It’s Monday afternoon at General Mitchell International Airport.
A new batch of military recruits has just arrived. This is their last few hours before reporting to basic training.
They are nervous, anxious and uncertain. Their lives are about to change forever.
As if that pressure isn’t enough, they have to face the airport, an often crazy and hectic place, especially for 18 year olds, many of whom have never set foot in an airport, let alone been on a plane.
Some will be there for only a few hours; others may spend the majority of the day there.
They often just need a handshake, a joke or a friendly smile, and Dan Carney, director of sales at Germantown-based PCC, and other volunteers for USO Wisconsin are there to be that friendly face.
“Our job is to be there for them for whatever they need,” Carney said. “We help get them their boarding passes, get them through security and get them to the USO Center in Concourse D.”
At the USO Center, recruits have an opportunity to call loved ones; enjoy drinks and snacks; watch movies or television; or play video games until they have to ship out, he said.
USO Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving active military personnel and their families. In 2015, the organization served more than 23,000 program participants and had more than 33,000 visits to its centers throughout the state.
Each year, USO hosts or partners with other organizations to host the annual Father Daughter Dance, The Christmas Exodus, Camp Hometown Heroes and several military appreciation events throughout the year.
USO events and its centers across Wisconsin exist to unify military families, and provide support and resources to active duty military personnel.
Carney spends several afternoons a month at USO Wisconsin, and while he has no direct military ties, he feels a strong connection to the cause.
“I’ve always had a deep respect for the military,” he said. “While I can’t offer advice on what these kids are about to go through, I can be there to listen, to laugh, to just talk to them and help any way that I can.”
USO Wisconsin serves more than 56,000 program participants each year. It has two full-time employees and relies heavily on the support of more than 145 volunteers, according to Josh Sova, executive director of USO Wisconsin.
“We have an amazing team of volunteers,” he added. “We truly would not be able to function without the work that they do. Most do it to say thank you to the military service men and women, but the impact they have on these people is immense.”
Carney first got involved with the organization in 2014.
“Given all they do, I just want to make sure they understand that I, the company I work for, and a large portion of the private sector is truly appreciative of the commitment they are making and the role they are looking to fulfill in the military,” Carney said.