‘A Big Smile and a Bullhorn’: Admiral Praises USO After Chicago Airport Experience

On occasion, the USO gets notes of appreciation from senior military leaders. Now-retired Army Gen. Carter Ham lauded the USO’s efforts in helping the freed Algerian oil-workers-turned-hostages back in January.

RDML Kirby, John

Rear Adm. John Kirby

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Navy Chief of Information, dropped one of those notes to USO Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Frank Thorp two weeks ago. Kirby had just watched his son, Colin, graduate boot camp and traveled with him to Chicago O’Hare International Airport where he encountered a familiar sight.

Here’s the story in Kirby’s words:

[T]he real purpose of this note is to let you know how utterly impressed I was by the USO volunteers at O’Hare airport.

As I mentioned, my son graduated from Navy boot camp last Friday. I had the great fortune to be there with my wife. What a day.

Late that night, as they typically do at [the Navy Recruit Training Command], the new sailors were sent by bus to the airport to await their flights out. Colin was going to Charleston on a flight that left at 0600. Some kids weren’t leaving until after noon.

Didn’t matter. RTC dropped them all off at O’Hare at around 0100 to wait.

Who was there to meet them? A USO volunteer with a big smile and a bullhorn.

He separated them into groups based on their departure times, then marched them all up to the USO facility to drop off their gear and relax. Some stayed there. Some, like my boy, opted to go somewhere else to eat.

But all of them were made to feel welcome and proud. All of them were treated like war heroes by the staff there.

And it was the middle of the night.

I have to tell you, I got a little thick in the throat watching those volunteers check these kids in and answer their questions (some had never traveled on their own) and make them feel special.

They didn’t have to do that. But somehow, I got the feeling that they really believed they DID have to.

We didn’t stay with Colin all the way till his departure time. Some parents did. We figured he’d want a little time with his buddies. Besides, we weren’t worried about him.

He was at the USO.

–Preface by USO Story Development

USO Centers Around the Globe Celebrate National Volunteer Week

As National Volunteer Week comes to a close, here’s a look at a few of the scores of celebrations held at  centers around the world. The USO’s 27,000-plus volunteers  donated more than 1.375 million hours last year in service to America’s troops and their families..

USO Fort Hood

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday's event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood Programs Manager Isabel Hubbard, left, USO volunteer Frank Wright and USO Fort Hood Story Time Coordinator Andrea McDonald attend Wednesday’s event. USO photo

USO Fort Hood held a luncheon Wednesday to honor its volunteers who logged a total of more than 22,000 hours last year.

“I’m really proud to stand here and see how many amazing people answer the call,” USO Fort Hood Director Robin Crouse told the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald, which covered the event.

Read more about the event in the Herald’s story.

USO Forward Operating Base Fenty

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USO Forward Operating Base Fenty volunteers share a joke – and a cupcake – during National Volunteer Week. USO photo

The USO at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan showed its appreciation to volunteers – almost all of whom are troops themselves – with some baked goods. They posted photos of the volunteers earlier this week.

“Thanks to all the great volunteers at Fenty for all you do for your fellow soldiers!” USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes wrote in a Facebook comment about the celebration.

USO Houston

USO centers know how to get creative. To celebrate National Volunteer Week, the staff at USO Houston put together a JibJab breakdance video.

USO Houston had 248 volunteers donate 20,056 hours to their center last year.

USO San Antonio

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USO San Antonio volunteers pose at Wednesday’s USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at the USO’s airport center. USO photo

USO San Antonio held a USO Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast at their airport facility on Wednesday morning.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, ‘We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,’” the staff wrote on its Facebook page.

–Story by USO Story Development

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.

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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

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

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

Volunteers Ready to Serve at New USO Warrior & Family Center

The largest USO Center ever built!

The largest USO Center ever built!

“Give the service member 100% of your attention.”  I wrote this down during today’s volunteer training at the new Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Center.  Simple statement, HUGE impact.

I was attending training to better understand the new Center and all of its features, but in my head I kept circling back to that statement.  “100% of your attention.”  I was having a hard time devoting 100% of my attention to the training!  My virtual to-do list racing through my head:  Did that reporter email me back?…What is the deadline on that press release?…Expense reports are due!

Of course, for these volunteers, devoting time and attention to our nation’s troops and their families is second nature.  350 individuals signed up to volunteer at the new Warrior and Family Center in just a few short months, all before the Center is even open.  350 Washington, DC area residents.   Moms, dads, retirees, college students- all with one thing in common: a desire to support our nation’s men and women in uniform.

This new Center may be unique in size (the largest USO Center in history) and design (20 rooms with unique functions and purpose), but it shares something in common with our more than 160 USO locations around the globe- our volunteers will serve as the heart and soul of the Center.

From our active duty military who work patrols in the field during the day and spend their free evening volunteering in our Centers in Afghanistan and Kuwait, to the many military spouses who take time away from their own families to support those deployed troops serving in Europe and the Pacific regions, to the volunteers stateside who serve “no dough dinners” at USO Centers on military installations.  We also can’t forget the airport volunteers who greet traveling service men and women with hot coffee and a comfortable seat, and those volunteers that we hope to never meet, those who take the call, anytime, day or night, and support the families receiving their fallen soldier.

These individuals, thousands of them around the globe, are the life force of every USO Center.  They give 100% of their attention to our nation’s heroes.  I don’t know your names, but I know your passion.  You do what so many of us cannot, devote fully of yourself and your talents.  Thank you for your service. – Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager

** See what volunteer opportunities are available near you at USOVolunteer.org! **