SFC Victor Bridges | SWA Region: USO Camp Ali Al Salem, Kuwait
Dr. Seuss’s Lorax once said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
As SFC Victor Bridges dabbles bright yellow paint on the finishing touches of a re-creation of Dr. Seuss’s “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” at the United Through Reading® Room at USO Camp Ali Al Salem in Kuwait, there is no mistaking that this is a guy who cares a whole awful lot.
After six deployments, four of those in Iraq or Afghanistan, and 20 years in the Army, Sergeant Bridges is preparing to retire, but not before he has an opportunity to leave a final mark on his fellow soldiers. He has seen a lot, endured a lot, and dealt with losses and issues most of us will never have to. But just like the sunny color on his paint brush, Victor’s positive attitude and bright personality help him serve as a role model for younger troops handling the stresses of war. Daily he goes above the call of duty in his volunteer service and never allows even the gravest of news to interfere with his dedication to his fellow service members.
Along with his generous spirit, Victor is a “can do” type of guy. No task is too menial or overwhelming for him, whether it’s tidying up the kitchen, organizing the toiletry cabinet, emptying the trash, or fixing computers. He treats each USO visitor as his own personal assignment, and the word “no” is not in his vocabulary. If he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he tracks down a staffer or other information source to find the answer.
Although the command cell recently enforced an off-duty uniform policy on the installation, Victor was granted a special exception allowing him to volunteer at the USO in civilian gear so he could be viewed by others without showing his rank. He doesn’t want younger soldiers to be on guard if he outranks them, and it provides an opportunity for honest conversation and relaxed interactions between him and USO visitors.
By caring a “whole awful lot,” SFC Victor Bridges has been a source of inspiration to the hundreds of young soldiers passing through the USO. He truly embodies the self-sacrificing spirit not only of a USO volunteer, but as a proud member of the United States Armed Forces.
Billie Peterson | PAC Region: USO Guam, Guam
Billie Peterson may be slight in stature and soft spoken at first glance, but make no mistake; she is a giant of a volunteer who is perfectly able to find her voice when needed. In the five short months since becoming a volunteer at USO Guam, she has made a significant impact on USO operations and demonstrated her mettle as a leader.
When Billie joined the USO Guam team in November 2011, she showed herself to be not just highly reliable, but also quite creative as she shared ideas about new initiatives to improve center operations. She exhibited her natural leadership abilities by assisting with the planning and execution of the HSC-25 deployment briefing at Andersen AFB. She also planned, supervised and assisted with adding supplemental donated items to care packages for a 140-member unit of the Air National Guard which recently deployed from Guam to Southwest Asia. And as a member of the Andersen Air Force Base Spouses Club, she has regularly promoted the USO to individuals, small groups and newcomers.
Because of her high-level of commitment, Billie was eventually selected to serve on the newly created USO Guam Volunteer Management Team. As part of her duties, she serves as a Volunteer Incentives Manager, Volunteer Special Events Manager and Volunteer Homecoming/Deployment Manager.
Visitors will tell you that Billie is extremely kind and personable, as well as highly knowledgeable about USO Guam and all the extended programs available for service members and their families. And although she will be the first to claim a fear of public speaking, there is no denying that this seemingly quiet and delicate woman is a tour de force for USO Guam and its mission in the community.
Bob Murphy | CONUS Region: USO of Metropolitan New York, New York
Some folks get nervous when they hear the term “fishing expedition,” worrying that someone is going to uncover embarrassing or damaging information about them. Others think about the story of the “one that got away.” But for Bob Murphy of USO Metropolitan New York, the term “fishing expedition” means an opportunity to ramp up the USO’s support for America’s troops and their families.
A few years ago, Bob established the annual “USO Open” bass fishing tournament held throughout the northeast at venues such as Lake Champlain, Lake George and the Hudson River to promote the USO among fishing enthusiasts and raise money. He has also manned a USO table at “The World Fishing Exposition” at Rockland Community College. His efforts have raised more than $10,000 in donations for USO of Metropolitan New York.
Bob seems to have boundless energy and always steps in to fill a variety of needs, including last minute holes in the schedule, deployments, homecomings, golf outings, galas and other special events. During Fleet Week, Bob was stationed full time at Staten Island’s Home Port, overseeing hospitality and welcoming sailors and marines to New York City. Bob graciously provides transportation to other USO volunteers trying to get into the city from New Jersey, and can often be seen transporting the USO Liberty Bells to and from entertainment events. He believes there is nothing more important than the USO “being there” which is why he’s willing to drive other volunteers to the ends of the earth to boost the morale of our troops.
After a tour of Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division of the Army and a career as a firefighter from Hackensack, NJ, Bob has first-hand experience of the challenges faced by today’s service members. With a son currently in the Air Force, he can also relate to the families of those currently deployed. These connections allow him to provide service to our troops and their families with great empathy and compassion.
Don’t let Bob’s kindness fool you though. If you are a “fish” on the other end of his pole, he will adeptly “bait” you in to support USO of Metropolitan New York any way he can. And no fish is too small or large to help him meet the mission of lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families.
Edward Lee Buss | EUR Region: USO Vicenza, Italy
If St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, then Lee Buss must be the patron saint of sugar-hyped children. Not even a hoard of them at USO Vicenza in Italy can rattle Lee’s patience and virtuousness. As a matter of fact, with “family” as one of his core values, his heart only opens wider when confronted by sucrose-enhanced Halflings.
Lee helps newly arriving military families, providing them with valuable and pertinent information about their new home in a foreign country. He recognizes their unique, yet crucial needs, and condenses the onslaught of new information to fit those needs. He points families and center patrons towards USO programs, especially Italian language classes that help them integrate into their new surroundings.
The paradigm of dependability, Lee is the kind of volunteer each USO dreams about. He is the guy who is first to arrive and last to leave. No matter how challenging or frustrating the situation, he always has a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips and takes the time to find the most complete answer to every guest’s question. If it matters to the guest, then it matters to Lee. And when he’s not interacting with visitors, he’s wielding some kind of tool to fix broken shelves or wobbly chairs. When Lee takes on a task, he gives his all and sees it through to the end.
With his calm, patient demeanor, Lee seems to draw young soldiers – and new volunteers – into his sphere. They see him constantly working on projects in the center and get inspired to help. Rather than “preaching” to troops, he leads by example, and before you know it, he has a cadre of young pupils eager to imitate his every move. He is a natural at bringing out the best in others.
This “saint” of a volunteer has, on several occasions, been entrusted to run the center when the staff has been pulled away due to last minute or unexpected demands. His every effort seems to be focused on making USO Vicenza the best it can possibly be.