USO collects holiday cheer for Hawaii's wounded warriors
December 22, 2009
HONOLULU - Volunteers with the USO-Hawaii gathered at Pearl Harbor's Navy Exchange, Dec. 15, collecting holiday goods and gift certificates for injured service members transitioning from active duty to civilian.
The first-time event generated early responses from local businesses and family members to recognize military personnel currently under programs such as the Wounded Warrior Transition Unit at Schofield Barracks, Tripler Army Medical Center, Warrior Transition Unit-Marine Corps Base Hawaii and the Fisher House.
Along with the generous donations from the local community, many people contributing to the event all shared a similar passion of helping service members who already sacrificed so much.
Regardless of the reason, donations were made with the sole purpose of helping the islands' Wounded Warriors celebrate the holidays and welcome in a new year, said Elaine Ota, USO center manager for Hickam, who has been with the organization for six years.
"One donation was given from a Vietnam veteran who wanted the warriors to understand the support they have from the local community...unlike the support many Vietnam veterans got when they returned home," Ota said.
Ota explained why the bond between the USO and service members is so important.
"We (USO) are the last ones to see them off (service members) and the first to welcome them, and being out here is another chance for the community to support our military in Hawaii."
While most USO volunteers are retired service members or spouses, others volunteer for more personal reasons.
"People ask me all the time why I am out here, why I volunteer," said Ota whose husband is retired from the Air Force. "I do it for the vast majority of service members in Hawaii who don't call the island home ... I want to give them a sense of home when they see us."
While many of the donations were monetary or gift cards, the USO did receive other items as well.
"We have an entire box of goodies and Christmas stockings we will hand out," Ota said. "We even have letters from elementary school children for the event."
Finally, all donations and goods collected at the event will be distributed to service members Dec. 20 at the Oahu Veterans Center to jumpstart the holiday season and give back to those who sacrifice so much.
Eva Laird Smith, director, USO-Hawaii summed up the spirit of the event and said, "The wounded warriors are a special group of heroes that need our care and compassion as they go through difficult stages in their lives, they deserve our Aloha, especially this time of year."