By Joseph Andrew Lee
Traveling alone can be daunting. Add in morning sickness, a missed flight and no place to stay and it’s easy to understand the progression from mere anxiousness to crisis mode.
This is what happened to Shanna Sellers, a schoolteacher from Utah, who was traveling home from a work trip in Virginia without her husband, Army Sgt. Arden Sellers, who was away training with the Utah National Guard.
Arden Sellers has served the Guard for seven years and his father served in both Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, so he was well aware of the USO and its centers across the world. That became useful information when his wife called him in tears.
It was nearly 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 19, and Shanna had missed her connecting flight to Salt Lake City because the plane had sat on the tarmac for too long in Virginia. According to Shanna, her airline’s representatives at Philadelphia International Airport offered a free hotel room, but then reduced that offer to a partial payment voucher after finding her a 6 a.m. flight. Exhausted with nowhere to go for the next 12 hours, she began to break down.
“She was pretty upset when she called me,” Arden said. “She was worn out and she didn’t know what to do and that was hard for me, because I was stuck doing my military duties and there she was trapped in the airport at her wits end — exhausted and sick — and the first thing I thought of in my mind was ‘she needs to go find a USO.’”
“He’s usually right there to take care of me and this time he couldn’t be,” said Shanna, who was 18 weeks pregnant at the time.
Still new to the military world, Shanna had never been to a USO center before.
“She asked me … ‘what’s a USO?’ And I explained to her that it’s basically the coolest thing ever when you’re traveling or in need.”
Sellers asked his wife if she was carrying her military ID card and she said that she was, so he went online to USO.org, found the location of the Liberty USO inside Philadelphia International Airport and told her where to go.
“He told me exactly where it was and just said, ‘Show up, hand them your ID and they will take care of you.’ And that’s exactly what happened,” Shanna said. “They were really awesome. I told the girl at the front desk my situation and they fed me and said I could relax for the night. When it got later at night, she even came and got me and directed me to the bunks so I could get a good night sleep. She even had pajamas for me to wear if I wanted them.”
Shanna said she was impressed with the facilities and depth of items available to her free of charge, from food to toiletries and even toys for children.
“Being pregnant you get hungry fast and if you don’t eat you’ll get sick,” Shanna said. “They fed me and cared for me just like Arden said they would. It worked out better than getting a hotel because I didn’t have to leave airport security.”
After safely arriving back in Utah, she told her mom and dad about the volunteer-run area in the airport that helps traveling military families and “it totally blew their minds,” she said.
“Most people have no clue [USO centers] are even there.”
Thankful for the help his wife received, Arden sought out the USO on Facebook and left the following message:
“I want to publicly thank the staff of the USO center at the Philadelphia International Airport for taking care of my wife yesterday. She was exhausted, sick, alone, and 4 months pregnant when she called me in tears to let me know that due to too much air traffic her flight was missed and she would have to wait till the next day to fly home. I felt so powerless and awful being so far away from her and unable to help. She is my angel and there was nothing I could do to take care of her myself. So I had her turned to the next best thing, the USO. She found the center and they took care of her, making her night much better. From the bottom of this soldier’s heart, thank you.”
“As a soldier and as a husband, it’s nice to know that remembering those three little letters — USO — means that she’ll be taken care of wherever she is and wherever I am, and that’s huge for me,” he said.