By Maria Jose Subiria
Celebrating 68 years of service to members of America's armed forces, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's United Service Organizations center is throwing itself a party Feb. 4.
"It's a nice way to celebrate these men and women," said Mary Louise Austin, USO Council of Georgia president and chief professional officer. "And it's important to observe that USO has been there continuously for our soldiers."
The USO is a nonprofit funded by various organizations, businesses and individuals looking to improve the well-being of the men and women in the armed forces. It was begun when President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on private organizations to handle U.S. soldiers' leave-time recreation needs.
The six stars in its logo represent the six organizations which responded to Roosevelt's request: The Salvation Army, YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board and Travelers Aid International.
The USO was originally headquartered in New York City, but is now based in Washington, D.C.
Its Hartsfield-Jackson center is located on the third floor of the airport's atrium.
The group has more than 130 similar service centers around the world, and provides information, Internet and e-mail access, housing and other assistance to some 1.4 million active U.S. military personnel, as well as about 1 million National Guard members and reservists.
At the Hartsfield-Jackson center, volunteers like Gerald Barger escort U.S. troops through the airport to their departure gates. "We walk them out, whistle and clap for everyone to recognize them as they leave the airport to return to [overseas duty]," said Barger, a retired AT&T employee and 10-year USO volunteer.
Austin said while the anniversary party will celebrate the organization's 68th year, it will also serve as an additional thank you to soldiers. Army Col. Deborah Grays, garrison commander for Fort Gillem and Fort McPherson, is expected attend the festivities, which will include a cake-cutting and raffle. A buffet is being provided by American Legion Post 66.
"Our employees and volunteers look forward to making any celebration special for our men and women in the armed forces," Austin said. Hartsfield-Jackson, she said, is the "best place to celebrate."
On the net:
United Service Organizations: www.uso.org