Pat Tillman Memorial USO Brings Glad Tidings to Bagram Air Base and Beyond
Thursday, December 29, 2011
By Christian Pelusi
"As a USO employee over here, knowing you make a difference in the lives of the soldiers you serve is why we make the sacrifices we do to live here." -- Sara Lottie, Duty Manager, Pat Tillman Memorial USO, Bagram, Afghanistan
Sometimes it's for a respite before or after a flight into or out of country. Sometimes it's to enjoy the comforts of a living room in a home away from home. Whatever the reason, Sara Lottie and Christine Gunderson bring a bit of warmth to Bagram and beyond.
Forward operating bases dot Afghanistan and the rugged terrain is not conducive to frequent visits to the USO center located at Bagram Air Base so Pat Tillman Memorial USO brings the center to them. The most recent example was Secret Santa FOB Hop, where Gunderson and Lottie suited up to deliver over 500 stockings filled with everything that a USO holiday had to offer.
Lottie describes the drop-in: "We flew out of Bagram late at night. The bases we went to were 'blackout' FOBs so it was very dark when we landed. We got on the plane and told all the soldiers we were traveling with the USO [and] wanted to help give them a Merry Christmas and had presents for them [and] they all cheered!
"When we arrived at the FOB, Christine and I grabbed our bags and ran off the plane. There were two Chinooks [helicopters] loading soldiers to take them to even smaller bases and lots of soldiers waiting at the passenger terminal. We walked in wearing our USO Santa hats, wished everyone a Merry Christmas and handed out presents. ... If we can distract the soldiers from the reality they are in a war zone and remind them of home even for a few minutes we have accomplished the USO Mission."
Due to the desolation of their encampments and the monotony of the duty, the troops revere any and all efforts by the vigilant and frequently brave USO staff.
"During the holiday season, Xmas in particular, the USO was a vital part here at Bagram [Air Base], Afghanistan for me," wrote SSgt Robert A. Dixie, USAF. "The Pat Tillman Memorial USO help[ed] me get through one of the most difficult times.
"Although, I would prefer to be home with my family back in New York, the USO at Bagram exceeded my expectation of making Christmas possible for not only myself but for the thousands of other soldiers that came through those doors."
Those troops that came through those doors were welcomed with events like decorating the center, making gingerbread houses, handing out Christmas cookies, packing presents, signing Christmas cards and participating in Christmas stocking races (pictured at left).
Lottie said that since every day seems the same and getting anywhere takes so much effort, it's easy to forget that it is Christmas or any other holiday. Enter the USO staff.
"Spending time at the USO creates a sense of family for them, gives them a home to come to outside of work and their rooms," she said. "You can tell you have reached someone when you see their eyes light up, they smile and laugh and tell us about themselves. They tell us where they are from, if they are married, what their kids are like, how they would have celebrated Christmas if they were home."
Fortunately for those troops, home can truly be where their hearts are.
"They provided almost the same amount of love that I would have received if I was home with my family," SSgt Dixie wrote. "That means the whole world to me because without family or a family like I would call the staff at this USO, this would not have made this Christmas pleasurable."
And to the USO Bagram staff: "You ladies are the true meaning of a hero."
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Photo caption, top left: Sara Lottie, left, and Christine Gunderson accompany troops on a C-130 for the Secret Santa FOB Hop. (Photo: USO)
* Follow USO Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan on Facebook.
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