Story and photos by Ken Carter
Military members and their families throughout Colorado Springs looking for a “home away from home” need look no further than nearby Fort Carson.
Not far from Gate 1 off Hwy 115, they’ll find a spectacular facility featuring great food in their snack bar, an Xbox 360 game room, a billiards table, a state-of-the-art WIFI Internet café, a movie theater room, a conference room, a children’s room and, most importantly, down-home friendly volunteers who offer warm welcomes to service members and their families.
“Our longstanding tradition of bridging the gap with the American public and our military families is accomplished through the United Service Organizations facilitating a place to relax, decompress and enjoy the amenities of five-star treatment,” said Center and Program Manager Phil Martinez.
The USO staff’s primary goal is to gain exposure for the facility, open only since September, to get the word out to surrounding installations and the Air Force Academy that all are welcomed.
“We will continue to invite more volunteers to become part of our wonderful team dedicated to giving back to our troops,” Mr. Martinez said, and that giving back is intended to benefit all U.S. service members and their loved ones.
For many years, in the interest of morale boosting, the USO has catered to military members around the globe through big-name entertainment, most notably, the legendary Bob Hope. That tradition continues at home and abroad with special guests dropping into the Fort Carson facility as recently as Tuesday. Basketball and baseball Hall of Famers Rick Barry (HOF 1987) and Goose Gossage (HOF 2008) hung out with soldiers fielding questions, sharing their views on the importance of supporting U.S. troops fighting the Global War on Terror, signing autographs, and for a couple hours, assimilating into the military way of life. These legendary athletes were visiting soldiers and their families through the local USO right on the heels of country music star Darryl Worley and comedy sensation Carlos Mencia.
Rick Barry knows more than a little about the secrets to family success and said, “Seeing how families have to deal with troops being gone for extended periods of time and what an incredible sacrifice they make leaves me very grateful for their service.” Mr. Barry, the father of four boys who’ve all gone on to play professional basketball, also appreciates the intense challenges within the profession of arms. When asked about his underhand free-throw technique throughout his basketball career, with a success rate as high as 94.7 at one point, he said, “It’s the only part of the game (free throws) where a player can be selfish.” His record-breaking success with the technique that many laughed at made him one of the toughest all-round players in the history of the sport.
Mr. Gossage, who also recognizes tough when he sees it, refers to baseball as, “just a silly game.” He says visiting Vietnam era veterans, meeting members of the Wounded Warrior program and travelling to visit troops in combat zones, including bunkers in Kosovo, has helped him keep life in perspective. “Being in bunkers with 18-year-olds prepared to fight for America is really shocking.”
Although neither Mr. Barry nor Mr. Gossage was thrilled about the political climate that can lead nations to declare war, they were both passionate about expressing their appreciation for those who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to defend our nation’s freedom.
Among those hearing the sports icons speak was Army Pvt. Thomas Byrd. “There’s an aura, a mystique, in hearing what these guys had to say. After hearing them, from their perspectives as hall of famers, you can put a lot of stock in what they say.”
Despite opening its doors as recently as Sept. 26, more than 16,000 visits have been tallied in the still sparkling facility that also features wide-screen TV and leather furnishings among many other perks.
According to Air Force Academy Class of 1983 member and the Director of the Denver and Fort Carson USOs Joe Aldaz, he’s working to get more cadets aware of the facility as well.
“We’re working, particularly with various people in Academy athletics, to try and set up evenings where entire teams can come down for a couple hours and enjoy this great facility,” he said.
With a relatively small staff overseeing the operation, Mr. Martinez has nothing but praise for the more than 130 volunteers who serve the troops locally. Volunteers are the heart and soul of this organization, and part of a worldwide force of more than 44,000 volunteers,” he said.
There’s plenty more up the sleeves of the USO staff in the way of future programs and more invited guests.To find out more, visit the USO Web site at: usofortcarson.org or call Mr. Martinez at 719-306-1898.