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Volunteers at Osan Air Base help the staff at a Red Cross canteen set up to provide physical comfort and encouragement to troops of Army's 2nd Infantry Division as they prepare to leave for the Middle East.

Volunteers at Osan Air Base help the staff at a Red Cross canteen set up to provide physical comfort and encouragement to troops of Army's 2nd Infantry Division as they prepare to leave for the Middle East. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

Volunteers at Osan Air Base help the staff at a Red Cross canteen set up to provide physical comfort and encouragement to troops of Army's 2nd Infantry Division as they prepare to leave for the Middle East.

Volunteers at Osan Air Base help the staff at a Red Cross canteen set up to provide physical comfort and encouragement to troops of Army's 2nd Infantry Division as they prepare to leave for the Middle East. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

At the Red Cross canteen set up at Osan Air Base, South Korea, troops of Army's 2nd Infantry Division grab a snack Tuesday while awaiting a flight to Kuwait.

At the Red Cross canteen set up at Osan Air Base, South Korea, troops of Army's 2nd Infantry Division grab a snack Tuesday while awaiting a flight to Kuwait. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

Troops of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division enjoy a board game and free snacks and beverages at a Red Cross canteen at Osan Air Base.

Troops of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division enjoy a board game and free snacks and beverages at a Red Cross canteen at Osan Air Base. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — In a few moments, a dark-haired airman would walk in and tell them they had 10 minutes for a last smoke or trip to the latrine, but for now the hundreds of soldiers in desert tan uniforms sat relaxing in the big white tent.

The troops were part of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry’s Division, which is deploying the 3,600 troops of its 2nd Brigade Combat Team to Iraq.

The airlift of the brigade, known as the Strikeforce, began here Monday and is expected to last about a week. The troops will pick up their tanks and other combat equipment in Kuwait, then move into Iraq.

Transporting all of them is, almost inevitably, a process that entails stretches when the troops had to wait, including two hours or so for their flights at Osan.

To help make the Strikeforce troops comfortable during those few hours, the American Red Cross station at Osan set up a canteen in two big tents. They did it with help of the division, the Air Force and volunteers at Osan and Camp Humphreys, a big U.S. Army helicopter base about 40 minutes away.

“This was a team effort,” said Wilfredo Solis, director of the Osan Red Cross station.

The Red Cross put out tables with free snacks and drinks. The Air Force provided tents, lights, generators, fans and recreational items such as cards and board games, Solis said. The Army had a contractor bring in plastic chairs; various community organizations on base, including officers’ spouses and Family Services, also helped, he said.

“I really like it,” said Pfc. Sacarra Pusey, 19, of Upper Marlboro, Md., a supply clerk with the 2nd Forward Support Battalion. “The people here are really friendly. Seem pretty down to earth. Before I even got to this side, they were carrying the food and bringing it to us so we wouldn’t have to stand in line.”

Pfc. Timothy McLaughlin, 25, of Hollister, Calif., is a wheeled vehicle mechanic in the same battalion.

“Especially since we’re deploying, they’re trying to make us as comfortable as they can,” said McLaughlin. “It helps keep morale up, especially with what we’re gong through with this deployment.

“We don’t have that much time to be with our families, so when they do something like this, it really helps,” he said.

Such canteens have distinct morale value, said division commander Maj. Gen. John R. Wood, who was at the base Tuesday for a flightline farewell.

“It demonstrates the community’s care for our soldiers,” said Wood. “It frankly helps them in the transition from the training that they’ve done, to the mission they’re about to undertake.”

The Strikeforce recently completed intense training tailored to conditions in Iraq.

What he saw of the canteen, said Cpl. Raymundo Arjon, gave the feeling that somebody cares. “In this day and age, support is truly excellent,” said Arjon, who had just finished a chicken salad sandwich and chips and still was drinking from a green can of Welch’s lemonade. The 23-year- old from Moorpark, Calif., is in Company B of the same battalion as Pusey and McLaughlin. He repairs fire control systems on Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

Arjon called the effort the best Red Cross campaign he’d seen yet. “It takes the support of other airmen and soldiers, and they make it better for us because they know what we’re going through. They have some type of idea. Either they’ve been through it or they have family members who are going through it now.”

For instance, Solis, the Red Cross director, is a veteran of the first Gulf War. “So pretty much, I know what these soldiers are feeling because I was in that same seat, in the other side of the room looking at another Red Cross person, saying” to himself, “‘Wow, they’re sending me to war.’”

Solis got a phone call July 27 from an officer in the 2nd Infantry Division. “They called me and said ‘Could you guys set up canteen services for 2nd ID troops?’ and I said ‘Well, sure, we’d love to do that. When is this happening?’ And they said, ‘Well, you’d need to be operational Monday, August 2nd.’ And I said, like, ‘Ooohkaaay.’”

With a green light from Red Cross national headquarters in Washington, D.C., Solis got with the Air Force, which already was working on plans to provide meals and housing in case troops hit lengthy flight delays.

Solis also sent e-mails requesting volunteers from the Air Force at Osan and from Camp Humphreys. “I think of the kind of missions that these servicemembers are going to have in the very near future,” he said, “I mean, this was the least we could do. … I’m thinking it’s to let the servicemembers know that there are people out there that really care for them.”


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