Soldiers say the USO at DFW Airport is one of best in the country, because it's on the secure side and easy to get to. About 240 volunteers keep it going. Many are vets, or the parents or grandparents of kids in the military.
"When they smile, that's all the thanking we need," said Jill Helm, who spent 27 years in the Air Force.
But the USO at DFW needs a lot of help. Back when R&R flights were coming through, crowds greeted flights; people donated goods and cash. They would show up with carloads of supplies. These days, not so much.
“I think maybe people are fatigued by the fact that the war has gone on for a long time,” said center director Rhenda White-Brunner. "We need snacks. We need chips. We need peanuts. We need toiletries. Trial-size toiletries. Anything that can bring a little comfort to our service members and families coming through."
She said donations like that are down 50 percent. Cash contributions dropped, too. But the number of military members seeking TLC at the USO has barely dropped at all. Last year, the center at DFW Airport served nearly 170,000 people.When I set out to post this article, I went back to the site I had read it on. It had already dropped off of the main page. It had also dropped off of the 'news' page. The story was originally posted at 8:18 pm, but didn't even get top billing for 12 hours. That is a cruel irony. Why bother with a story about the public forgetting to support soldiers if you aren't going to feature it during daylight hours when it might actually get some notice?
I can't write this without a shout out to Gary Sinise:
Army Chaplain Bill Buell knocked down a free barbeque lunch in the USO lounge Monday at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It helped him smile through a two-day delay getting to South Carolina for training. He sat surrounded by others in the military; A young Navy SEAL getting advice from an older Navy Reservist and about a dozen teenage Marine recruits headed for boot camp.
“Today is Gary Sinise barbecue day,” a volunteer cheerfully greeted a soldier. “Once a month. I hope you're hungry."
Forrest Gump's "Lieutenant Dan" bought barbecue for the USO in Terminal B; that's about 300 meals.One guy, sure, a Hollywood guy, but still, one guy manages to support 300 military members on this day in Dallas. (I know that Mr. Sinise spends a big chunk of his time supporting the military in many other ways. I have had the pleasure of seeing his LT Dan Band perform to raise funds for families of fallen soldiers.)
There is no excuse for the DFW Airport USO to be struggling for donations or support. This is a huge metropolitan area. It is largely conservative (as if that should make a difference). There are hundreds of corporations headquartered here. There are dozens of billionaires. There are millions of people living here.
Hey, Mark Cuban! Hey, Ross Perot! Hey, Alice Walton! Hey, Hunt Family! Hey, Jerry Jones! Hey, Bass Family! Those sports teams, arenas, shopping meccas, performing arts centers - they are nice and all, but could you throw some of your loose change toward supporting the people that preserve your freedoms?