Troops need love, starting at USO
07:47 AM CDT on Sunday, May 27, 2007
I know this is the weekend we're supposed to honor those who died in military service.
But today let's send flowers to the living.
Or, more precisely, spicy chicken sandwiches.
It has been a long time since I tapped your generosity, but I heard about a situation that I knew you would want to remedy.
You see, the food budget at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport USO is running in the red. And word went out to volunteers last week that they will have to cut back on some of the goodies offered to soldiers passing through the airport.
I say: No way.
And I'm betting that many of you will join me in bolstering the budget at our USO. Those volunteers sure hope so.
I was out at the airport one afternoon last week as yet another planeload of desert-camo-clad soldiers prepared to head back to Iraq and Afghanistan after two weeks of R&R. My impulse was to throw my arms around every one of them in admiration and appreciation.
But I know they would rather have an ice cream bar.
A little ways down from their departure gate in Terminal B, volunteer Wayne Wolk of Bedford worked behind the counter of the USO's snack bar. He showed me how he has taped sheets of paper over some of the ice cream treats featured on the freezer box.
"Those are really popular, but they're more expensive, so we don't have them anymore," he said. "I cover up the pictures because we don't want to tease anyone with things we don't have."
Now that's just sad. If anyone deserves a premium ice cream bar right now, it's the men and women serving in our military. Whatever your feelings about the war, surely we can unite around ice cream.
Most people are probably aware by now that D/FW Airport is one of the major hubs for soldiers traveling to and from Iraq and other bases in the Middle East. Every day a planeload of soldiers arrives from the region and another heads out. Because of that, a USO was opened at D/FW three years ago. It has proved popular, to say the least.
Army Spc. Jeffrey Martin of Killeen was lounging in the USO lobby area as he waited for the departure hour to arrive. "The first time I came in here, I'm like, 'Wow. Do I have to leave?' " he said.
The 30-year-old medic will be back in Taji by the time you read this – in the midst of his second tour in Iraq. So he has seen a few USOs and gives the D/FW facility high marks. "It's awesome," he said. "One of the very best."
The setting is certainly ideal. It used to be Continental Airlines' VIP lounge. These days it caters to VIPs in combat boots.
One of the most popular areas is the media room, where soldiers watched Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby on a giant plasma TV. Nearby were a computer room, sleeping room, family room with books and toys and – upstairs – foosball tables and video games. And everything is free.
"Based on 21 years in the military, this is the nicest USO I have ever seen. It's the new standard," said Army Maj. Patrick McAfee, who oversees the troop movements through D/FW Airport.
D/FW USO director Rhenda White-Brunner has been in the job almost two years. And it's a labor of love. "This is what I would have done in retirement," said Rhenda, an "Air Force brat." "I just got to do it sooner."
But the job has its pressures – mainly budgetary. Stateside USO operations are expected to be as self-supporting as possible.
So when the food budget went $16,000 into the red for the first quarter, that meant cutbacks on the premium chicken sandwiches and other more expensive deli selections. "We didn't want to take out some items, but I'm being held accountable," Rhenda said.
Well, what a great holiday weekend for us to remember those lives lost in military service and honor the living sacrifice so many are making right now.
Flowers on a grave are nice, but a spicy chicken sandwich is really special.