Why We Volunteer: Army Spc. Thibaut Lenkoue and Patrick Jenkins – USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

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 are two of their replies.

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From left, USO Warrior Center volunteer Patrick Jenkins, entertainer Nick Cannon and Army Spc. Thibaut Lenkoue — also a USO volunteer — pose earlier this month at the USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. USO photo

Volunteering for me means love, giving and sharing great moments.

When I first came here, I thought only civilians worked at the USO. I enjoy every single moment that I spend here. The USO [volunteers and staff] are awesome, always polite, hard working professionals. I was happy to spend time here because I had found a home far from home. So when I discovered that I could volunteer at the USO, I decided to do so to take care of other members of this new family [and] give back what I have enjoyed.

It is always a pleasure to take care of people and make them realize that we appreciate all [their] sacrifices.

–Army Spc. Thibaut Lenkoue, volunteer at the USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

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Volunteering is an important way to give back what the soldiers have sacrificed and given to me. If you haven’t already taken part of this opportunity of volunteering for the USO, I highly recommend it.

I am a 21-year-old student who recently relocated all the way from Florida to Ramstein, Germany. My mom, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, was temporarily deployed here and I took the opportunity to come here and stay for school.

I started volunteering at the USO Warrior Center in February and I have over 350 hours and counting. I don’t think of it as “getting hours,” because I have to, or just being here for the events or the food (even though most people will tell you that all I do is eat). I volunteer for our soldiers [because] we try to make this a home away from home. In return, it makes me feel that I am at home and – in a way – leaves me feeling like I’m helping with the whole mission.

The staff have become my parents and the soldiers and volunteers have become my brothers and sisters. I always say “If I’m not working or at school you can find me at the USO Warrior Center volunteering,” as as I like to think of it as going home (I just have to leave every night).

–Patrick Jenkins, volunteer at the USO Warrior Center at Ramstein Air Base, Germany

USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir Nearing Completion

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A stone facade fireplace and a second-story footbridge stand as the interoir centerpieces of the Great Room at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. Construction should wrap up by year’s end. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Nail by nail, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., is getting closer to welcoming troops and families

USO staffers visited the construction site last week for a walkthrough and saw dozens of contractors buzzing throughout the building, which is still on track to be complete by the end of 2012 and open to guests in early 2013.

The Warrior and Family Center at Belvoir will serve wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers. Many of these troops are stationed at Belvoir while they recover from invisible wounds of war like traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress.

Here are a few photos from the walkthrough:

The USO’s Operation Enduring Care is raising funds for the construction of both the USO Warrior and Family Center at Belvoir and the USO Warrior and Family Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md, along with USO Warrior and Family Programs worldwide.

—Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development

A Special Shout Out from American Idol’s Kris Allen!

Kris Allen energized hundreds of fans Oct. 1 at Vogelweh’s Kazabra Club during his recent USO tour. (Photos by Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison, Kaiserslautern)

American Idol winner Kris Allen recently completed a weeklong USO tour through Europe, entertaining and signing autographs for hundreds of fans along the way.  One special stop was at the USO Warrior Center, where USO staff and volunteers hosted a lunch for Allen and 25 wounded warriors.

The wounded warriors enjoyed great food and a post-meal acoustic set of some of Allen’s most popular songs.  One wounded warrior commented, “I watch American Idol every season, so it was pretty cool meeting the winner.” Check out and share this special shout out he taped there:

The tour took on special meaning for Allen, whose wife shares a special connection with the Kaiserslautern area.   “My wife lived in Ramstein. When she was a kid, her dad was in the Air Force,” Allen said to reporter Rick Scavetta, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern.

When the USO recently asked Allen and his band to take on an overseas tour to play for service members and their families in Europe, he said it was a “no-brainer.”

“We were like, absolutely, we’ll do it,” Allen said. “It’s just an honor for us to come over here and hopefully offer some entertainment. These guys give a lot for our country and this is the least we can do.”

“You’re away from family and I know that’s really hard. So, I’d like to thank you so much for what you do,” Allen said. “Just keeping working hard, it means a lot to people in America.”

AFN Europe also caught him on camera.  Enjoy this interview  by TSgt Colleen Jones, as she takes us to this Idol’s show to support the troops…

Photos From the Field – Labor Day Edition

Our service men and women around the world never take a day off, and neither do we!  There are a variety of picnics and parades taking place at USO Centers, and our dedicated staff and volunteers will be there.  As a special Labor Day treat, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this special holiday 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!)

The USO Warrior Center enjoyed a surprise visit from Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Sept. 4, 2010. Note the copy of On Patrol magazine on the table in the background! (DoD Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley/Released)

No, it's not a cell phone commercial, it's just golfers at the 19th Annual USO Golf Tournament in Stuttgart. Held at Korwestheim Golf Course, the tournament serves as fun cultural event to bring together USO Stuttgart's American and German friends! (Photo courtesy of USO-Stuttgart's Facebook page)

The USO Puget Sound Area Gala 2010 is scheduled for Friday, October 1st at the Museum of Flight, where this picture was recently snapped. For more information on the event - or to purchase tickets - contact Gala Chair Nancy Strom, vnstrom@aol.com. (Photo courtesy of USO Puget Sound Facebook page)

USO of Indiana - in coordination with the University Relations Division of the University of Notre Dame - encouraged staff and their families to create their own personalized thank you message for the troops, which will be taken to the USO center at Camp Atterbury, as well to the USO Airport Center in Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of USO of Indiana's Facebook page)

A dark and stormy day at USO Fort Riley! Luckily the storm steered clear of the center, but we couldn't resist this picture! (Photo courtesy of USO Fort Riley Facebook page)

You know that the new USO Center at Kandahar is just about ready to open when the theater gets furniture! This center has been months and months in the making and we can't wait for it to open. (Photo courtesy of USO Kandahar Facebook page)

Photos From the Field – August 2010

Periodically, we’re bringing you the best in USO photography from around the world.  Enjoy this second 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!)

Earlier this summer, USO New England held a luncheon for Wounded Warrior and many others to commemorate the Battle of the Midway on the USS Constitution Underway. (Photo by Nicole Mantopoulos, all rights reserved)

Some wildlife from Westfield, MA, in its natural habitat... (Photo courtesy of Pioneer Valley USO Facebook page)

The Guam USO Center gives visitors a real island feel, complete with local flora! (Photo courtesy of USO Guam Facebook page)

Outside of the USO at Joint Base Balad at sunset. You can almost forget where you are. (USO photo by Erin Corcoran)

On August 6th, 2010 the USO Warrior Center hosted an event with Stuttgart BOSS. The group came down to cook up some brats, hot dogs, and hamburgers for the wounded warriors. It was a fun and relaxing afternoon! (Photo courtesy of USO Warrior Center Facebook page)

The 159th recovering Fort Campbell USO's helicopter from the range. The 159th is going to refurbish this piece and then it is going into the USO center. (Photo courtesy of Fort Campbell USO Facebook page)

News & Notes From Around the World

Baghdad, Iraq – The USO in Baghdad sponsored a “235th Birthday for the Army Jag” 5K run.  For those of you familiar with the terrain, the runners started at Signal Hill on Camp Victory.  Over 450 people show up for this early morning weekend run. The USO had T-shirts for all the runners and plaques for the top 3 fastest male and female participants.  Congrats to all!

Runners stretched in preparation of a 5K run sponsored by the USO. (Photo by USO Baghdad)

Landstuhl, Germany - On July 30, 2010 the USO Warrior Center hosted an event with Heidelberg Sports and Fitness.  A group came down to cook out for the wounded warriors and give away some T-shirts designed especially for the event.  Menu choices included ribs, pork steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, bratwurst, baked beans, potato salad, corn on the cob, vegetarian chili, watermelon, and garlic bread.  Yummy!

The event also fell on their Flashback Friday tradition, so a couple of older sports-themed movies were shown during the dinner, including “Bull Durham” and “Hoosiers.”  The turnout for the event was great, with 100 wounded warriors in attendance.  Nearly every wounded warrior echoed this warrior’s feelings, “this is the best food I have had in a long time.”

The wounded warriors were grateful to the Heidelberg crew for grilling for them and to the USO for hosting another successful event. (Photo by USO Warrior Center)

Basrah, Iraq - Texas Hold’em has quickly become a base favorite at USO Basrah. Every seat in the house was full once again as soldiers competed to make it to the final table. The addition of new trophies for the top card sharks had everyone playing their hands tight and bringing their best game face to the table.  Though not everyone walked away a champion, everyone had the chance to hone their skills and prepare…for next month’s tournament.  For more pictures, visit USO Basrah on Facebook by clicking here.

The poker tables were packed as Troops anted up for a tournament. (Photo by USO Basrah)