by Sgt. John Couffer
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait – Far from home, a group of American civilians oversee and maintain a wide range of equipment, from phones to Play Stations, in the middle of a sand-strewn Kuwaiti desert to better the lives and improve the morale of soldiers.
Civilian employees of the United Service Organizations leave their families and friends behind in the states to travel overseas to provide moral support and foster a stress-free environment for soldiers. To them, the sacrifice is worth it.
“When you have a job in which the main focus is to lift spirits and to put a smile on someone’s face, it’s one of the best positions anyone could have in their entire life, so I cherish every moment of it,” said Tiffany Banks, of Virginia Beach, Va., the Center Director for the USO center at Camp Buehring, Kuwait.
Banks has been working for the USO for about eighteen months and said that she realizes the importance of the military and the services the USO provides for deployed military members.
“I think it’s very valuable in this region, especially in Afghanistan,” Banks said. “To have a bit of departure from the mission and war, it’s imperative to bring light [into] darkness and that’s what we try to do.”
Banks said it is a pleasure to be in Kuwait helping soldiers find a sense of home. She also said the USO is here for all military members, and that all of the activities, events and resources are planned around military members’ needs, wants and ideas.
Although Banks is the Center Director, she is only one of several volunteer-employees who come from all walks of life and make up the USO team.
Every volunteer has his or her reasons for joining the USO.
“I feel that every American should do something for their country,” said Shea Carson, a native of Slidel, La., and a duty manager at the USO.
Carson said that because his father was in the military, he knows firsthand the sacrifices people in the military make and what it takes to have the freedoms that America boasts. Carson said giving something in return for the sacrifices soldiers make is important to him.
“There really aren’t words. For me to do something to give back [and] where you make an instant difference, it’s immeasurable, it’s amazing,” Carson said.
Carson explained that the USO and its staff try to bring a part of America to foreign soil. He said that with the facilities the USO provides, soldiers fresh from Iraq or Afghanistan can sit back and watch a college football game and for that short period of time, the soldier is not at war or in Kuwait, but back at home.
Carson is not alone. There are other people who volunteer their time to the USO, and those are the very soldiers whom Carson and Banks serve.
“It is my way to pay back the USO for everything they have done for me,” said North Andover, Mass., native, Sgt. Raul Zubicaray, a USO volunteer and quartermaster soldier assigned to the B Company, 3rd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Regiment, a National Guard unit from N.H..
Zubicaray said that during his time in the military, he has had good experiences with the USO. He gives special credit to the USOs in the airports and the services they provide for soldiers when they travel.
Using the skills he has acquired throughout his life and Army career, Zubicaray repairs and maintains everything in the USO from the Play Stations and movie projectors, to the telephones and televisions, ensuring that soldiers have access to operable equipment.
“It is a very fulfilling service,” Zuicaray said. “I do it because I feel it is the right thing to do.”
Soldier-volunteers aid in the daily operation of USO facilities and take responsibility for how things are run when the USO workers are not present. One USO employee describes the role of volunteers as critical to the USO.
“I don’t know if we could operate the same way without our volunteers,” said Brooklyn, N.Y., native and USO employee Jaime Bowman, who has been in Kuwait for about six months.
To Bowman, the volunteers are invaluable. She said the volunteers help with everything from regulating crowds for events to acting as chefs during barbeques to being a shoulder to lean on for someone who needs it. She went on to say that the volunteers even stay beyond their shift to ensure the USO is clean and ready for the next day.
“It wouldn’t be the same USO if we didn’t have a staff of volunteers who help us the way that they do,” Jaime attested.
Some soldiers who utilize the USO and its facilities recognize the sacrifices and commitment the USO workers make in helping soldiers.
“It means a lot that they come over here, take time out of their life and spend time away from their family, their kids and they are doing all this for us just to help us out,” said Michael Accatatta, an Edison, N.J., native and a forward observer assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
Accatatta said that he likes the fact that there are people out there who are willing to make similar sacrifices that soldiers make, by going overseas to help soldiers. He said the USO employees are great people who are willing to lend a hand or answer a question, and always with a smile.
Accatatta describes the USO as a great place to meet with friends, play video games, watch movies and relax. He said that that the volunteer-employees of the USO play an important role in being able to unwind and take a break from everything and that he is thankful for what they do.
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