Back in the summer of 2002, I moved from Southern California to Raleigh, North Carolina. After getting settled into my new home, I decided I needed a job or something. I got back into volunteering. I tried a number of things: helping with blood drives for the Red Cross, working with Habitat for Humanity, and others. And then, yahoo! I noticed an article in the newspaper about the USO needing volunteers to help in their Center at the Raleigh-Durham airport. Well, help is what I’m all about! Heck, I owned bakeries. I can serve people food. I managed a coffee house. I can definitely make coffee. I got on this right away.
I got assigned to the every other Friday evening, 7 to 11 p.m. shift. I worked with a great guy who had been in the Navy. Mike introduced me to YouTube. When it was a slow night, we’d laugh at things people posted. What kinds of “official” duties did we manage? We’d make sure anyone wanting entry into our Center had some sort of military ID and we’d have them sign in. We’d offer them food and snacks. We’d give them general Center information: computer passwords, calling cards if they needed to make calls, personal care items they might need, etc. It was a small Center and had about 100 volunteers, many of whom were there doing something all the time.
A few years later, I became an employee — Administrative Assistant. This was before, or in the early stages, of everything being computerized. I created tons of spreadsheets to make my job easier. And then — someone from the new Center at the Charlotte airport created a computer program for volunteers to sign up for shifts or cancel their shift, and log in their hours. Revolutionary! I loved my job! And then … I moved to South Carolina. I mourned my time at the USO. This was back in 2008.
Fast forward to 2016 and I’m back! Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. When the airport completed renovations on Terminal 2, the USO moved into space there. Much larger and more modern. There are now 300+ volunteers divided into categories: Center volunteers, Ambassadors (they wander the terminal looking for military who might not be aware there is a USO available to them), and Out of Center volunteers (this is what I get to do). I can’t work in the Center until someone currently holding a shift decides to give it up.
Yesterday I worked Guard 2 Beach, a bike ride from the National Guard Joint Force Headquarters here in Raleigh, to Carolina Beach, NC. It’s a 3 day bike ride. We handed out water, energy bars, etc. They thanked us. We in turn thanked them. A mutual admiration society. All branches of the military were represented among the riders, along with some civilians.
That’s me. A civilian. I’m not related to anyone who has ever been in the military. And sometimes I feel like an outsider. When I worked in the Center years ago, it never seemed to come up. But, when I’m working these events the conversation always seems to get around to their connection. A son or daughter serving. A husband. A wife. A brother or sister. Growing up a military brat. Retired from the military. When I was asked yesterday by one of the men, who I had in the military, I responded, “No one, I just volunteer because …” I found I couldn’t articulate an answer. He answered for me, “Because it was the right thing to do.” It made me feel accepted. ‘nuf said.