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2014 Regional Volunteers of the Year

USO Manager of Volunteer Operations Sarah Kemp profiles the 2014 Regional Volunteers of the Year.

MSgt Barbara Fuller | SWA Region: USO FOB Shindand, Afghanistan

USO FOB Shindand MSgt Barbara Fulle

Troops at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shindand in Afghanistan can say, "arrivederci" to boredom thanks to MSgt Barbara Fuller.  Fuller fostered relationships with leadership in the Italian forces to partner with USO FOB Shindand to offer weekly Italian language classes. 

Interesting, unique and fun are just a few words to describe the events that Fuller has brought to USO FOB Shindand.  Not only are her Italian classes a hit, she also started one of the most popular programs on base, karaoke!

Working as a one-woman marketing and advertising firm, Fuller promoted the karaoke event, attracting a very excited audience and some very brave musical acts.  She also worked to gather all the music files and lyrics to ensure there were songs for any musical taste.

As a senior non-commissioned officer deployed to Afghanistan for 12 months, Fuller truly understands how important offering a respite for troops is, in the brief free time they have.

"Fuller, like most of our volunteers, works a full shift at her military job and then heads to the USO.  She always stops by the USO both going to work and coming home from work.  Her willingness to put in extra hours and energy into the USO after a long day at her job is unmatched," said Frank Stinson, USO FOB Shindand Center Manager.

Any given night of the week, a troop is able to relax and refocus for at least a few moments because of the programming that Fuller has initiated.  Whether it's homemade pancakes she is making, a care package of chocolate bars she is sharing or a karaoke night she is hosting, Fuller makes sure the troops know someone cares.

Nancy Takagi | PAC Region: USO Humphreys, South Korea

USO Humphreys Volunteer Nancy Takagi

A full stomach makes for a happy person, and Nancy Takagi makes it her mission to keep all of Humphreys' troops fed well.

Takagi volunteers 5 days a week at Humphreys and is involved in every aspect of programming at the center.  Takagi creates ideas for innovative events, manages logistics for outreach and prepares food.

One of Humphrey's largest programs is Lunchbox, where they offer a free home-cooked meal to troops on base.  Takagi is always thinking of new meal ideas, helping with food preparation the day before, and with set-up early in the morning to ensure every Lunchbox is a smoothly operated success.

If a troop can't make it to the center, then Takagi will help bring some center goodness to them.  Troops are guaranteed to have their morale lifted with events like Java Buzz where USO Humphreys delivers coffee and donuts to troops at work, and Sweets on Wheels where volunteers act as an ice cream truck handing out freeze pops on hot days. 

During her 30 or more hours of volunteer service a week Takagi takes time to mentor new volunteers.  She not only trains them, but acts as a stellar role model as well.

"She has been one of the biggest assets to USO Humphreys.  Nancy is a volunteer we can count on every day.  She is a proactive volunteer, always looking for ways to help the USO staff," said Howard Seo, USO Humphreys Center Manager.

The only thing larger than Takagi's dedication to USO Humphreys is the positive impact she is making on troops and their families.

LeAnn Thornton | CONUS Region: USO Bay Area, San Francisco

USO Bay Area Volunteer LeAnn Thornton

LeAnn Thornton is always by the side of our troops and their families.  Thornton is dedicated to providing support to everyone from a young Marine stranded by last minute travel changes to a family navigating an unfamiliar airport on the most difficult day of their life.

Thornton is a respected member of the Families of the Fallen team at USO Bay Area.  She has assisted with every single family that has passed through their center this year, and has rarely missed a mission over the past 5 years.  Her compassion, respect and ability to do what is needed make her an invaluable connection for the families.

Just recently due to travel changes, 90 Marines were stranded at the airport for more than 16 hours.  Thornton took it upon herself to coordinate their meals, get them expedited through security, recruit extra volunteers to help and worked with community groups to show the Marines a sense of hospitality that just comes second nature to Thornton.

When there is a homecoming event, Thornton completes every task with excitement from communicating with family members and USO volunteers to even making personalized signs for every troop that comes home to San Francisco.

"She has raised the bar in quality of programs and helped to spread the word about USO Bay Area and all we have to offer.  She has increased participation by other volunteers in programs outside the center with her enthusiasm, resulting in an increased level of service that the USO Bay Area can provide to our local troops," said Amy Eilts, USO Bay Area Operations and Programs Manager.

Armed with a poster marker, a brownie spatula or just a big old smile, Thornton reports for volunteer duty ready to lift the spirits of America's troops and their families.

Geraldin "Thibaut" Lenkoue | EUR Region: USO Warrior Center

USO Warrior Center Volunteer Geraldin Lenkoue

It takes a special personality to work with wounded, ill, and injured troops. For many individuals, the emotional burden is just too great—but not Geraldin "Thibaut" Lenkoue, a full time lab technician at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC). He can best be described as warm, caring, sweet, and constantly wearing a smile.

He brings this upbeat personality to his volunteer service at the USO Warrior Center in Germany where he volunteered more than 1,220 hours in 2013 alone. One might think that after working with patients all day long in his paid job, Thibaut might want to take a break. But he cheerfully walks from the LRMC over to the Warrior Center to continue sharing his smile with many of the very patients he's served at the hospital.

Thibaut is one of those individuals who really pays attention to others. He remembers names. He listens to what visitors want and steers them towards the best USO program offering. He knows the intricate workings of the center and can run it seamlessly without supervision by other staff or volunteers.

He's also been known to do the heavy lifting – literally – with the same good cheer as he serves guests. When a delivery is made from the warehouse, Thibaut unloads the truck and stores the items away, assuring that inventory is well organized and readily available to the troops. He monitors supplies and makes recommendations when the stores need to be replenished.

He is equally comfortable assisting with large scale special events such as visits by Stihl Timbersports and author Stephen King. He's served troops during the Semper Fi Fund Christmas Eve dinner, NASCAR Hangout, Thanksgiving and pizza nights. He's also been a strong proponent of the United Through Reading's Military Program.

Thibaut Lenkoue is there for our wounded, ill and injured troops at every step along the way, from his day job at the LRMC to his volunteer work at the USO Warrior Center. His dedication to others comes from the heart, and the evidence of this shows on the happy faces of those he serves.

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