By Kayla Clark
In the Naval Station Rota air terminal, there is a familiar face that almost everyone that works or visits there knows: Bernie Smith.
Bernie is a retired Air Force Vietnam veteran, having served over 20 years from 1958 to 1981, with numerous deployments and time in other countries. Now, Bernie spends his free time traveling the world and giving back to all the service men and women he meets. He’s a regular at many of the USO centers, including those in Rota, Spain, and Naples, Italy.
For the past 20 years, Bernie has been a stand-out military supporter by providing food, toiletries and clothing to both active duty service members and veterans, working with organizations such as the USO, the Red Cross and the Veterans Administration (VA). From his home back in Charleston, South Carolina, he has put together hundreds of care packages and has sent them to USO locations overseas for service members to enjoy in-transit, during deployments downrange or simply at their duty station away from home.
Having been deployed multiple times away from his family himself, Bernie understands the simple pleasure that some comforts from home can bring. Simple things like snacks, toiletries and a ‘thank you’ note let a service member know that they are thought of, that someone cares for them and that their service is much appreciated.
In addition to his passion for being a military supporter, Bernie also has a tremendous love of art and painting. Throughout his life, art was always something special to him, and in his later years, he has discovered a way to bring that art to life – as a therapeutic recreation for himself, but also as yet another way to help connect service members with their families back home.
Over the years, Bernie has created beautiful masterpieces with scenes inspired by photographs of his time traveling around the world and of small pleasures of home. Not only does he sell some of these paintings to help fund the care packages he sends abroad, but he has also worked with a local company to print his creations on postcards, which he sends in packages and to USO locations overseas.
“Bernie has been sending his beautiful postcards to USO Naples for over a decade,” said Sabrina Pullido, Senior Area Director in Italy. “I have always been very proud to take them to our sailors during ship visits and put them out in the centers for troops to take.”
Everybody who meets Bernie remembers him.
“I met him a couple of years ago, as he traveled the world and stopped by the USO Naples Air Terminal Center. It was an honor to finally meet Bernie, after having received his care packages and postcards for so many years,” Sabrina said. “When my staff told me that a Bernie Smith was here to see me, almost jumped out of my chair! He shared some of his many stories with me, and I will cherish that memory for a long time!“
If you are ever in Charleston or traveling through any of the military air terminals overseas, make sure to keep an eye out for Bernie. He’s a friendly, tall man with a USO hat, usually in the centers and lounges making conversations with the passengers, military families, or service members around him.
He comes across very light-hearted and always has some funny “dad jokes” up his sleeve. Bernie’s love and passion for the military community is contagious and is evident in his continued commitment and dedication to personally investing and engaging with each person he comes in contact with.
More Stories Like This
Meet the Mighty Quinns: USO of Illinois Volunteers and Military Supporters Extraordinaire
For almost 15 years Bob and Jeanie Quinn have dedicated their time and efforts to the O'Hare Airport Terminal 2 USO Center – but it goes way beyond that. As parents of service members themselves, they treat every single person who comes into the center like they are part of their own family.
Why One Navy Veteran, Military Mom and USO Rota Volunteer Answered the Call to Serve
This is the face of a military supporter. Meet Carol Hulbert: U.S. Navy veteran, prior military spouse (now the spouse of a veteran), U.S. Navy mother, prior military child and proud USO volunteer.
Guam National Guard Mother and Son Serve Together in the Fight Against COVID-19
Lt. Col. Marleen Tarusan-Legaspi and Pfc. Nikolas Legaspi, both members of the Guam National Guard, have served shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against COVID-19.
More from the USO
Sep 21, 2021
What is it Like to Be a USO Supporter in Alaska?
Whether staff members are catching a C-17 to fly out to Bethel, Alaska, or taking a two-day journey by land and sea to Cordova, Alaska, the USO Alaska team is ready to support service members and military families, no matter where their journey takes them in the state.
Sep 20, 2021
Meet the USO’s Global Ambassadors and Learn Why They Give More Than Thanks
For decades, actors, musicians, athletes and entertainers have joined the USO in supporting the troops. Now, the USO introduces the new USO Global Ambassadors who will act as a bridge between the civlian and military communities, and help raise awareness for the USO's crucial mission: Wilmer Valderrama and Kellie Pickler.