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"All of these moments helped change my life."

I've been asked many times why I support the USO, and the answer is surprisingly simple: The USO is home to me. When I say that, civilians look both confused and understanding to some degree. It's hard to explain in any other way, and home is truly what the USO provides when one is overseas.

The example I fall back on is chairs. If a service member is lucky, he might have office-type chairs. If he's not so lucky, he gets concrete or dirt. Being on a surgical team, I was lucky to have an office chair. When I was trying to "be" with my family virtually, I was never able to take that physical step with them because I was in a funky office chair, and not on the couch or recliner next to them.

This is where the USO comes in. They have chairs like we have back home. They have couches or recliners to actually relax in and have a small semblance of being home. I talked to my family almost every day while I was deployed, but I never truly felt there with them unless I was at the USO on a couch in the back.

That little slice of home may not seem like much, but it is truly life changing. I was able to read to my kids at the USO, and they could talk to me in a place where I lost some of the constant fear of attack or concern that patients might be coming in. I could forget, even for a moment, where I was and just "be" with my family.

This was never more important than after the birth of our youngest daughter. As a father of three beautiful, healthy kids, I wasn't prepared for an NICU baby. I especially wasn't prepared to be 12,000 miles away when it all happened. Our fourth baby, Alexandra, aspirated meconium when she was born, and she came out blue and in dire need of oxygen. She was rushed to the NICU, and I was told I could not Skype there. That rule changed the next day after a few conversations with administration. I spent the next ten days at the USO whenever I had time so I could talk to our precious baby in the NICU. I cried and I worried, but I got to see her and stay up to date on her progress.

I got to be a concerned and doting dad, not a soldier, for a few minutes each day. That couch in the back room must have had an imprint of me by the end of those couple of weeks. It helped me "be home" for a moment each day. I even got to be one of the first soldiers to participate in a program the USO launched where I got to send a care package home to my wife and our new baby. I was able to give a gift at no cost to me and be a good dad that way, too.

All of these moments helped change my life. They brought me closer to my family and home. Every moment gave me enough reprieve and rest to get through a few more days of the grinding monotony that is deployment. Every time I stepped into the USO, I was a little more connected to the real world back home, a little more normal. The staff and volunteers create an atmosphere where you can let your guard down and just "be." It's not the same as sitting on my couch at home, but if I've got to be away, it's the next best thing. The USO is home. It's that simple.

Cover image via Nenov Brothers Images I Shutterstock

This story is from Chicken Soup for the Soul: Military Families: 101 Stories about the Force Behind the Forces © 2017 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

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