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

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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

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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: Capt. (Select) Mark Kleinhenz, USO of North Carolina

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 one of their replies.

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Navy Capt. (S) Mark Kleinhenz

My name is Mark Kleinhenz. I am a USO Volunteer. I am also an active reservist in the Navy. I have been proudly volunteering at the USO of North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport center for just over a year.

It was an honor to be selected as a volunteer. It is something I plan to do for many years to come. Why? Because after 21 years of service to our country, it was time to give back to those I am so proud to serve alongside and those who have served before me.

My volunteer experience has been outstanding and rewarding to the point where I actively recruit my friends to sign up to volunteer with me. I want to share this experience because my fellow volunteers at our USO in the Charlotte airport are family, and they each feel as I do. Every time you volunteer, you see familiar faces – fellow volunteers, folks flying out for their drill weekends and other veterans who are frequent fliers. I volunteer because while I feel serving your country is important, serving those who serve our country is equally important. I get a kick out of the fact that the young soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen and spouses who come through have now idea who just made them a cup of coffee or welcomed them in the door. That is the way it should be at a USO. Rank doesn’t matter when you walk in our doors – only that you served or are serving your country.

Throughout my Navy career, I have stopped into every USO I have run across – Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar, Vicenza and Naples, Italy, both of Dallas’ excellent facilities and many others, including the two best USOs I have ever been to – the USO in Guam and our own USO of North Carolina’s Charlotte airport center. I have always received warm welcomes, something to eat or drink, a free phone call if I needed it, an Internet connection and the ability to swap out a good book out for a trip wherever I was heading. This service year after year while flying in and out of Charlotte and stopping by my USO is what motivated me to volunteer.

USO facilities are great. However, it is USO volunteers that truly make the difference. I can confidently say that USO volunteers are cut from the same cloth in every location. To a person, every volunteer does their best to make every service member – active, reserve and retired – feel special. We strive to ensure people feel welcome and are made to feel at home during their visit. If you want to do something very positive in your life, become a USO Volunteer!

–Story by Navy Capt. (Select) Mark W. Kleinhenz, USO of North Carolina volunteer

Camp Lejeune Welcomes Sesame Street!

The Sesame Street/ USO Experience is currently touring Stateside, with the latest stop at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.  Take a look at all the fun!

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Miilitary Families recently visited troops at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, May 22, 2010. In addition to the 25-minute live performance featuring muppets Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover, Rosita and Zoe, families were provided resource materials and giveaways like these twirly lights. (USO Photo by John Althouse)

Military kids line-up for a chance to meet their favorite muppet (and grab a quick hug) at The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, May 22, 2010. (USO Photo by John Althouse)

(R) Congressman Walter B. Jones stops by to show his support for military families during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, May 22, 2010. Also on hand, was (R) Colonel William Meier (retired USMC) and muppets (L-R front) Cookie Monster, Elmo, (L-R back) Rosita, Zoe and Grover.

Military families at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina gear up for the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families, May 22, 2010. (USO Photo by John Althouse)

Cookie Monster waves to a tiny fan as part of The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, May 22, 2010. (USO Photo by John Althouse)

USO of North Carolina’s Golf Tournament and “Un-Valentine’s Day” Auction a Huge Success

On Friday, community leaders and golf enthusiasts converged at the Jacksonville Country Club for Marine Federal Credit Union's 16th annual golf tournament, a fundraiser supporting Hope for the Warriors and the USO. (Photo courtesy of Don Bryan/The Daily News)

Ten bachelors and bachelorettes – all current or former service members –  went on the auction block for a good cause: the USO of Jacksonville’s first “Un-Valentine’s Day” auction.  Winning bidders received a date and the Troops serving overseas will be recipients of care packages.

Even a local newscaster got in on the action!  As reported by Eyewitness News 9 in Charlotte, NC: “Nine On Your Side’s Arthur Mondale who served in Iraq in 2003, is an Air Force veteran who wound up on the auction block as well.  ‘It’s not about how much money you raise, because one dollar that we raise tonight is more than I had ten minutes before that,’ said USO of North Carolina Director John Falkenbury.  ‘It is about taking care of our men and women in uniform.'”

This auction, combined with a golf tournament held earlier in the week, netted $55,000 for USO programs.  JDNews.com covered the event, as “community leaders and golf enthusiasts converged at the Jacksonville Country Club for Marine Federal Credit Union’s 16th annual golf tournament, a fundraiser supporting Hope for the Warriors and the USO…Golfers came from as far away as Pittsburgh, Pa.; Charlotte; and Beaufort, S.C., to participate.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Dickerson, executive vice president of Marine Federal, said that the day’s turnout should change the minds of anyone who didn’t believe that the community cared for its wounded veterans.”

Job well done to all of those involved.  Check out the auction action in the video below!

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