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! **

USO Hawaii Volunteer Honored for 25 Years of Service

For most of America’s active-duty troops, 25 years seems like a lifetime. For George Villa, its been a rewarding chapter in a life of service.

George Villa, center left, and USO Hawaii Director Leigh Graham, center right, are seen at the Dec. 1 Service Salute in Hawaii. USO photo

George Villa, center left, and USO Hawaii Director Leigh Graham, center right, are seen at the Dec. 1 Service Salute in Hawaii. USO photo

Villa was honored at USO Hawaii’s Service Salute on Dec. 1, where he received a USO Lifetime Achievement Award for his 25-plus years of service to the organization along with the USO Hawaii Volunteer of the Year award.

“George is undeniably a key part of our operations in the Honolulu center,” USO Hawaii Director Leigh Graham said in a recent email.

Now 85 years old, Villa still commutes to the Honolulu International Airport via public transportation four days a week to perform his volunteer duties. Villa volunteered for 1,850 hours in the past year and a half, where he “provides directions, tips on places to visit, ideas on things to see, secrets on best places to eat and directions on how and where to catch ‘The Bus!’” according to a citation in the Service Salute program.

—Eric Brandner, Director of Story Development

Service After Service: Martin Van der Hoek

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

USO South Carolina volunteer Army Capt. Martin Van der Hoek

As a service member who has had to opportunity to see the USO in action both at home and overseas, I don’t think that I can ever speak (or write) enough to emphasize the importance and selflessness of the USO and all of its volunteers.

I recall the comfort and sense of home and community that the USO was able to provide to myself and fellow soldiers. Because of this, I find that it is vital for veterans to engage themselves in their local USOs to help out.

This serves two purposes: it gives back to the organization that gives so much in the way of service to our military family and it helps create bonds between the organization and its clients. To be able to walk into a USO and see that there are people there who can connect with you, joke around and share the same common bonds is a wonderful feeling. It also helps the families, who may be separated from their loved ones due to training, deployments or a number of other reasons. They can sit down and chat with volunteers about places that they may both have lived, restaurants and vacation spots they have shared, and it can really drive home that bond and that sense that no matter where they are, the USO stands ready to serve them.

Finally—and perhaps most important—is the sheer power that veterans bring to the USO in their words, their commitment and their actions. I think if you asked around, you would find that there are no better spokesmen for the USO than our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and members of the U.S. Coast Guard. These men and women know firsthand the comfort and the countless efforts made day in and day out by USO volunteers worldwide to bring some joy to their lives and the lives of their families. Because of this, they can perfectly and succinctly explain to an interested party just how beneficial they could be by volunteering with the USO. And just like that, you have yourself another fantastic and energized volunteer!

—Army Capt. Martin Van der Hoek
USO South Carolina Volunteer

Service After Service: Ron Corbin

To mark Veterans Day, we asked some of our volunteers who have served in America’s armed forces to share why they give their time to today’s troops by helping the USO. Here is one of their stories.

Ron Corbin

I have experienced the gamut of deployments and welcome home ceremonies, both as a veteran as well as the parent of two sons who served their country. I am a former Army helicopter pilot having served two tours in Vietnam (1966-67, and 1969). I know firsthand the emotions of leaving a new bride after only a few months of marriage, and then a year later departing again to a combat zone. I’ve felt the elation of returning home to only a “Welcome” by family, and the sting and bitterness of an unsupportive nation during an unpopular war.

As a father, I’ve also experienced the anxiousness of sending off my oldest son—a Marine—and my youngest son—a sailor—to war during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Being a parent in this situation, the worry and concern for sending off children into harm’s way was more difficult to deal with than being sent to combat myself. After enduring the anticipation of their return from overseas, it is an indescribable feeling when they finally step off the plane or ship and are safe at home.

I’ve always said war is a young man’s game played with rules made by old men. Now, at the age of 66, I can give something back to the young men and women who are spouses, sons, daughters and maybe even parents themselves of our brave troops. I can empathize with almost every aspect of what it means for someone to serve our nation in the armed forces.

This is my reward for volunteering at the USO. It pays my heart in full.

—Ron Corbin
USO Las Vegas Volunteer