How USO Volunteers Give More Than Thanks Through Service to the Military

By Danielle DeSimone

Volunteers have made the USO what it is today.

In other words: without volunteers, the USO simply would not be able to carry out its mission. Supporting American service members, military spouses and military families in more than 250 locations around the globe is no small feat, and it is our USO volunteers who make it possible. USO volunteers are the ones who are always equipped with a cheerful smile and help facilitate local programs, pour coffee for weary travelers at a USO airport lounge, deliver meals around the holidays and so much more.

No matter the challenge or the need, USO volunteers are always ready to step up and help the U.S. military community. This dedicated group of approximately 30,000 military supporters are the epitome of service, selflessness and Giving More Than Thanks through actions, not just words.

Here are just a few examples of USO volunteers and their commitment to service in support of our military members.

Tiwanda Griffin-Greer | USO of North Carolina

Photo credit USO

Tiwanda Griffin-Greer.

Volunteering at the USO is so much more than just putting in the hours and getting the job done – a great deal of the role requires volunteers to boost the spirits of service members and military spouses in order to keep morale high and make these military families feel welcome.

That’s something that Tiwanda Griffin-Greer of USO of North Carolina understands all too well. The USO volunteer not only strives to improve the daily lives of military members, but also of her fellow volunteers.

“She is very organized and self-motivated and loves to mentor others, enabling them to be their best, in and out of uniform,” said Torette Williams, a USO North Carolina center operations supervisor.

Griffin-Greer has taken on a slew of important responsibilities, such as serving as the center volunteer coordinator, participating in a number of center operations, ensuring the USO center is kept clean for military members and their families and countless other behind-the-scenes jobs.

Perhaps the contribution she is best known for is her positive attitude and determination to lift up those around her. A veteran and survivor of the shooting at Lackland Air Force Base in 2016, Griffin-Greer’s resiliency and positive attitude is especially inspiring to the service members she interacts with at the USO center. Her efforts were recognized in 2020, when she was named her region’s Volunteer of the Year.

But for Griffin-Greer, volunteering at the USO is reward enough, as she says supporting members of the military community gives her great joy and purpose.

“It means the world to me. I volunteer as a way to give back of myself,” Griffin-Greer said.

Kozue “KoKo” Hunt | USO Rota | Spain

Photo credit Kayla Clark

KoKo (pictured right) has dedicated hundreds of hours to volunteering for the USO, and her enthusiasm for the job has made her a local celebrity in Rota, Spain.

USO volunteer Kozue “KoKo” Hunt has been giving back to her local community all her life. Originally from Japan, KoKo began her career as an ER helicopter flight nurse, flying to emergency scenes and performing life-saving rescues. Even after being diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 30, KoKo never lost her verve for helping others.

After marrying her now-husband, a Navy sailor, KoKo channeled that passion for assisting those around her into volunteering for her military community. KoKo has become a beloved member of the USO Rota volunteer team in Spain, where she has done everything from sewing more than 2,000 masks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, to leading expeditionary programs to Morón Air Base, a remote installation about 80 miles away from Rota that does not have a base commissary or Exchange. Providing USO outreach to this location is crucial, as service members stationed here have limited access to reminders of home.

KoKo’s enthusiasm and love for her community have clearly shone through, and she has quickly become one of the most recognizable faces among the USO Rota crew.

“Everyone needs happiness and to smile,” she said. “It’s a great honor for my actions to have help someone. That is also the philosophy of the USO, and I love that philosophy.”

Joshua Williams | USO of Metropolitan Washington – Baltimore

Photo credit DVIDS/Lance Cpl. Paige Verry

U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Joshua Williams, a project manager with the College of Distance Education and Training, Marine Corps University, Marine Corps Base Quantico Va., volunteers at the USO Warrior and Family Center Fort Belvoir, Va.

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Joshua Williams has incorporated service into all aspects of his life – not only is Williams working in service to his country as a Marine, but he has also dedicated hours of volunteer work in service to his fellow service members.

In approximately only one year, Williams volunteered over 450 hours at the USO. Then, in April 2021, Williams was recognized for his volunteer service and was awarded the President’s Silver Volunteer Service Award.

In 2003, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, created by President George W. Bush, introduced the President’s Volunteer Service Awards, amplifying the importance of volunteers to the nation’s strength and identity.

To receive the silver award, adults must complete 250 to 499 hours of volunteer service over a twelve-month time period. Williams devoted those hours to USO-Metro’s mission.

“Volunteerism breaks you out of your comfort zone,” Williams said. “Making connections by learning and sharing perspective is what it’s all about.”

Lyle Apo | USO Hawaii

Photo credit USO Hawaii

Lyle Apo, a USO volunteer and Air Force veteran, in Hawaii.

For Lyle Apo, service is a family tradition. Originally from Hawaii, Apo’s family survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the tragedy inspired Apo’s father to enlist in the military and serve in World War II. Apo’s two older brothers would also go on to join the military and serve in Vietnam. Then, in 1972, Apo himself joined the U.S. Air Force. And, after a full career in the military, Apo decided he wanted to continue to serve – but this time as a USO volunteer.

Apo quickly became an active and enthusiastic USO volunteer at USO Hawaii. He especially enjoys interacting with young service members at USO centers, as his prior military service has given him a unique perspective and he is able to offer them words of encouragement and advice.

In just two and a half years with USO Hawaii, Apo has contributed over 1,800 volunteer hours and over 13,000 miles driving all over the island in support of USO programs. He is well known for being ready and able to volunteer anywhere on the island of Honolulu at a moment’s notice and has been recognized as the 2020 USO Hawaii Volunteer of the Year and Volunteer of the Quarter of 2021 by both USO Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam and USO Honolulu.

“I don’t do it for accolades,” he said. “I do it to help others.”

Jaime and Meg Hanley | USO Rota | Spain

Being willing to dress up in silly costumes and spread cheer around a naval base is, believe it or not, often a part of the job as a USO volunteer. Luckily, volunteers and USO Rota’s “Dynamic Duo,” Jaime and Meg Hanley, are more than happy to participate in this part of the job.

Jaime, Meg and a fellow USO volunteer dressed up and ready to spread some holiday cheer. | Photo credit USO Photo

The married couple began volunteering at the center at USO Rota, Spain, and quickly gained a reputation and following for the silly costumes they’d wear to deliver treats to service members. For example, during the holiday season, the pair dressed up in large Christmas tree or elf costumes to deliver goodies and a morale boost to local sailors in their community. The costumes often bring laughs and conversation from the sailors – and Jaime knows all too well what these small moments of joy can mean to a service member far from home. After all – she herself is a U.S. Army captain.

Jaime and her wife Meg have volunteered hundreds of hours with USO Rota, quickly becoming fixtures in their community.

“From my short time here as a volunteer with the USO, I have seen the profound impact the organization has on the local Rota community,” Meg said.

“For me, it’s all about the end result – the people on the receiving end of the program or event. The reward of providing a little bit of happiness far exceeds any small headaches involved in getting a program or event up and running. Any event can be made fun, it’s all about attitude.”

Hideo Furuhashi | USO Yokota | Japan

Photo credit USO Photo

Hideo serves breakfast to service members and their families.

A native of Japan, Hideo Furuhashi has had a lifelong journey of friendship and volunteerism with U.S. military personnel who are guests in his home country since he was a young child. His father worked closely with the U.S. military and so as a young man, Furuhashi began volunteering with American military families at the Tachikawa Passenger Air Terminal. Later, around 1985, he began volunteering at USO Yokota – and has been volunteering there ever since, making him one of the longest-serving USO volunteers in the world.

Furuhashi has become a beloved member of the USO team. He is incredibly passionate about ensuring that American service members feel welcomed to his country, and he brings that passion to his volunteer work at the USO each week.

Whether he’s making sure every runner in the 5K race on base receives a water bottle, or enthusiastically greeting patrons who walk into USO Yokota, Hideo has become an integral member of the USO community – and, by extension, the American military community stationed in Japan. His wife and children have also joined him in volunteering for the USO.

“Hideo was born in 1948 – three years after World War II ended in Japan,” Danielle Haley, USO Japan area operations manager, said. “He and his family could have had very different feelings about the American service members. Instead, three generations of Furuhashis became an integral piece of the military community.”

Sean Erdrich | USO Incirlik |Turkey

Many USO centers are located in remote locations, where service members might otherwise have few places to turn to besides their barracks after their duties are completed. This can have a negative effect on morale, which is why it’s crucial to support these deployed military members through the presence of USO centers, which can serve as a home away from home.

And so, when Army Staff Sgt. Sean Erdrich was deployed to Turkey, he immediately made himself at home and began volunteering for the USO.

Army Staff Sgt. Sean Erdrich dedicated a great deal of his free time to volunteering with the USO while stationed in Incirlik, Turkey. | Photo credit Courtesy Photo

For Erdrich, one of the greatest draws of volunteering with the USO was the close-knit community that worked and volunteered at the center. Being stationed far from home, friends and family can be challenging, but when service members have a community to lean on at these duty stations, it can make all the difference.

Erdrich soon set himself apart as an especially enthusiastic USO volunteer, even dressing up in outlandish costumes to deliver programs and food to his fellow service members. His efforts were even recognized on a global level, as he was named USO Volunteer of the Year for 2020 for USO locations overseas. Additionally, being a member of the military himself, Erdrich was especially able to cater to the specific needs of his fellow deployed service members in Turkey. But above all else, the greatest appeal to volunteering with the USO was the people.

“At USO Incirlik, it really, really felt like an actual family,” Erdrich said. “You could rely on the people around you. And we developed these really close-knit relationships that I really haven’t seen in any other volunteer outlet.”

Joseph Martin | USO Camp Walker | South Korea

Photo credit USO

Joseph Martin.

For many volunteers, one of the greatest contributions you can make is your time. Keeping the wheels of the USO moving requires a great deal of time and effort, and that’s what makes USO volunteers like Joseph Martin so special.

Martin has been an incredibly dedicated volunteer for his local community at USO Camp Walker in South Korea. On average, Martin volunteers nearly 100 hours per month with the USO. From February 2020 to January 2021, Martin had contributed an outstanding total of 840 volunteer hours – which was quite a feat, considering how the COVID-19 pandemic affected USO operating hours, with centers running at limited capacity.

No matter the challenge or task, Martin is ready to step up. He volunteered at over 60 different USO outreach programs within the Camp Walker community and single-handedly prepared over 600 snack packs for the USO center’s Motor Pool Monday Snack Drop Off program. He also stepped up to serve as the dedicated weekend volunteer, ensuring the center could stay open as a place for service members and their families to relax on Saturdays and Sundays.

“He has a passion for volunteering and understands the importance of volunteering,” said USO Camp Walker Center Director Luis Freyre. “Martin is a joy to have as a USO Camp Walker volunteer.”

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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