By Amanda Wilson
It’s been almost two decades since the first 9/11-related deployments took place, and yet, this fact still remains the same – thousands of the U.S. military members are currently deployed overseas, separated from those they love, and are selflessly risking their lives on dangerous missions for our nation.
For these brave service members, the realities of war aren’t just something they read about in the morning news – they are facts of daily life. Combat-related casualties and deaths still occur and some service members still never make it home. For USO staff members, like me, who work alongside our deployed U.S. military in combat zones, this heavy realization is a part of our everyday lives, too.
In places like Afghanistan, where I work, our staff often develops close friendships with service members who volunteer at or visit our center. They become a part of our daily lives, and we become a part of theirs. In many ways, we become a tight-knit family and care deeply for one another’s wellbeing. The idea of any member of our USO family being injured or killed is unthinkable, but unfortunately, the unthinkable sometimes happens.
A Heart-Wrenching Blow in Kandahar, Afghanistan
This year, our USO family was affected by a heart-wrenching blow. In January 2020, two soldiers were killed and six were injured in a surprise attack. Among the casualties were two of our regular patrons, who were badly injured, and one of our USO volunteers, who was killed. Many of our USO Kandahar volunteers are part of the medical team that cared for the wounded and later expressed how difficult the entire situation was for them.
We at the USO empathized because we cared for those who were hurt and killed, too.
When the wounded soldiers arrived on base, the USO Kandahar team supported them by delivering Medevac bags filled with clothing to the hospital for them to use, since their uniforms were damaged in the accident. In each bag we put a pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt, underwear, a pair of socks, shower shoes, a toiletry kit and a snack pack. The bag itself was also useful, as it was a drawstring bag that they could take with them on their literal road to recovery.
While the USO Kandahar team felt fortunate to be able to deliver the Medevac bags to these six wounded soldiers during their time of need, this was only part of the USO support these service members would receive over the next few months.
Tapping into the USO Network Across Three Continents
When we learned that the service members would be sent to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for treatment, I reached out to my colleagues at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl to ensure the continuation of USO support.
After working through a few logistics, the USO Warrior Center team stopped by the hospital to give the incoming service members some USO care. Tam Frese, the local center manager, happily created USO gift packs that were delivered to the soldiers and other USO team members also stopped by to deliver them homemade lasagna.
During the service members’ stay in Landstuhl, the USO Warrior Center team learned that the group’s next stop would be Fort Bragg, North Carolina and connected with USO of North Carolina Sandhills Area Operations Manager Brian Knight, who oversees USO Fort Bragg, to coordinate continued support in North Carolina.
Once the service members arrived at Fort Bragg, Knight coordinated with the service members’ unit and stopped by for a special USO visit, keeping the organization’s support going strong.
The USO’s reach is far and wide and we are committing to staying by the side of service members at each step of their journey, especially during difficult times like this.
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