By MICHELLE JEHLEN
Soldiers and their families need help every single day of the year, but around the holidays the United Service Organizations Inc assists thousands of American soldiers within only a couple of days.
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport is a major hub of travel and either a stopping point or point of transition for almost all of the military service men and women. After serving 22 years in the United States Army, Vietnam veteran and retired Lt. Col. Max Torrence started working for the Atlanta USO in 2004 and is today the volunteer special projects coordinator for the Atlanta office.
“The two weeks before Christmas we conduct what we call Operation Exodus here at the airport and see over 5,000 soldiers within 72 hours,” said Torrence.
The private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, whose mission is “to support the troops by lifting spirits,” has been around since 1941 and the beginning of World War II. Many USO centers exist across the United States and in several other countries as well. They all require many volunteers and donations to keep them functioning for the military.
The USO operates completely from volunteers and donations. It accepts clothing, food, money, calling cards, blankets, and almost anything you would use at home. Hundreds of volunteers make care packages to send to troops overseas and volunteer their time at airports to greet and direct; at deployments to offer support and encouragement; and to welcome and give thanks and appreciation as troops return home from tours of duty. Sometimes even a simple hug makes someone’s day a little less lonely.
The many volunteers seek to provide a little comfort of home anytime they cross paths with soldiers. The president and CEO of the Atlanta center, Mary Lou Austin, has more than 40 years experience with the USO and works diligently to raise funds throughout the state to help keep soldiers’ spirits lifted.
“The best way for individuals to help volunteer is to find a civic organization or check with their current employer,” Torrence said.
Another retired Army Lt. Col. Rick Lester also volunteers with the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association to help the USO. Lester, who served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot, has always had a special place in his heart for the USO.
“Those of us that served in the military have always really appreciated the USO and wanted to give back,” said Lester. “It’s good to be working with soldiers supporting soldiers.”
So, whether you share a handshake and a “thank you” with the next soldier in uniform who passes you by, donate money, or get your entire corporation involved, it makes a real difference to those soldiers and their families. For more information on how you and your company can or donate please visit http://www.uso.org/.