It's a familiar story for the USO – a soldier stationed abroad is drawn to the USO for the computers and phones, but from there Specialist Armando Zuniga's story gets interesting. He decided to help.
At first Zuniga's help was in the form of telling others about the services the USO offers, and bringing his friends in to utilize the center. Then, Zuniga began cleaning and organizing the center which led to greeting guests and helping with programs. Now, Zuniga has initiated programing at another military post and finished physically intensive projects that he took upon himself to complete.
"What the USO Vicenza staff admires so much about Armando is how willing and helpful he is at the center. We, the USO Vicenza staff, are able to get so much done here at the center, and a lot of that the past couple months would not have been possible without Armando," said Glenn Gibbs, Center Manager of USO Vicenza.
When he's not helping out with Taco Tuesday, Wing Wednesday or Bring Your Own Steak Friday, combat engineer Zuniga is sanding picnic tables, organizing the center, offering his restaurant suggestions to curious guests and even cleaning gutters.
Most recently, Zuniga has brought the USO to a whole new audience: single soldiers on the military post Del Din. Without a USO on their post, Zuniga realized the need for morale and welfare. He decided to make it happen by talking to the USO Vicenza staff to host events such as Summer BBQ Bashes, basketball tournaments and Bingo games at Del Din.
"Armando is one of those wonderful volunteers who do not need to be asked to do something," said Gibbs. And as for a great volunteer, we couldn't ask for more.
SPC Raymond Castle | SWA Region: USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
It's over 100 degrees on Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan on the Fourth of July, and you are a soldier with some rare free time, what do you do? Most would probably go into air conditioning, relax or celebrate. But for Specialist Raymond "RJ" Castle, the answer was to help USO Kandahar host their KAF Splash Fourth of July Event by wearing a Statue of Liberty costume over top of his uniform in the hot sun, and smiling while doing it.
Since May, Castle has donated 433 hours to USO Kandahar. He spends any spare moment contributing his talents, enthusiasm and caring attitude to lift the spirits of his fellow troops. Castle's easy going attitude and humorous demeanor help all guests relax inside the center. By telling stories of his own family he makes personal connections and encourages other troops to remember the important things in life.
"He is always eager to help center patrons, regardless of their need or situation. When he sees troops who appear to be upset, he is quick to take action to brighten their spirits and encourage them; he is the first to sing, dance and be silly to make troops feel at home in the center," said Rebecca Medeiros, Volunteer Coordinator of USO Kandahar.
Helping prepare for holiday celebrations, Rage in the Cage Dodgeball Tournaments, volleyball or basketball games, and corn hole tournaments are just a few of the activities that Castle enjoys supporting. Additionally, Castle runs USO Kandahar's weekly Texas Hold 'Em Tournament.
When Castle redeploys home USO Kandahar will miss one of their most devoted volunteers … and their Statue of Liberty.
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.