Fort Belvoir Eagle,Thursday, January 24, 2008
USO Supports Families and Soldiers
When most people think about the USO, they probably automatically think about entertainment. For those of us in certain generations, it was Bob Hope. Now, there are a whole range of celebrities boosting the morale and providing entertainment both stateside and overseas that include Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, Randy Travis and the Judds. Yet, the mostly volunteer, non-profit organization provides a myriad of other functions in places like Germany, Japan, Italy and Kuwait and in its 130 locations worldwide. They provide Family support, emergency housing, food vouchers, orientation programs, internet and phone services, car seat loan programs, football camps, holiday programs, family events, movie nights and recreational games and entertainment for Soldiers.
Linda Ricks, the USO’s outreach coordinator at Fort Belvoir for the past five years, says she enjoys every aspect of her job. “We are an all-volunteer organization that relies on the donations of others to make a positive contribution in the lives of Soldiers and their Families. I have been amazed at the individuals and businesses that have been so generous, because they truly care about the military, the men and women who serve our country,” said Ricks.
“They also give of themselves; it may be three hours or 300 hours,” Ricks said. “It is truly heartwarming what people will and can do for others, from students to retirees they are essential to the USO and it’s success.” The actions of celebrities can also be inspiring, according to Ricks. “Some of the World Wrestling Entertainers have been very humble and giving, contributing time, supplies, and, just the effort to visit the troops overseas. They also visit children here. It is something you don’t expect - to see these grown men cry.”
Ricks has made long-lasting friendships in her work at the USO. “The human connections that we forge, the joy that we witness, the bonds that are made are incredible,” she said. “The USO is known for that. I have had so many married couples from older generations come up to me thanking the USO for holding social events because that is how they met one another. That is incredibly rewarding to me in this job, “ Ricks said.
While she has witnessed many happy moments, she has also had some sobering requests for assistance that keep her balanced. “We serve as a networking and problem-solving center. Family members and Soldiers come to us with housing, personal, financial or social problems and we try and find a solution or an organization that can,” said Ricks.
So, whether it is comforting bereaved Family members, obtaining a rubbing from the name of a fallen Soldier on a monument, or organizing so many of the family-oriented events on post Ricks would not trade her job for anything. “It is the people at the USO and the ability to make a difference in Soldiers’ lives that make this job so rewarding,” Ricks said.
The USO’s programs and activities are temporarily on hold as they relocated to the Better Oppotunities for Single Soldiers building on the North Post.