Dedication to Family Leads USO Fort Campbell Director to Current Post
Thursday, January 05, 2012
By Christian Pelusi
It was a simple decision for Kari Burgess Brown. About a year and a half ago, her brother-in-law Kevin was preparing for his fourth deployment and her sister Melissa was in her third trimester with their second child. Knowing that her sister could use a few more in-house hands, Kari and her husband James decided to move from Baltimore to Fort Campbell, Ky.
Kari would begin studying for her MBA in the evenings at Lipscomb University, giving her time to dedicate to the family while her husband James would work as a registered nurse at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital.
"Honestly, I felt proud to be here to support the family, so Kevin would know that Melissa had help and that there would be a 'man of the house' to protect everyone while he was gone," Kari said.
While Kevin was gone, Kari quickly became a vital cog in the family and was immersed in such challenges as helping Melissa with weaning her niece Vienna off her night-time feedings ("As a woman without children, this was an overwhelming and eye-opening experience!"), helping cook meals and watching the children.
"Basically, Melissa said she had a wife!" Kari said.
When Kevin returned home last February, the whole family had to adjust.
"I learned about how homecomings can be a rollercoaster," Kari said. "For example, Vienna chose me over him for a while and because she was only 7 months old when he deployed, she didn’t have the same routines or preferences he knew her to have, particularly in the bedtime routine. These experiences really became my drive for wanting to support more military families."
Kari's desire dovetailed with her ability to lead and her experience working for nonprofits, large corporations and state government, which eventually matched her with what she calls her dream job: Center Director of USO Fort Campbell.
"I think it is rewarding to tell someone I work for the USO and see their face light up because they encountered us in a FOB [Forward Operating Base] or an airport," Kari said. "I love working in a place where we all wear all the hats; we have to work as a team or else we will fail. I think all staff in HQ and other centers are amazingly supportive. And, most days, I feel a little like Santa Claus because we get to offer such wonderful programs and services to this community. I also get to work with really cool businesses, like the Tennessee Titans and CMT!"
Kari's arrival in late August after acquiring her MBA helped keep the construction and management of the new USO in Fort Campbell (originally slated to open early last year) on schedule. The doors opened on Nov. 30 and the center and its staff have hit the ground running.
"We have incredible support in the community, including BOSS [Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers], families, command and community partners," Kari said. "We have started lining up businesses to provide free lunches for the month of January to relieve the financial stress of a one-paycheck month. Foot traffic is starting to pick up and we are starting to understand the role that the community needs us to fill."
"Kari has a real vision to reach out to the community," said USO Fort Campbell Programs Manager Dennis Bracher. "Her personality is engaging and she has developed many associations with those within the community as well as with those 'outside the gate.' "
Kari said how thankful she is for a full, supportive set of volunteers and the leadership of Dennis.
"The USO Fort Campbell team makes this a most pleasurable place to work," Kari said. "It is a really exciting time to be here."
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(Photo caption: Kari Burgess Brown gets the honor of cutting the ribbon at the grand opening of USO Fort Campbell last November.)
Fort Campbell Opens With Unique Feature (Nov. 30, 2011)
Retrofitted Huey Helicopter Provides Centerpiece for New USO (Nov. 30, 2011)
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