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.”


Breaking the Roles: Chef Michael Deihl

U. S. Army Sergeant Sherree Vannoy, 28, from New York City is served lunch by USO Volunteer Larri Milligan the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport USO on Feb 14 as part of the Operation Chefs Unite Valentine's Day buffet. (USO Photo by Michael Clifton)

Continuing this week’s HuffPost Impact series “Breaking the Roles” is today’s profile of Michael Deihl, the Executive Chef at the East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, Georgia, and one of the founders of Operation Chefs Unite.  OCU is an ongoing partnership between the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the American Culinary Federation and USO of Georgia to feed Troops traveling through the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta.

The interview shows that preparing meals for service members is about much more than just food: “Deihl’s favorite holiday to feed the troops is Christmas. Each December 25, Deihl rises at 4 a.m., ‘getting up when Santa’s just putting his sleigh away,’ to prepare a lavish traditional feast for soldiers. Deihl says, ‘I never felt the spirit of Christmas. I thought I did, but I never felt it until I started getting up early to feed the soldiers.'”

Click here to read the full interview!

You can also follow HuffPoImpact on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.  And let us know what you think of the series!

Our Volunteers are the Best!

We here at the USO couldn’t do what we do without the support of our amazing volunteers around the world.  Recently we’ve received a couple of great emails from volunteers, letting us know about their USO experiences.  Enjoy!

The first letter is from Michigan:
“Dear USO,
Lorraine and I [two USO volunteers -ed.] met  Lee and Sue Scherwitz at our USO tent.  Lee shared his story that in 1966 he met Sue at a USO Dance at Selfridge AFB in Mt Clements, MI and in 1967 they were married.  Lee has great memories of the USO and has a special date with the USO in his life! Lee served in the US Air Force for 26 years, serving Vietnam though Desert Storm.  He is currently the Airport Director Southwest Michigan Regional Airport (BEH).

Have a great USO Day,
Welton and Lorraine”

Lee and Sue Scherwitz at the USO tent in Michigan; they met at a USO Dance at Selfridge AFB and have been married for 43 years!

And this great letter is from Georgia:
“Hi Everyone,
I had the most wonderful day yesterday and wanted to share it with my Atlanta friends.  Steve and I volunteered a day at the USO at Hartsfield Airport.

We started our day getting there around 6:45am, signing in and prepping the food area with drinks. Then we were assigned the duty to greet the military as they arrived at the airport and positioned ourselves in our USO aprons and welcoming signs and cart at the top of the escalator where all the passengers exit to go to baggage claim.

The day started (7:00am) as the young men (mostly) and women came up the stairs to be greeted by loved ones excited to see their daddies and sons home for R & R (Rest and relaxation for 2 weeks) after being away for 8 months. They are so young and tears welled in my eyes!!!! Can I do this today??

As the morning went on things slowed down and we become the official airport greeters, helping direct many to baggage claim and ground transportation. Then around lunch time the flights started coming in from all over the country bringing back the young men and women who are returning to the war front. Some greeted us with looks of Where am I, Where do I go, Big smiles or those already starting to get back into their game faces. But not a single one was not happy to have us there, to let them know where to go and to direct them to the USO where they can rest and eat a hot lunch and get refreshments. I can DO this!!! We were told we could leave around 1:00 but I turned to Steve and said I can’t leave yet they are still coming, I have to do this. We stayed and greeted till 2:45, when after several waves of passengers had arrived no more soldiers were in the groups. Almost 8 hours later!!!! One of the best 8 hours I have spent in a long time.

People came up to us to thank us for supporting the troops, some didn’t know what was going on and we explained to them what the USO is all about. A volunteer program receiving donations from corporations and just regular folks.

So next time you come up those escalators take note what you see. Most folks just walk past our military, don’t notice them, they are invisible. Most have very little money, very young, very polite, they are the best of the best, I could not be more proud to be an AMERICAN.

I will do this again soon.

God Bless America, God Bless those soldiers I interfaced with yesterday, they will be in country by Saturday, God be with them and protect them and all those fighting to keep us FREE!!!!


USO is There for Troops Stranded by Volcanic Ash

The recent eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland has no doubt thrown a wrench in the plans of thousands of travelers.  None more so than Troops stationed around the world who are deploying or returning home.  It’s times like these that the USO faces the challenge of serving huge numbers of stranded Troops and we’re proud to say we’re rising to the occasion.

UPDATE: From WUSA 9, “Volcanic ash has delayed many troops heading overseas out of BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport…Some troops are getting hotel rooms, some are staying with friends, and others are taking advantage of the USO lounge.” Watch the video below!

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First Lieutenant, Richard Cobb, U.S Army, from Florida has been stuck at the Philadelphia airport because of affect of volcano explosion affecting air travel. He was photograph at the USO, at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, April 20, 2010. (Photo by ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS)

At the USO Liberty Center – located in Terminal A at Philadelphia International Airport – Army Lt. Richard Cobb found himself with plenty of time on his hands as he waiting to continue on to another flight during leave.  As reported by Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News, Cobb and others saw one connecting flight to Europe after another canceled, with no immediate information on when they’d be re-booked.  The stranded Troops who found their way to the USO, however, were weathering the delays just fine:

“I could talk about these [USO volunteers] for days,” said Cobb, 26, who’s assigned to the 95th Military Police Battalion, stationed in Mannheim, Germany. “Their hospitality has been unbelievable. The beds and showers are great. They’re constantly asking me if I want something to eat, if I need a wake-up call, if there’s anything they can do…these guys really deserve the publicity. They do a phenomenal job.”

This support comes at a cost, though, as USO Centers are straining their resources to serve thousands whose flights are delayed.  As numerous sources – including WAVY in Norfolk, VA – are reporting, USO Centers like the one at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta are serving up to 1000 soldiers in a 24-hour period, well over the daily average.

Donations of items like bottled water and packaged snacks are especially appreciated in times like this.  Click here to find your local USO and learn how you can help!

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The USO’s Board of Governors Visit Centers in Southwest Asia

Two members of the USO Board of Governors recently toured Kuwait as part of a three-day trip. Dennis Swanson and Sue Timken were accompanied by Sue’s husband William Timken, former US ambassador to Germany, and representatives of other major USO partners, including Sally Ann Zoll, CEO of United Through Reading; Steven Nardizzi, CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project; Mary Louise Austin, CEO of USO Georgia; and Bruce Nitsche of the Wounded Warrior Project.

The overall mission of the trip was to give the board and major stakeholders a chance to see the USO in action.  The tour kicked off with an in-depth look of the Wounded Warrior Unit at Camp Arifjan, where they all got a chance to meet with service members in recovery.  Day two of their journey brought them to Camp Ali Al Salem where USO center director Val Burnham and a few duty managers presented the group with a rundown of the special USO programs, which have started there and are actually implemented at various centers across Kuwait.

After Camp Ali Al Salem it was off to Camp Buehring, where they got a chance to see the difference a few miles make since the two bases are only about 25 miles apart. That night the board members wanted to take some of the USO volunteers out to dinner as a thank you. The last day of the tour the group visited Camp Virginia. At Camp Virginia they got a chance to see the base and what it’s really like for the soldiers there.

We’d like to thank all of these guests for spending time at our centers in Kuwait.  You are welcome back any time!


Dr. Seuss continues to unite family members half way around the world. Sally Zoll CEO of United Through Reading discusses a service member’s book selection while he waits to read to a love one at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Sally was part of a three day USO Board of Governors tour of Kuwait. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

Even after volunteering 30 hours in three days, this USO volunteer still has a smile on his face as he poses with members of the USO Board of Governors, Dennis Swanson and Sue Timken at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

USO Board of Governors member Sue Timken gets a chance to get in on the action when multiple people came up to the USO front desk counter as she checks in service members at USO Camp Buehring. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

USO Board of Governors member Sue Timken (center) gets a chance to feel as confidant as most soldiers do. Timken along with other board members took time to thank service members for all they do while serving in the Persian Gulf. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

Some USO volunteers were so excited to have a nice dinner thanks to the USO Board of Governors who took them to the Seven Seas restaurant in Kuwait City. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

USO volunteers at Camp Ali Al Salem take time to greet USO Board of Governors members and other dignitaries on one of their stops during their tour in Kuwait. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

USO Board of Governors members spend time with troops assigned to the Wounded Warrior Unit at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. This was just one of their stops as part of a three day tour of Kuwait. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)