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USO Volunteers Responded Quickly to Tragedy at Fort Hood

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

By Joseph Andrew Lee  

When shots rang out on Fort Hood for the second time in five years, USO volunteers from around the state of Texas jumped into action.

Volunteers Edward Fletcher and Sudarat Kirby were on duty April 2 at one of Fort Hood’s USO centers – just blocks from where the shooting took place. When the PA system announced a state of emergency, they both knew exactly what to do.

“The first thing we’re trained to do is keep everyone away from the doors and windows and locate the senior soldier inside the center,” Fletcher said.

“It was kind of scary how close it was to us,” Kirby said, “but we couldn’t freak out because everyone else would, too. Keeping calm was part of our job.”

As events unfolded, the soldiers and volunteers in the center watched TV news and waited. Fletcher stayed on duty until 3 a.m., helping set up the first comfort station near where investigators were gathering. 

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, retired veteran and USO volunteer Dennis Sheridan began making phone calls. He knew that as a retiree, his access to base might come in handy if those on base are kept locked down for any extended period of time. After a two-hour drive, Sheridan and volunteer Paul Rigoulot were the first to arrive, just in time to resupply USO Fort Hood Director Robin Crouse and USO Program Manager Isabel Hubbard, who had already set up two tables of comfort item, including one at the center.

“When we arrived Thursday, Isabel was visibly exhausted, but they were trying their best to maintain some sense of normalcy,” Sheridan said. “I really applaud them for that. They were working hard for nearly 24 hours before we arrived.”

Rigoulot and Sheridan drew the first shifts, distributing food, beverages and much-needed hygiene items to the state and federal investigators working on-scene. They were relieved at 5 a.m. by volunteers Rich Noel and Rita Pacheco, and then more volunteers kept the station open for four straight days and four straight nights, including military spouse and mom Linda Welch, Donna Stewart, LhonnyCoggins and MateusNeves de Rocha.

“One thing Rita and I both drew from the first experience [during the 2009 Fort Hood shootings] is that we’re there to serve, not to ask questions or take photos,” Sheridan said. “We are there to listen, to be of service and to call in the chaplain if someone needs to talk.”

For four days and four nights, USO volunteers worked in shifts to provide coffee, cold beverages, warm food and any other comforts requested by those working the scene. The volunteers manning the comfort stations allowed USO staff members to help out in other areas of the base, such as the command headquarters where the base commanding officer and public affairs officers worked around the clock answering media queries.

“In the midst of tragedy, the USO Fort Hood stands ready to support our troops and their families,” said Robin Crouse, Director of USO Fort Hood. “Keeping morale high as we serve meals [and] snacks and hygiene items, the USO is always by their side.”

“As a USO volunteer there’s a lot of moments when you know you’ve made a difference,” Sheridan said. “You can see it in the faces of those whom we serve, and this was no exception. The last thing on their minds was their own hunger or hygiene needs, and I’m glad we could be there for them. They serve — we serve.”

Photo: USO volunteers Paul Rigoulot, left, Donna Stewart, center, and Rita Pacheco stock one of the USO comfort tables in the days after the Fort Hood shootings. USO photo

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