By Trey Smith
Whether it’s greeting service members with a smile, hosting programs and activities or providing meals to troops, the USO has been there for service members for over 80 years. This is largely thanks to the selfless USO volunteers who spend countless hours helping our organization deliver its mission of providing support to our nation’s service members and their families around the globe.
USO volunteers come from all walks of life and contribute to our organization for various reasons. Martha Cesaro is just one of these thousands of USO volunteers, who for over the last decade, has embodied what it means to selflessly serve with her dedication to our nation’s military community.
From Military Spouse to USO Volunteer
Long before she became a USO volunteer, Martha was serving as part of the military community in her own way, as a military spouse.
Martha later married her husband, who served in the Air Force for 26 years. Throughout his career, he was deployed multiple times, working as a medic and a nurse, and Martha always recalled the USO being there for her husband during an otherwise very challenging time.
“I know what it’s like to have somebody that you really love and that you worry about being deployed, especially during wartime,” she said. “That was very stressful and worrisome.”
Having this experience growing up would make Martha all the more sympathetic to service members and military families when she volunteered with the USO years down the road.
When her husband was deployed overseas in Germany in 2010, Martha would regularly fly from the U.S. to visit him, and she found herself with lots of free time while her husband was carrying out his military duties. She soon visited a USO Center on Ramstein Air Base and the rest is history.
Martha first started out volunteering with Mobile USO, which provides support via a “USO center-on-wheels” to service members far from a traditional brick-and-mortar USO center, as well as those in active-duty communities in times of crisis. It didn’t take long for Martha to realize that by volunteering with the USO, she would learn that her mission – not only as a USO volunteer, but also as a lifelong member of the military community – was to serve those who serve their nation around the globe.
“I’ve been with the USO since 2010 and I love doing what I’m doing. I love being there for the troops,” Martha said. “It’s my way of giving back to them because I’ve been military pretty much all my life.”
Volunteering with the USO is also a wonderful opportunity for military spouses. Oftentimes when their service member is stationed or deployed overseas, life can be particularly isolating with their spouse being away for days, weeks, months or even years. Volunteering with the USO gives military spouses an opportunity to bond with other military spouses going through the same challenges, while providing them with a way to give back to their local military community.
Fast forward to over a decade later and Martha now plays a crucial role as a volunteer with the USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda, Maryland, since it opened in 2014. For nearly the last decade, whether it’s offering a cup of coffee, having a nice conversation or just greeting service members with a warm smile, Martha has become a fixture and familiar face to service members at the USO Warrior and Family Center. The simple gestures extended by volunteers like Martha go a long way for many service members who visit the USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda, as many of them are visiting from the nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where service members are treated for both visible and invisible wounds.
For recuperating service members, having a place outside of the hospital or their recovery units to spend time in is a huge asset, as they can take a break away from the long and repetitive days of treatment.
Among the many day-to-day duties that Martha partakes in to make the USO Warrior Center a home away from home for these service members, her favorite is simply being accessible to the troops.
“I just love being there for the troops,” Martha said. “That’s also my gift to me, to myself.”
Martha also enjoys seeing their expressions of gratitude through events and programming, such as the USO Care Package Program. USO Care Packages include toiletry items and snacks, and are delivered to service members stationed or deployed overseas.
“To go there and see those troops come in and looking at their reaction when they get the packages, [and] that they couldn’t believe that some total stranger would do that for them – to me, that was so rewarding.”
Since she first started volunteering with the USO in 2010, Martha has dedicated over 10,000 volunteer hours in serving her military communities and has proven there is no task too big or small that she’s unwilling to tackle. For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Martha was one of only two volunteers who were responsible for the opening, closing and running of the USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda after it had closed for three months due to military safety regulations.
“You have to do what you have to do,” Martha said. “I was glad to be able to open up the center for [service members], just to offer them a cup of coffee. Just to have them know that we’re open and that there’s somebody there.”
Without the sacrifice and dedication of USO volunteers like Martha, the USO would never be able to carry out its mission. The more than 20,000 volunteers at over 250 USO locations around the globe continue to show that no matter the challenge, USO volunteers are ready to step up and serve their military community and be there for our service members’ journey, every step of the way.
“I see how these men and women are working so hard for our wellbeing and for our freedom and [volunteering is] the least I could do,” Martha said. “And that’s why I feel so strongly about me giving back to them.”
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