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USO of Illinois Surprises 100,000th Visitor at O’Hare Cyber Canteen

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

By Sarah Camille Hipp 

Airport delays are never fun. So imagine a soldier’s frustration of being stranded, just one flight away from home after a 10-month deployment.

That was the situation Thursday for Army Spc. Roman Valenzuela, who deployed just days before his fiancé gave birth to their son. Disappointed by the delay, Valenzuela decided to stop by the USO American Airlines Cyber Canteen. He had no idea of the surprise he’d find.

Last Thursday, USO of Illinois recognized Valenzuela as the 100,000th visitor at the Cyber Canteen in Terminal 3 of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. USO partners American Airlines and jcpenney joined USO of Illinois to celebrate the center’s milestone of service to America’s troops.

“One hundred thousand is a big number, but it’s more than a number,” said Alison Ruble, President of USO of Illinois. “One hundred thousand stands for 100,000 stories, weeks, months, days, hours where our service members walked through these doors and experienced a home away from home.”

Ruble explained the achievement would not have been possible without the support of American Airlines. In December 2010, American Airlines donated what was formerly a staff lounge to the USO of Illinois.

Franco Tedeschi, American Airlines’ Vice President for Chicago, reflected on the Cyber Canteen’s impact on troops.

“When I walk through the doors of the Cyber Canteen, I see things that are possible because of true commitment and dedication from many,” Tedeschi said. “American Airlines’ commitment is to our veterans and our military.”

Tedeschi presented Valenzuela with two roundtrip tickets to the destination of his choice. Valenzuela also received a gift bag from USO of Illinois, including a NHL Blackhawks jersey signed by goalie Corey Crawford and a $500 jcpenney gift card delivered by jcpenney’s Director of Philanthropy Jonathan Macaranas.

Jcpenney outfitted the Cyber Canteen in late 2012 with new furniture (along with similar donations to other USO centers, as well). Macaranas, a Navy veteran who served 13 years, organized the in-kind furniture donations.

“[Being at the USO] is like coming home for me,” he said.

Valenzuela had never been to the USO American Airlines Cyber Canteen, but when he found out his flight was delayed, it was the first place he thought to go.

“It is a place to relax,” said Valenzuela, who had been deployed to Camp Buehring, Kuwait, the last 10 months. “You don’t have to worry about high prices of food or where to charge your phone here. It really is a home away from home for soldiers.”

With gifts in hand and the thought of seeing his son for the first time, the specialist grinned from ear to ear, still shocked that a delayed flight and visit to a USO center could lead to such a heartwarming surprise. He called his fiancé to tell her the good news.

“She flipped,” he said.

* * *

Photo caption: USO of Illinois President Alison Ruble congratulates Army Spec. Roman Valenzuela while USO of Illinois Director of Center Operations and Volunteer Services Chris Miller looks on at the USO Cyber Canteen at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (USO photo by Bob Stone) 

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