731st AMS, USO make newcomers feel welcome
The United Service Organizations and the 731st Air Mobility Squadron have been in a unified partnership to support personnel as they transition in and out of the Republic of Korea since October 2012.
Founded in 1941 - with 106 centers in 14 countries - the USO is a nonprofit organization that supports U.S. troops and their families all over the globe, and has provided a warm presence in the Osan Passenger Terminal.
Although their main office resides in the Osan Community Center, Ellen Jenkins and Ralph Nelson, USO representatives, are present for each Patriot Express mission that arrives with newly assigned personnel and their families.
A tour in Korea is often a young troop's first time away from home, and being halfway across the globe adds another dimension to their experience in Asia. Jenkins and Nelson provide an ice breaker to that experience, making sure a friendly face is there to welcome them and by offering information on how to contact loved ones.
According to Jenkins and Nelson, the beginning of the USO partnership with the 731st AMS was the result of an extroverted colonel who, on her own, would wish departing troops well and thank them for their service in Korea. This considerate act progressed into the idea that a warm welcome is equally as important as a fond farewell.
Today, the USO operates a booth in the passenger terminal baggage area where troops are greeted by the smiling faces of the USO family.
"Just seeing the positive reaction of the passengers truly inspires us to keep returning each week to the terminal," Nelson said. "It's not every day that delivering a patriotic message can be as easy as a smile and telling someone, 'Welcome to Korea.'"
The Patriot Express is a contracted commercial mission, which supplements other United States Forces Korea quality of life initiatives associated with tour normalization and an increase in the number of family members in the ROK.
"Being one of the first people to speak with the newly assigned troops after entering Korea only strengthens my admiration for what these young people and their families sacrifice to defend our great nation while serving here," Jenkins said.
The USO relies heavily on a volunteer force of more than 44,000 people who provide an estimated 371,417 hours of service annually.
"We are very thankful to the world-wide volunteers and donations that keep our quality programs going," said Tony Davis, USO Korea country director. "A large concentration on partnerships, both with military units, such as the 731st AMS and corporate partners, help the USO support our mission of lifting the spirits of America's military heroes and their families."
The active duty Airmen supporting inbound and outbound missions in the terminal see many different concerns and emotions while providing customer service, and they can attest to the positive impact the USO's service has. With the vast majority of inbound troops being Army personnel not stationed at Osan, the USO representatives provide information on opportunities that are available through the USO office and refer members to the USO at their final destination. This extra attention goes a long way toward making arriving passengers more comfortable during their first few hours after their long trip to the ROK.
"The USO is as much a part of the Patriot Express as we are," said Lt. Col. Alan Berck, 731st AMS commander. "In all of my deployments, assignments, and travels, the USO has been a refreshing and trusted partner in taking care of our military troops and families."
Berck assumed command of the squadron in November, and instantly noticed the positive impact that the USO has both in the passenger terminal and around the base.
Jenkins and Nelson don't always receive feedback on how meaningful their support is, but terminal members recognize and appreciate their presence. Like clockwork, each week more new faces arrive, and each week, the smiling faces of the USO and Osan Passenger Terminal team are there to greet them.