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Serving those who serve

Post by Scott Fontaine on Dec. 14, 2009 at 1:22 am with No Comments »
December 14, 2009 6:33 am
Herb Schmeling, with the USO at McChord Air Force Base, fills a pastry case at the USO center as a reserve unit waits for a flight to Kuwait. (Joe Barrentine/The News Tribune)
Herb Schmeling, with the USO at McChord Air Force Base, fills a pastry case at the USO center as a reserve unit waits for a flight to Kuwait. (Joe Barrentine/The News Tribune)

The flight wasn’t expected to take off for four hours, so Lt. Donovan Cozzens tucked into the USO center at McChord Air Force Base. The reservist from Alexandria, Va., grabbed a hot dog and some unsweetened tea and buried himself into a couch.

“The USO’s great,” he said. “They’re always very accommodating, no matter where we go.”

Cozzens is the headquarters company commander for the 396th Signal Battalion, which left McChord early Monday morning after three months of mobilization training at Fort Lewis.

And because the battalion was leaving, the volunteers of the USO were prepared to work.

Dozens of soldiers gobbled sandwiches, hotdogs, donuts, pastries and cookies while watching ESPN at the USO center. Each time a unit deploys out of McChord, volunteers staff the center to provide a bit of comfort before they head to Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.

It was a welcome break for the soldiers of the 396th Battalion, who arrived at the McChord terminal four hours before their commercial charter jet was scheduled to take off. Soldiers chatted, browsed online and played dominoes to pass the time. USO volunteers walked around, offering to fetch more snacks.

About 30 volunteers work for the USO at McChord, helping about 35,000 service members each year.

“We’re here anytime they’re outbound,” said Herb Schmeling, who has volunteered with USO since 2006. “If they’re here, we’re here.”

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