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.
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