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USO Offers A Bit Of Home During The Holidays


Friday marks the annual exodus home by military personnel at local bases, and the United Service Organization is gearing up to help out.

The holiday events are part of the long tradition of the USO, which has 160 locations in 27 states and 14 countries. It dates back to its creation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in February, 1941 – ten months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  

“The USO has been by their side since World War II, and just has been there to take care of the military members and ensure that they have that touch of home,” said Heidi Blair, Director of the USO chapters in northwest Florida -- at Pensacola International and Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airports, and aboard NAS Pensacola.

Operations at the two airports will expand to 24 hours per day during peak travel times.

“Those military members that were unable to go home for Thanksgiving have saved up their leave, and they’re heading home for the holidays,” Blair said. “We’ll see an increase of about a thousand, 1,500 people at each airport just during that period of time when they’re able to fly.”

For those unable to make it home, Blair says the USO will provide computer access at all three locations, enabling them to contact their families. Meanwhile, calls are going out for donations of refreshments and related items.

“We need things like individually-packaged healthy snacks and cookies,” said Blair, “Rahman noodles, granola bars, peanuts, doughnuts, bottled water, and canned soda. And then the ‘boring’ things: paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware.”

Besides the goodies, they’re also looking for volunteers to help out with the holiday period and Blair says, year-round as well. 

“If you are interested in volunteering on an ongoing basis, to usovolunteer.org and sign up,” said Blair. “We’ll get you through orientation, and teach you how to be a USO volunteer.”

Coca-Cola and Walmart are donating $10,000 to the USO, which will help support troops and their loved ones this holiday season. On Friday – Exodus Day – Blair says they’ll join with the two firms at Pensacola International Airport to bring some extra holiday cheer.

Information on supporting the local USO can be found at uso.org/northwestflorida, or by calling 455-8280 Option-4.