GySgt Jeremiah Johnson | PAC Region: USO Camp Hansen, Okinawa
When military families are separated, even the biggest, burliest, toughest Marine can get misty-eyed at the thought of a son or daughter that is far away. To ease the homesick hearts of deployed parents, GySgt Jeremiah Johnson, a USO volunteer at Camp Hansen in Okinawa, has ensured that the United Through Reading’s Military Program is available to service members at all hours of the day and night, so they can read a book to the special children in their lives, record it on a DVD and send it back home.
This is just one of the many volunteer duties GySgt Johnson has cheerfully taken on since arriving on the island. And it matters not if it’s 12 noon, or 12 midnight. If Johnson is available, he’s at the USO. His talents as a chef led him to initiate Camp Hansen’s “Midnight Munchies” program where Saturday night revelers can visit the USO, get some chow and stay out of mischief. He’s also become quite the barbeque pit master, grilling for his fellow service members during special events or the power outages that sometimes accompany typhoons that have hit Okinawa.
Johnson seems to have breathed new life into the Camp Hansen USO center, not only with his enthusiasm, but by literally bringing new volunteer recruits through the door. While on temporary duty assignment at the Camp Hansen Academies for advanced training, he recruits a constant stream of new volunteers to the center through the academies program. He serves as a terrific role model for customer service by treating each guest with great care and attention, but also brightens the mood with his light-hearted demeanor.
He’s also done a vast majority of center improvement projects such as pressure-washing the building, prepping the walls for paint, decorating the United Through Reading® room and renovating the staff break room. He acts as a liaison between the USO and his Sgt. Major on the need for USO volunteers and support, and his role as a goodwill ambassador continues to increase the popularity and foot traffic of the center.
His good cheer and passion may defy the tough-guy Marine image, but if he serves his country with the same dedication as he serves the USO, we couldn’t be in better hands.
Allan Pedersen | CONUS Region: USO North Carolina, RDU Center
Fortunately for the men and women of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N. C., Allen Pedersen has insomnia. That would be considered an affliction for most folks, but for Allan, sleep is a task interrupter when a homecoming flight comes into the base at 0300. He’s there to meet that flight, even if it has just one returning service member. If he can rally other sleepless USO volunteers to cheer returning troops, that’s even better.
Though getting out and about at o’dark-thirty may be a big deal to others, for Allan it’s just one task in many that he so passionately performs for our men and women in uniform. Before Allan took on the job as the Volunteer Base Liaison Coordinator, there was barely a USO presence at Seymour Johnson. The installation is at least 67 miles from the closest USO at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which in the past meant that any USO activities were few and far between.
But in March 2011, Pedersen, who had served on the base for many years, successfully lobbied to establish an ongoing USO presence and stepped up to the plate to assume the role of the base liaison. And although the volunteer position is considered “part-time,” he’s often there on a daily basis. His hard work and determination are not just evident at the wee hours of the morning when he greets returning troops. The multitude of programs he’s brought to the base has touched the lives of thousands of service members and their families.
He created a partnership with the base library to establish the USO of North Carolina Study Skills seminar that provides valuable learning tools to service members. He also coordinated a partnership between the Kramden Institute and the Base School District to award 70 computers to military children in need. Allan then facilitated access of All Points Transport Service onto the base making it easier for airmen to travel to and from the Raleigh-Durham International Airport. As a matter of fact, he has instituted over 42 base-wide events and programs that reach an audience of nearly 4,000 enlisted men and women, officers and their families.
Between 0300 and his day duties, we’re not exactly sure when Allan Pedersen sleeps. But hopefully for the men and women that use the USO at Seymour Air Force Base, he’s got a steady supply of coffee and danishes to keep him fueled for the important work ahead.
McNuel Anyaibe | EUR Region: USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
Holidays such as Father’s Day can be especially difficult for deployed servicemen far from the special children in their lives. But McNuel Anyaibe of USO Grafenwoehr knows just how to help ease the separation. Though we wouldn’t want to ruin his image by calling him a big teddy bear, he did call upon a cuddly, stuffed version of the animal for a Father’s Day display that included lawn chairs, camping equipment and a faux fireplace. The display was a big hit with soldiers using the center, and was made even more special when McNuel treated them to a home-cooked Father’s Day meal.
Being a full time soldier does not prevent Mr. Anyaibe from coming in early to help open the center or staying late to help close it down. And his ability to operate the center according to USO standards makes him the perfect volunteer to call on when the regular staff have off-site events or need an extra pair of hands for more responsible tasks.
His in-depth technology skills allow him to assist customers with a wide-range of computer or internet issues. He always performs his duties with politeness and greets his fellow soldiers with a smile and courteous comments. Since he is deployed himself, he knows how important it is to make USO Grafenwoehr’s guests feel that sense of “home away from home.”
McNuel is the volunteer that all others go to for assistance and advice. He is looked to as a leader, mentor and coach, especially for younger service members and volunteers. Guests constantly remark on his engaging personality and positive demeanor. And as a self-starter who sees what needs to get done, then just does it, he needs very little supervision while performing his USO duties.
So truthfully, there really may be a soft, cuddly, teddy bear version of McNuel Anyaibe under his Army cammies given the smiles and good cheers he seems to spread at USO Grafenwoehr. However, we’re willing to keep that secret if you are.