By Michelle KennedyApril 14, 2011
FORT DRUM, N.Y. --- A range of emotions comes with returning home from a yearlong deployment. However, sometimes all it takes is a smiling face and a "welcome home" to remind Soldiers that they are out of harm's way and hours away from being reunited with their Families and loved ones.
Fort Drum leaders recognized three USO volunteers Thursday for their dedication and support of 1st Brigade Combat Team Soldiers during their recent redeployment.
Kyra Waterson, Melissa Amos and George Barton spent many hours at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield's Rapid Deployment Facility, including many in the early morning, to ensure 1st BCT Soldiers received a proper welcome home.
The volunteers were surprised when their tour of the 10th Mountain Division (LI) Headquarters ended with a brief awards ceremony led by Brig. Gen. Harry E. Miller Jr., senior commander Fort Drum.
"(Your service) certainly doesn't go unnoticed," he said. "Thank you all very much."
The brigade's redeployment marked the first time a civilian agency was at the RDF to welcome home Soldiers, according to Karen Clark, USO director. The USO could not have supported the Soldiers without dedicated volunteers.
"Instead of having green-suiters to welcome them home, they saw a civilian face," she said. "The Soldiers were very drawn to the civilians, and they thanked us for representing the American public."
Lt. Col. Michael Loos, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment commander, also offered his thanks on behalf of some 3,500 1st BCT Soldiers and command team members at the brigade headquarters.
"I just want to take a few minutes to recognize the USO crew," he said. "On behalf of Col. (William) Burleson, (1st BCT commander), I'm delighted that you're here. (The volunteers) were at the RDF every day and every night for about a month or so. We really appreciate you."
Volunteers would arrive at the RDF an hour before the flight arrived to make coffee and set up, and they would work up to five hours until the Soldiers were reunited with their Families, Waterson said.
"It's very rewarding to see the guys come through the doors, because you know they're home and get to see their Families," she said. "It's a humbling experience. I always asked myself if I was giving enough or what else could I be doing to help them. It was a really good experience."
Waterson, whose boyfriend recently deployed with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, said working at 1st BCT's redeployments was good for her.
"I didn't know how I'd feel, but it was good for me because some day this is going to be for (my Soldier)," she said.
Amos and Barton, both veterans, said they volunteered to continue serving the military.
"When I redeployed from Iraq, we were in a hangar at Fort Bragg, (N.C.), and there was no one there to meet us," Amos said. "I was a first sergeant in the Army Reserves.
"When I got out, I missed my Soldiers and being able to help them," he continued. "When I saw the USO had volunteer openings, this was something I really wanted to be able to help with. Being able to welcome the Soldiers meant a lot to me personally."
Barton, who served in the Air Force for 21 years, said he started volunteering at the USO to give back to an organization that was there to support him in Vietnam.
"I talked to the Soldiers every time I got a chance," he said. "Sometimes we'd talk about different places, (but one thing I always said) was 'welcome home.'"