Service members were treated to a warm homecoming for the holidays by USO volunteers, who were waiting for them as they emerged at the airport in Atlanta.
Among those who were there was USO volunteer Pat Solomon, who spends a few hours or so each month welcoming troops back home at the Atlanta airport. Solomon shared: “I grab ’em and say, ‘Welcome to America!’… I just feel such a connection with them. I want to tell them how I feel, and how the USO feels. It’s amazing, what they do for the world.”
Solomon and her other fellow USO volunteers may be in for an even busier time in the coming months. President Barack Obama had announced last month that the troops “will definitely be home for the holidays,” as the war in Iraq comes to an end after almost a decade. Thus, Solomon and other volunteers may expect to welcome back an estimated 40,000 troops, who are finally coming home.
The warm welcome for U.S. troops began in 2003, through the Operation R&R program of the USO. The program serves service members who are going to and from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Aside from the Atlanta airport, the program is also being done at the Dallas airport, but that one is set to end early next year.
Troops who passed through Atlanta, into the USO’s welcoming arms, on Tuesday were treated to turkey and chili dogs. USO provides meals and phone calls, as well as free Wi-Fi, a children’s play area, a sleeping and computer room, a television room with theater-style seating, job listings, toiletries and care packages for troops headed back into the field.