By Shannon Hamelund
From summer 2022 to spring 2023, anyone walking through the doors of USO Osan Air Base in South Korea likely saw a familiar face – that of Staff Sgt. Andrew Evans. Andrew, best known at USO Osan for his good-natured jokes and witty sarcasm, is a USO volunteer who has volunteered at our organization in three countries. In fact, Andrew has recently surpassed his 1,000th volunteer hour. While it may seem like he “lives at the USO,” as he often jokes, Andrew first began his life of service as an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Air Force, where he has so far served two overseas tours.
Between his military and USO volunteer service, it can sometimes be difficult to separate Andrew and “SSgt. Evans.” But, when you take a moment to chat with him, you learn that there is so much more to Andrew than his military uniform.
A native of Muskegon, Michigan, Andrew is the oldest of four siblings. While his military career has him spending much of his time indoors, one of his greatest passions lies in athletics. Since his high school years, Andrew has been an avid cross country runner and soccer player, and both sports continue to play a key role in his life in the military, where he can be seen out on the field during his unit’s sports days.
When not running or on the soccer field, Andrew can be found relaxing and unwinding by watching his favorite shows, such as documentaries or “who done it” programs (he prides himself on being able to figure out who the bad guy is before the plot twist is revealed), as well as reading fantasy or adventure novels. When asked what usually surprises people to learn about him, he confided that he’s actually much more of an introvert than his friendly personality or sharp wit makes him appear. Having time to himself to relax and recharge after a long day at work is important to his self-care.
How Being an Airman Led to a Life of Service
Andrew has been an airman for almost six years, though it was not his original plan. After graduating high school, he attended college and soon realized that he wasn’t at the best place for that juncture of his life. His family realized it too, and encouraged him to consider military service, as had other members of his family. Specifically, they felt that his analytical mind and personality would make him a good fit for the Air Force.
Once he committed to pursuing a career in the military, his desire to set himself up for success upon his future return to the civilian sector is what led him to the intelligence field. He felt that selecting a job that required a top-secret security clearance would provide excellent prospects “on the outside.”
Since joining the military, Andrew has had many unique and exciting experiences. He has lived and worked in three countries, ridden a camel through the desert and experienced Korean food and culture. Military service has also given him a chance to meet people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, as being in the military provides service members with an opportunity to meet all different types of people outside of their hometowns.
Despite Andrew’s amazing adventures, his military service has also brought him several stressors and challenges. During his deployment to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), his work directly supported the mission of MQ-9 drone pilots, where he was responsible for collecting intelligence information on prospective targets, which – according to Andrew – isn’t just something you can walk away from at the end of the day and leave at the office.
“The longer you do it, once you leave, it travels with you, ”he said.
Another high stressor in Andrew’s military life, one that he feels that the civilian population does not necessarily understand, is that service members have to miss important life events due to their service, and they don’t have a choice. He emphasized that when you’re in the military, you’re 24/7, and you can’t just walk away.
It was his need to cope with high-stress missions and the 24/7 lifestyle of the military that ultimately led him to the USO while deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For Andrew, the USO is a place to escape and be around people who bring him joy. According to Andrew, people smile so much more at the USO Center than in his line of work. The USO serves as a place to step away from whatever it is he is dealing with professionally, and gives him peace and respite at the end of a long day.
“The whole ‘being away from home, cutting yourself off from people other than work’ isn’t very healthy, so [being at the USO] was my way of not being depressed and homesick,” he said.
Moving from using the USO to serving as a USO volunteer was a natural transition for Andrew. Since beginning his volunteer journey at USO Abu Dhabi and continuing to volunteer in South Korea, he has earned several awards, including the President’s Volunteer Service Award, Volunteer of the Month and Volunteer of the Quarter. Now that he’s back stateside, he volunteers with USO Ohio at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. For Andrew, the USO has truly become a home away from home, no matter what that temporary home may be.
Andrew believes that the USO serves as a perfect bridge between military and civilian life, as service members and civilians often volunteer side by side. He believes opportunities like this are important, as it exposes each group to new viewpoints. Civilians can see the human side of service members, and both communities can, if they take the chance, learn from each other and grow together.
Whether Andrew is wearing his uniform or not, the USO has been a safe space for him, and allows him to show his community a little bit of the man behind the staff sergeant.
More Stories Like This
How a U.S. Soldier and USO Volunteer in Honduras Helped Lay the Foundation for a New USO Center
Meet U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael D. Smith Jr.: an active-duty service member who spent his downtime during deployment to Soto Cano, Honduras, by serving as a USO Volunteer - and helped establish the USO's first-ever center in Honduras.
How a Soldier Deployed to Iraq Gave Back to His Fellow Service Members as a USO Volunteer
Spc. Luke Dawson, a U.S. Army National Guard soldier deployed to Iraq, decided to make the best of his deployment by dedicating all of his free time to volunteering with the USO in support of his fellow service members. His dedication and hours of volunteer work earned him the award of 2021 USO Volunteer of the Year (OCONUS).
How One Military Spouse Turned USO Volunteer Gives Back to Her Community in Korea
A military spouse who has made a career out of saving people’s lives is now giving back even more by supporting her military community in Korea as a USO volunteer.
More from the USO
Sep 26, 2023
Cesar Millan Announces the First-Ever USO Canine Volunteer of the Year
Watch Cesar Millan announce and congratulate the 2023 USO Canine Volunteer of the Year. These certified therapy dogs provide support to the people who serve and their military families at several of the 250+ USO Centers around the globe.
Sep 25, 2023
On the First Day of Basic Training, Coast Guard Recruits Can Turn to the USO for Support
Every Tuesday at Philadelphia International Airport, Coast Guard recruits heading to Cape May for basic training know they can turn to the USO to be there with them through every step of their military service -- including that very first day.