79: By Their Side

79: By Their Side

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

By Their Side

My whole incentive when I’m at the USO is to try to treat people like I would want my son to be treated and taken care of.

~USO of Arizona volunteer Michelle Selby

My life is about passion. It’s a passion to lead. It’s a passion to succeed. And it’s a passion to give people a little bit better of a day — or even just a moment — amid some of the biggest challenges of their lives.

I work for the USO in the Middle East. For a long time, I managed one of their centers in Afghanistan. Thought that war was over? A lot of other Americans do, too. But we’ve still got thousands of U.S. troops serving in harm’s way every day. And when those men and women need a break, a nap or a place to call home, they come to our center.

The draw for me was simple. I served twenty-eight years in the Army before retiring as a sergeant major. I was used to taking care of my fellow soldiers. Now, I see some of the same guys who I served with come through our center’s doors.

The USO has been around for seventy-five years. We were with troops during World War II, we went to Korea and Vietnam in the decades after that, and we were there for both wars in Iraq and the ongoing conflict where I’m stationed now. Our organization has more than 180 locations around the world and more than 30,000 interactions with troops every single day.

Ever get an e-mail from a buddy serving in a remote location? Ever Skype with a brother or a cousin who was in the military overseas? Ever see troops in a war zone on the Jumbotron at an NFL game, or playing video games remotely against celebrities? If so, chances are we were involved.

It’s still a dangerous place outside our center’s doors. But inside, it’s a home away from home.

The troops we serve deal with tough situations — occasionally even life-or-death choices — every day. I don’t usually see the emotions they’re dealing with when they walk through the door. But eventually, I see those feelings rise to the surface. I hear their voices quiver during their phone calls home. I hear their passion in the United Through Reading room, where they can record themselves reading a children’s book and send the recording back to their kids in the States. And I see the high-fives and tears of joy from some of the toughest people you’ll ever meet when they watch their children being born via a Skype call made from our free Wi-Fi.

I’ve been in their shoes. I understand the sacrifice they make. And that’s why I am so passionate about being by their side when they walk through my front door.

~Pennington Walker

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