USO Holiday Care Packages Hit the Deck & Deck the Halls
As a little girl, I grew up watching old WWII shows with my dad, like Flying Leathernecks with John Wayne and Baa Baa Black Sheep. I recall telling him that I wish I could have been a boy, so I could fly planes like they did on TV. I would thumb through my dad’s old photos from his army days in Korea, looking forward to my turn to serve. Military aviation was in my childhood soul. My dad shared with me the tales of the transit to Korea, sleeping in a hammock on a ship – sea sick all the way. These were the earliest memories of my dream of becoming a military pilot.
I went to college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and lived on campus, which was attached to the airport much like the FedEx facilities here in Memphis. As a member of Air Force ROTC, my heart was broken when I was told that my 5’3” stature was too short to fly. It was then that I looked to the Navy. I joined after college and became a helicopter pilot – fulfilling my childhood dream. They made sure that I could reach all of the controls- using anthropometric measurements.
I was initially assigned to Keflavik, Iceland and then San Diego, Calif. In my first 5 years in the U.S. Navy, I visited England, Puerto Rico and had port calls in Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Curacaos, Qatar, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Kuwait.
The travel was the adventure I had dreamed of – but the reality of being separated from home is the unvarnished truth. Connecting with family, particularly before email was readily available, was very difficult. We depended on cables for emergency news, and the USPS for routine mail. We lost touch with what was happening back home, for very long periods of time. That is why “Mail Call” always created a buzz. Every person on the ship would be anxiously waiting for that note from a loved one, or a package with necessities that were not available on the ship.
I recall being in the Persian Gulf during Christmas one year. We had just received the last mail call before the holiday. Sometimes it would take a few hours to sort and distribute the mail, bringing the anticipation to a fever pitch. Our designated mail person arrived in the hangar with a giant box. Our chief recognized that it was a USO care package and knew it would be loaded with goodies. I am thankful for his wisdom to take charge of the situation as he assured equitable distribution of the reindeer noses and antlers. From there, the stockings were hung with care all over the helicopter. We decked the hanger with boughs of holly and trimmed the tree with the gifted decorations, as well as some lovingly created ones of military hardware spares.
While it was not home, the spirit was there. The gift pack provided a respite of holiday cheer in the otherwise monotonous conditions of underway deployment. My shipmates and I each were able to share among us our own holiday traditions and enjoy the whimsical fellowship of our manufactured cheer. It is with fond memories that I look on those times, with that special group of people – my first Christmas on a ship.
If you want to send a message of encouragement to support our troops this holiday season, go to www.uso.org/message.