By Danielle DeSimone
Sometimes, we have to go digging for great USO stories. And sometimes, they walk right through the front door. When Air Force Master Sgt. Noah Leiter visited USO Tumon Bay in Guam earlier this year, he shared this heartwarming story with us.
When Leiter’s wife, Stephanie, suffered a sudden and terrible fall in Tucson, Arizona, in September 2007, he was over 6,000 miles away in Iraq. The diagnosis was serious: Stephanie’s injuries were so severe that she was at risk of being paralyzed and needed surgery as soon as possible.
Deployed in Iraq with the Air Force, Leiter immediately took 14 days of emergency leave and began his journey back to Arizona. The trip was a long and complicated one. From Iraq, Leiter had to travel through nine different airports. After making it to Kuwait, Leiter stopped at Frankfurt, Germany, Ramstein, Germany, before bouncing around the U.S. with stops in Baltimore, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and – finally — Tucson.
By the time Leiter first touched American soil upon arrival at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI), he hadn’t slept since he had left Iraq. Exhausted and extremely worried about his wife, Leiter had a 10-hour layover in Baltimore until his next flight to Atlanta. “That’s where I got the help and rest from USO volunteers. … And where I first learned of the USO,” he said.
He was directed to the BWI USO Lounge, where he explained his situation to the volunteers working there. They gave him food and a bed, blocking off an area for Leiter to sleep in private so that he wouldn’t be disturbed and would be well-rested for the next leg of his trip back to Arizona. When Leiter expressed how concerned he was that he would sleep too long and miss his next flight, the USO volunteers assured him that they would wake him up in time to make his connection.
He made his connecting flight to Atlanta and would continue to visit USO lounges in airports along his route. Once in Arizona, Leiter was reunited with his wife who – despite still dealing with chronic pain from her injuries today – was thankfully not paralyzed and made a full recovery.
The small gestures made by USO volunteers made a huge impact on Leiter. At a time of stress and exhaustion, he was provided with a moment of comfort and a sense of familiarity to get him through his trip.
“I never forgot how the USO helped me that day and that experience has stuck with me through the years,” he wrote in an email.
Now, after his nine-airport experience, Leiter tries to visit every USO center he passes. “I always step into USOs if I have the time,” he said. “I always just stop in just to say hi and thank the volunteers for what they do. I might use the Wi-Fi or grab a coffee, but nothing more.”
His positive experiences with USO centers, lounges and their volunteers throughout the world have even inspired him to volunteer with the USO once he has transitioned out of the military. For now, he’s making his rounds in USO centers around the world, determined to show his appreciation to every volunteer he meets.
“I always share my story to just say thank you and how much of an impact they make on service members,” said Leiter. “I know we don’t say thank you to [the USO] enough.”
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