From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:
“February 4 is the USO’s 69th birthday. That’s not a meaningful milestone in itself (unless you’re 68), but it reminds me that in parts of 8 decades, this organization continues to deliver support for troops and families with compassion and relevance.
I’m also reminded that our corps of staff and volunteers around the world show up each day at large and small locations and they solve problems. When a young soldier appears at the USO at Dallas-Ft Worth Airport after missing his flight, he’s told to relax, get a cup of coffee, it’ll be all right. Sure enough, the USO volunteer at the desk arranges for the next flight and calls the troop’s next base to explain what happened.
[caption id=”“ align="aligncenter” width=“500” caption=“From Chicago to Kuwait, the desk where staff and volunteers sit and greet Troops serves as the nerve center of any USO. (USO Photos by Dave Gatley)”][/caption]
I once saw a recent graduate of the Navy’s boot camp at Great Lakes walk into the USO at O’Hare Airport with her orders and ask what she was supposed to do when she arrived at her first real duty station. It seems that step was omitted in her out-processing briefing, and it occurred to her on the way to the airport that she was taking the second airplane flight of her life to a place she’d never been and into an environment with which she was totally unfamiliar. The former sailor behind the counter looked at her orders, looked up the location of the personnel office at the next stop and gave her specific instructions about how to report for duty.
I accompanied a USO entertainment tour through Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan a few years ago. On the way home we stopped to put on a show in Italy. I met one of our employees of our USO in Vicenza there. She told me how important the shows were to the troops wherever we went, and she wanted to thank us for stopping in her country. She went on to tell me that a deployment from Vicenza to Afghanistan just ended, and she mourned as she told me about her “boys” who didn’t return. “It’s tough on everybody,” she said. “The families, of course, but also the extended families – the troops who knew them. It’s really hard on all of us.”
She went on to tell me that one day she went into the kitchen at the USO to make a cake. Soon, troops started coming into the kitchen to “help” her. There they were, some of the finest soldiers in the Army licking spoons and beaters, helping out as they would back home.
She went on to make more cakes, but she only did it when the USO was busy. She knew she’d get more help. “After all,” she said, “it’s not about the cakes. It’s about MAKING the cakes.” It was about being with Mom in the kitchen.
In 69 years we’ve moved from providing letter-writing stations to providing free Internet connections. Films projected onto sheets have become videos on large screen TVs. There’s still coffee and magazines and comfortable furniture. There’s still the respite from hard duty. And, there’s still Mom in the kitchen making a cake.
It’s just like home.“
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More than 1,500 American troops have lost a limb since 2001, in Afghanistan or Iraq or other deployments around the world. Walter Reed — first at the old campus in Washington, D.C., and now at the new facility in Bethesda — is where they take their first steps toward a new reality.
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