Today, my post is a bit of a departure. Last fall, I had the chance to talk with Linda Robinson, a wife, mother, and long-time volunteer from Dallas, Texas. Linda had accepted the mission of opening the first USO center in Iraq. The center is located at Balad, an enormous American base in one of the most hostile parts of the country. Linda and I continued corresponding through email once she was there; she’d graciously answered my questions, though managing the center demanded nearly all of her time and energy. She has a special interest in taking care of the troops in Iraq; her son is about to be one of them. Linda gives us a glimpse of downtime during war, reminding us how some Americans are spending their new year.
Here’s her story.
I had never been away from my family so the thought of being this far for this long was a big decision. My husband knew that I did not just flippantly decide one day to leave it all and go to Iraq. He knew that coming here was a deep calling that I felt from God.
Linda poses with two soldiers in Iraq. (Courtesy Linda Robinson)
Even though this is the first USO Center in Iraq, we still have troops come in who are surprised to know there is a place that provides them some of the comforts of home. All the snacks! My friends in Texas organized a chocolate drive and shipped us over four hundred pounds of chocolate. It was devoured in less than a month! We try to keep peanut butter and jelly out for them. They would rather fix a PB&J and sit here than go to the dining facility where there is every kind of food imaginable. I think they love being in a homey environment and having nurturing women to talk to.
We have this beautiful theater room with comfy chairs and yet the soldiers seem to prefer to sit in the lounge where the staff members and volunteers are and watch movies. I think it is because they are hungry to have someone to talk to…I should say to have someone listen. I hear the stresses that many of these troops face, the broken homes and financial struggles. In a typical day, we see pictures of their children, hear stories from R&R, and console a few broken hearts.
United Through Reading continues to be one of the most popular programs here. This is a program that enables the troops to videotape themselves reading a book to their children. The USO then sends the videotape/DVD and the book to the soldier’s family so their children can have the experience of their parent reading to them while they are still serving away from home. It may sound a little strange, but it is one more thing that we do to try and keep the troops and their families connected. The response here has been overwhelming. We filmed 601 recordings in July alone.
A soldier in Iraq reads a story to his child as part of the United Through Reading program. (Courtesy Linda Robinson)
The troops need to know that the American people back and support them! I would encourage others to find ways to encourage the brave men and women serving in our military. It can be something simple like sending a care package or prepaid phone card, participating in a deployment or welcome home ceremony at the local airport, or supporting the wide range of USO programs, all of which make life better for our young men and women serving in uniform. Whatever you do, our soldiers will appreciate knowing that you took time to think about them and their needs.
I love being here with the troops. They are all my sons and daughters. My son, John Micah, is at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and will leave for Iraq again [soon] for another tour. I see my [him] in so many of the troops. I watch them and wonder what my son would say or do in similar situations. I see the lines for phones and computers and marvel that my son would be so patient to wait in a line like that to connect with us when he was here in 2004. As I drive around the base, especially out by the wire that protects me from what is outside, I find myself praying for my son’s safety even now before he is deployed. I know the reality and know my son will possibly be out there and plead with God now to protect him. My husband has been my greatest encouragement. I am sure there were times when he would have liked to have told me to pack it up and come home, yet he supported me through the tough issues. Several times a week he sends me poetry.
First appeared on rd.com, December 23, 2008.