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Stepping Forward to the USO

Monday, March 24, 2003 at 9:55 AM

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Anti-war protests were staged throughout the state this weekend, and right here in northeast Ohio. Meanwhile some people in the area were busy working to support U.S. troops, or stepping forward to become part of the ranks themselves. ideastream's Renita Jablonski spent time this weekend at the local United Services Organization facility and filed this report.

Phyliss Hammerstrom is executive director of the Northern Ohio office of the USO based in Broadview Heights.

Phyliss Hammerstrom: I like to think that what’s exciting about my job is that I’m the conduit of the expression of appreciation and affection that the American people have for their troops.

The USO provides a variety of services for the men and women of the nation’s armed forces, as well as their families.

Phyliss Hammerstrom: This is full of letters and some of the Cub Scouts learned that the troops need these huge heavy-duty zipper-lock bags because it keeps their clothes from getting dust and desert everywhere so they just sent us all these things.

Hammerstrom has been busy organizing volunteers to go through donations, put together care packages for troops, and arrange local support group meetings.

Phyliss Hammerstrom: We’ve gotten word through the Army Angels from the Special Forces that those guys have been eating MRE’s so long that they would really love anything that’s like a season salt, this is like a garlic salt, tobasco sauce. One thing that everybody needs are those huge baby wipes because some of the people don’t have running water, haven’t had showers in probably 30 or 40 days.

The Northern Ohio USO is housed in a Military Entrance Processing Station. While Hammerstrom and her staff stuff boxes and take calls from families with loved ones stationed overseas, recruiters interview, do background checks, and give medical exams to prospects for all branches of the military. 20-year-old Edward Hess is from Erie, Pennsylvania. He arrived at the Processing Station at about 6 am Saturday. He played video games in the recreation room waiting for his name to be called. He’s getting ready to become a Marine.

Edward Hess: I’m eager to go over there actually, I just want to go over there and do my part as soon as possible so, like, I asked to be shipped out, I’m going to be shipped out Tuesday so I’m all ready.

This will be Hess’s first time away from home. His brother is already in Kuwait. He’s a Marine too.

Edward Hess: I think it’s something that needs to be done or we’re going to suffer later if it’s not, that’s how I feel about it.

Hess says he can’t help but feel angry when he hears stories of anti-war protests. A former Marine herself, involved in the end of the Vietnam era, Phyliss Hammerstrom has her own opinion.

Phyliss Hammerstrom: War is always hell and I don’t think anybody prays for peace like the soldier or the soldier’s family.

In Broadview Heights, Renita Jablonski, 90.3.

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