USO Fort Drum volunteer

Photos from the Field – October 2010

Periodically, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this latest installment of our photo essays!

(P.S. – if you know any of the photographers of images that don’t credit one, please let us know!)

A young man waits on the pier for the arrival of his father. USS MCCAMPBELL (DDG 85) was deployed for nearly 90 days. (USO photo by Jason Rouse)

At USO Fort Drum's recent Boogie With Your Boots On, the "bull" takes a rest in between riders. (Photo courtesy USO Fort Drum Facebook page)

Wounded warrior Joel Tavares (left) and his dad, Jose (right), joined USO San Antonio Center Director Shari Jenson (center) at the downtown USO. The staff had this to say: "What an honor!!" (Photo courtesy of USO San Antonio Facebook page)

"When they are called, We are there," by Cindy Testerink. This original was auctioned off at the 2010 USO of North Carolina gala, but was donated back to the RDU center and will hang proudly on its walls. (Photo courtesy USO-N.C. Facebook page)

Photos from the Field

Periodically, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this first installment of our photo essays!

USO Bagram held a Texas Hold 'Em tournament and this Troop kept his cards close to the vest.

The Early Show's Dave Price sports his new USO gear in style during a segment where Wounded Warriors visited the set of the show courtesy of USO Fort Drum.

Volunteers at USO Kandahar distributed Tim Horton doughnuts and muffins to hungry Troops!

USO of Indiana volunteers snapped this picture during the Blue Star Salute at Stout Field in Indianapolis. The event was conducted by American Legion Post 145.

USO of Wisconsin recently welcomed home 32nd Red Arrow IBCT - thank you for your service!

On June 18, 2010, USO Korea held a Goodwill Golf Tournament, which was a huge success for all that attended and sponsored the event. Join them in October for their Invitational!

Pro vs. GI Joe Brings Giants and Redskins to Troops in Iraq!

Soldiers play “Guitar Hero” against players at the ESPN Zone in Washington D.C., as part of the “Pro vs. GI Joe” video game competition, June 8, 2010, which pitted troops against Washington Redskins football players. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Selby)

The ESPN Zone locations in New York City’s Times Square and downtown Washington, DC, were packed with wounded warriors, NFL players, USO staff and volunteers, and gaming enthusiasts of all stripes when Pro vs. GI Joe took the stage for heated competition – all in the name of supporting the Troops.

“Troops spend a lot of their downtime playing video games overseas,” co-founder Addie Zinone told AFPS. “When I told Greg about that, he thought of a way we could kind of give back to the troops [through] playing video games.”

This week’s activities kicked off on Monday, when soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 85th Infantry, Warrior in Transition Unit at Fort Drum met New York Giants players for a matchup on XBox 360.  Adding to the excitement was the opportunity to play Guitar Hero against Troops stationed in Basra, Iraq.  Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih stopped by and Tuesday morning the group appeared on CBS’s “The Early Show” to meet Dave Price, the show’s weatherman.

Troops stationed at Basra came to the USO Center there to play wounded warriors and Redskins players halfway around the world. (USO Photo by Richard McCarty)

Later that day, Pro vs. GI Joe packed up and headed to DC, where a group of wounded warriors was set to match up against local USO teams and players from the Washington Redskins, with the winners taking on USO Baghdad.  Jeremy Jarmon – a second-year defensive end for the Washington Redskins – “grew up in a military household where his mother, father, and stepfather had all served in the Army. Jarmon said he loves giving back to servicemembers any way he can.  ‘It means a lot to me to be able to come out here and be able to interact with some of our troops,’ Jarmon told AFPS. ‘Coming from a military family, I know it takes a special type of person to be able to serve over there.’”

In the end, it didn’t really matter who won the matchup, because all those involved had such a great time participating.  We’d like to thank USO Fort Drum, USO of Metropolitan Washington (who’ve posted video on their YouTube Channel), USO Basra, USO Baghdad, the Wounded Warrior Project, Pro vs. GI Joe and all of the active-duty and retired military who took part in these two amazing events.  Way to go – you’re all rockstars in our book!

Miss USA Rima Fakih takes on the drums as soldiers from the Fort Drum Warriors in Transition Unit tackle guitar and vocals at the Pro vs. GI Joe event with the Giants in New York City, June 7, 2010.