USO Manager of Volunteer Operations Sarah Kemp introduces the 2016 USO Regional Volunteers of the Year.
Regional Volunteers of the Year, Overseas
Sgt. Jennylys Rivera | USO Naples, Italy | Europe
“Sergeant sent me. She told me it’s the right thing for me,” is a statement echoed at USO Naples by nearly every new volunteer recruit. That sergeant is Sergeant Jennylys Rivera who is a leader in her unit and at USO Naples.
Rivera has been indispensable at strengthening USO Naples relationship with the US Army detachments at locations nearby. She collaborated with the Italian Air Force and the units at Grazzanise to arrange for the USO to bring their mobile unit to serve an American style barbecue to the troops stationed there. Thanks to her efforts more than 100 troops enjoyed an afternoon of free food and fun.
In the past year Rivera has volunteered at 40 events, including 14 in just the past three months. She shares her infectious spirit of appreciation to all fellow service members, volunteers, and Italians.
“Rivera has sat with a young soldier, encouraging them to take their liberty to get out and explore Naples and Rome; during the USO Summer Story Time, Jenny read stories in character voices and led the young military children in games; and in preparation for the USO Dodge Ball Tournament, Jenny encouraged junior and senior soldiers to join teams and participate,” said Shannon McCaulley, USO Naples Program and Volunteer Coordinator.
Rivera’s encouragement to get others involved through participating and volunteering at USO events has expanded USO Naples reach to serve our troops wherever they are.
Ralph Nelsen | USO Osan, South Korea | Pacific
If a service member has a permanent change of station (PCS) move to Osan Air Base in South Korea, they’re going to meet Ralph Nelsen.
Nelsen is one of the longest-serving volunteers for USO Osan’s Patriot Express Program. Nelsen mans an information table near baggage claim in the Osan Airport Passenger Terminal twice a week. There, he greets service members and their families with a warm welcome, and a wealth of knowledge about the area.
“He is legendary among airmen PCSing to [South] Korea through Osan AMC Terminal,” USO Osan Manager David Yoo said.
Nelsen, a former airman, was stationed at Osan in the 1970s. He not only knows the base like the back of his hand, but also knows the stresses of moving far from home. has made Nelsen into a reassuring presence and a connection to home for first-time PCSers.
When he’s not welcoming newbies, Nelsen helps with events and managing the USO center. In 2010 when there was a staff changeover, Nelsen stepped in to open and close the center for five months, ensuring that service never faltered.
Before his role at USO Osan, Nelsen was a volunteer at Camp Humphreys. He was integral in the creation of their most popular program, Humphrey’s Lunch Box. This program serves up free food to service members and families on the base.
If you ever find yourself at Osan, look for Nelsen, he’ll be the one smiling in baggage claim.
Army Sgt. Andrew Frederick | USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait | Southwest Asia
You haven’t seen a spades tournament until you’ve seen USO Camp Buehring’s spades tournament. What used to be a friendly game between six to eight teams has grown into a twice-weekly tournament with 40 to 50 teams. The growth in numbers and fun was all due to Sgt. Andrew Frederick’s enthusiasm and leadership.
From the rules and regulations to bracket selection and event execution, every detail is meticulously planned and executed by Frederick in a professional manner for the scores of participants.
USO Camp Buehring welcomed a new battalion of soldiers to base during the 2015 holiday season. Faced with a diminished volunteer corps due to the end of several deployments, the center needed new volunteers fast. Seeing this, Frederick stepped up and recruited more soldiers to fill the ranks.
Christina Ambrose, USO Camp Buehring Duty Manager, recalled a time Frederick assisted another soldier with a United Through Reading recording.
“I overheard Andrew tell him, ‘Hey man, it’s great. I have a 6-year-old son myself. They’re going to love it,” Ambrose said. “Something as simple as those few words of reassurance completely changed the soldier’s demeanor. … Right then and there I saw the impact that Andrew had on this soldier and his family.”
Frederick’s jokester attitude and jovial spirit help service members, volunteers, and staff at USO Camp Beuhring forget they’re in an austere environment and make everyone feel like family.
Regional Volunteers of the Year, Stateside
Vera Cianciotto | USO Delaware | Stateside
Vera Cianciotto volunteers every Monday. Cianciotto volunteers with only 20 minutes notice because another volunteer couldn’t make it. Cianciotto volunteers in the middle of the night to support honor guard teams who are part of a dignified transfer for a fallen service member.
Because of her dedication to our nation’s service members who honor our fallen, Cianciotto was selected as one of only three volunteers to assist at the USO center located in the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base. Every Monday, Cianciotto cleans and organizes the center making sure everything is in perfect working order for the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations team. She has built a solid relationship with the team, and has even been invited to take part in their resiliency training and attend other functions.
One night a few months ago Cianciotto volunteered to support a dignified transfer scheduled for 0245. Due to weather, the aircraft didn’t arrive and clear customs until several hours later. Cianciotto found out the honor guard team had not eaten since 2300, so she quickly searched the center and laid out a spread of breakfast items for the team to eat once the dignified transfer was completed. Her ability to think quickly on her feet was greatly appreciated.
“Her impeccable style, sense of urgency, personality, and dedication to USO Delaware is unparalleled,” said Bill Flanders, USO Delaware Center Operations Supervisor.
Day or night, USO Delaware knows that Cianciotto will always be ready to answer the call.
Erica Fortin | USO Central Florida | Stateside
Erica Fortin broadens the USO’s reach.
In 2015, when the USO Central Florida center at Tampa International Airport was attempting to bolster programming, Fortin stepped in to lead every No Dough Dinner and Morale Event the center offered.
Fortin has proved to be both reliable and self-motivated, finding resources to accommodate the growing number of participants in the events. Her efforts at more than 50 morale and wellbeing programs have made an impact on more than 10,000 service members and their families.
She’s also handy with technology. When she found out computers at the center needed updating, she began assisting with technical support on a weekly basis.
“Erica has a go-getter attitude,” said Amy Phillips, USO Central Florida’s center operations and programs manager. “[She is] always willing to try whatever is asked of her with a determination to succeed. This type of tenacity should be recognized. She is resilient, compassionate and just all around amazing.”
Fortin leads by example, acting as a role model to both her four children and other military spouses.
Ron Meier | Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs | Stateside
Ron Meier never stops working for the USO.
Over the last four years, Meier has donated more than 5,200 hours of his time to the USO mission. He is carpenter, painter, cargo handler, sandwich maker, volunteer time keeper, volunteer trainer and innovator.
Ten days before Super Bowl 50, the Marines at Camp Wilson on Twentynine Palms asked for assistance in bringing the Super Bowl to their location, as they were stuck on a training base that had no internet, cellphone or television service. Meier researched and arranged for a portable satellite dish to be taken to Camp Wilson along with plenty of snacks. Nearly 2,000 Marines enjoyed the game due to Meier’s quick thinking.
Meier has also implemented the Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs Operation: Sandwich Drop. He organizes volunteers to make 120 brown bag lunches and hand deliver them planeside to the students and staff arriving for the Marine Infantry Officer Course.
“Additionally, Ron played an important part in turbo-charging our virtually non-existent outreach programs,” said Teresa Cherry, the Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs center manager. “In one year, Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs went from serving 1,047 troops and their families on base to 14,888 through outreach programs.”
Meier is known throughout the military community. Now when a unit requests USO assistance for a program, the question always asked is if Meier will be attending. To their delight, the answer is always a resounding, “of course!”
Army Staff Sgt. Ahmed Rage | USO Fort Campbell | Stateside
Staff Sergeant Ahmed Rage was exceeding expectations as a new volunteer at USO Fort Campbell. Then they checked our records.
It turns out Rage has been a USO volunteer for more than eight years, donating 4,450 hours at three USO locations around the globe.
Rage enlisted in the Army in 2008 and was assigned to Fort Drum, New York. After only a week, he was deployed to Iraq. While en route to Iraq, his unit stopped in Kuwait, and Rage wanted to contact his uncle in Somalia to let him know he arrived safely. A fellow soldier told him USO Camp Ali Al Salem could help him out.
Rage has been hooked on the USO ever since. Rage began volunteering at USO Fort Drum when he returned home. When he later deployed to Afghanistan, he started volunteering at USO Bagram.
Injured in an explosion, Rage was sent to Walter Reed Hospital and then back to Fort Drum. But he kept volunteering. In 2012 the Army moved him to Fort Campbell, where he quickly became a familiar face at the USO, sharing his loud, infectious laughter and beaming smile.
As a non-commissioned officer in the Army, Rage often takes time to help junior enlisted soldiers at the center. He teaches them not only the skills they need to be a great soldier, but to be a kind and compassionate human being as well.
MaLissa Harris, USO Fort Campbell’s center operations supervisor, says Rage is, “a perfect example of a devoted, selfless, humble volunteer.
“He sets the bar high for other volunteers.”
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.
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