FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fort Drum Soldiers and Families kicked off the holiday season at the USO's first-ever Home for the Holidays celebration Friday at the Commons here.

More than 500 people attended the event, which was designed to welcome home Soldiers who redeployed this year.

"So many troops are home now, and more are home for the holidays than we've had (here) for a long time," said Karen Clark, USO Fort Drum director. "This is the first time we've had an event like this."

Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Fort Drum and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, welcomed attendees to the event.

"Since (1941) the USO has been supporting out nation's troops -- Army, Navy, Air Force (and) Marines -- throughout every war since World War II, and peacetime in between," Milley noted.
The event was made possible because of Alfred Weissman, a World War II veteran who has been donating money to the USO since 2006, Clark explained.

Weissman, who has an original drawing of himself that the USO sent to his parents 65 years ago when he was in the World War II, spoke before the event started, recalling his first visit to Fort Drum a few years ago.

"When I first came up here with my good friend, a young man came over to me and said 'sir, I understand that you were in World War II,' and I said, 'yes.' He said, 'I thought all you guys were dead,'" he joked. "I'm glad to be alive today to honor and thank (the Soldiers) who continually serve the American people and keep our country free."

On behalf of the USO, Clark presented Weissman with a snowshoe, as a "token of Fort Drum's appreciation" for his donations over the years.

Then, the Atlas Band, a nine-piece soul / R&B / funk / swing / Motown group from Syracuse, took the stage and rocked the Commons through the night.

Attendees enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet and were given a chance to sing karaoke. The USO also had a drawing to give away plane tickets and gift cards to attendees.

Among those present were USO volunteers who donated their Friday night to help out at the event.

Melissa Amos, a USO volunteer and former 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldier, said she volunteered for the event because she wanted to see the Soldiers and their Families have a good time.

"I know some of the volunteers are spouses, and they don't always get a chance to spend time with their husbands or wives, so I wanted to give them a chance to have a good time and help out the USO," she said. "This is my way of giving back and making sure Soldiers are taken care of."

Amos started volunteering with the USO after she left the Army last year because she missed the connection with the Soldiers.

"The USO gives back to the Soldiers and the community and it relies on donations -- of time, finances and goods," said Amos, who has volunteered more than 200 hours this year.

"(The USO) does so many amazing things," noted Nichole Pulver, who also volunteers with the USO. She is the wife of Sgt. Neil Pulver, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, who redeployed this spring.

Another spouse, Michele Spurlock, wife of Sgt. 1st Class David Spurlock, who is with 1st BSTB, said that although she attended the event without her husband, she was glad she showed up because she "volunteered all week and needed a break."

The women all agreed that the band, Atlas, did a great job entertaining the crowd through the night.