Once I started working for the USO my friends in the service began sending me text messages whenever they stopped by a USO Center. Usually they are just passing through an airport and only have time to grab a cup of coffee, but the texts usually read something like “volunteers were so friendly!” or “everyone was so helpful, tell them thank you!”. Having visited many centers through my work with the USO, this never comes as a surprise. Our volunteers and staff are known for providing outstanding service to our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families. Yet, on a recent trip alongside a military family, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand how our centers go above and beyond to make America’s heroes feel at home wherever they are.
[caption id=“attachment_6675” align=“aligncenter” width=“500” caption=“The Harris family gets a look around after being greeted by Ty Pennington as the Extreme Makeover Home Edition provides a house for the Shilo Harris family outside of Floresville, Texas on January 21, 2012. Photo: Express-News, TOM REEL / © 2012 ”][/caption]
The Texas family of four was traveling to Germany as part of a special Extreme Makeover: Home Edition that will air later this year. The mother works as an Army advocate for wounded service members and the father is an Iraq war veteran with burns covering 60% of his body. As a result of his injuries, the father tires easily and has problems regulating body temperature which makes traveling across multiple time zones and varying climates challenging, especially with a two year old son and nine year old daughter in tow.
As part of the television production we were treated to many amazing sights, smells and tastes that Germany has to offer. Yet, where I saw the family the happiest and most comfortable, was the final day spent at the USO Warrior Center located adjacent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC). With a fire “burning” in the fireplace (it’s a faux fireplace), a movie playing, spaghetti cooking on the stove, garlic bread in the oven and homemade carrot cake being cut on the counter, it felt like home. The staff and volunteers immediately embraced the family, enlisting the daughter’s help to serve spaghetti and swapping Army wife stories with mom.
The family knew several people at the center as the father had been treated at LRMC following the IED explosion that wounded him in Iraq. Yet, being in the room, you would have thought you had walked in on a family reunion. That is what the USO does. Whether you are in a USO Center in Europe, the Pacific, Afghanistan or the states, the USO creates an atmosphere of home, inclusion and support for our nation’s heroes and their families. Thank you, USO team - especially USO Georgia and USO San Antonio, for making this family’s journey truly a special one. - Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager
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Bob Harris first began volunteering at the USO Northwest Seattle-Tacoma International Airport center in 2013. Shortly after he started, he was asked if he’d be interested in picking up donated bananas and bringing them to the airport center once a week. It wasn’t long after his first delivery that Bob realized the donations runs had earned him a new nickname.