What does a combat stress specialist have in common with a gingerbread house? They are both instrumental in lifting the spirits of service men and women posted deep in the heart of Afghanistan.
Senior Airman Jacquelyne Hill, part of the Combat Stress Team at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan knows that developing outlets for soldiers, airmen and Marines to decompress is essential to keeping morale high in the middle of a war zone. As a key volunteer for the USO at this FOB, Jackie’s abundant creativity and leadership skills have resulted in many unique stress-relievers such as a gingerbread house competition over the Christmas holidays, a masquerade party, white elephant party and an ’80s party.
But unless you think that the only thing volunteers do deep in the heart of Afghanistan is throw parties, Jackie also gets serious about ensuring that the small USO at FOB Sharana is efficiently run and well organized so that her colleagues have a place to relax and escape the stress of war, even if just for a few minutes or hours. With only two USO staffers on the ground to operate the center, Jackie became mission critical for a full week in December when both employees were away. She essentially became an honorary "third USO staffer" during this time, running several events, keeping paperwork up-to-date, training others to serve as USO volunteers, and serving as the official USO point of contact.
Her contributions to the USO don’t stop there. She has set a very high standard for volunteerism at the base and as a result, more volunteers are taking on greater roles in planning and implementing events. She’s even organized them into cleaning crews that ensure the front desk, main floor and supply section are orderly and efficient.
And an important side benefit to her efforts, Jackie has helped bridge the gap between troops, coalition forces and civilians, which has created an atmosphere of camaraderie that didn’t exist before. The 450 hours of volunteer service she has contributed to the USO in a few short months is a testament to her unwavering commitment to make the USO at FOB Sharana a valued respite for her fellow service members.
And the next time you see a blaze of pink fluff whizzing by out of the corner of your eye, it’s just Jackie in her true calling as one of Santa’s helpers delivering goodness to the troops.
Joan Ashner | CONUS Region: USO of New York
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stops volunteer Joan Ashner from the swift completion of her appointed rounds at the USO of Metropolitan New York.
This was especially true during New York’s post-Christmas blizzard that crippled the city and stranded National Guard troops and military families for nearly five days. When mass transit shut down, preventing other volunteers from showing up for duty, Joan opened and operated the USO center at the Port Authority every day during this crisis, single-handedly serving nearly 800 patrons. Without Joan, the center would have been closed due to the extreme weather and lack of volunteers.
However, for Joan, going above and beyond the call of duty seems to be all in a day’s work. In addition to her regular center duties, Joan assisted with the distribution of 5,500 tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular "A Salute to Our Troops," secured a $1,500 donation from her husband’s company and traveled to Lake George in upstate New York to volunteer at the Bass Fishing Tournament that raised $7,500 for the USO.
As a USO "brand ambassador" she traveled to Hartford, Conn., to assist with a Freedom Salute ceremony, which honored returning Connecticut National Guardsmen. She entertained wounded warrior John Knoll and his son who were visiting as part of the Safe Harbor program, escorting them on a tour of NBC Studios at Rockefeller Center.
Once engaged in a project, Joan throws herself into it 100 percent. She recently initiated a mentorship program for high school students to get involved with the USO by collecting messages of support for our troops and arranging for donation drives. She helped a young girl coordinate donations of more than $300 in snack food for the center and collect messages of support for soldiers as part of a service project related to the girl’s Bat Mitzvah. Joan recognizes that engagement of youth with the USO is important for cultivating future generations of USO volunteers.
Joan’s support is so essential that Metropolitan New York depends on her almost as they would a full-time employee. And one thing is for sure: she can be counted on to deliver the USO mission regardless of weather or any other obstacles in her way.