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Army Master Sgt. Ellie Walbridge briefs troops just arriving in Qatar for the beginning of their four-day Fighter Management Pass. Walbridge is the program's Morale, Welfare and Recreation supervisor.
Army Master Sgt. Ellie Walbridge briefs troops just arriving in Qatar for the beginning of their four-day Fighter Management Pass. Walbridge is the program's Morale, Welfare and Recreation supervisor. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar — When Army Master Sgt. Ellie Walbridge came to Qatar, she couldn’t believe the state of the facilities being used for the four-day Fighter Management Pass Program.

The welcome center was in a large, dirty, open-room warehouse with no air conditioning, said Walbridge, the program’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation supervisor.

It wasn’t the proper facility to welcome combat troops looking for a four-day break from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

“I thought ‘What are we trying to represent here,’” she said. “You want to create an inviting, relaxing atmosphere so [the troops] can come here and not be uptight.”

To create the right atmosphere, Walbridge went to the camp’s top NCO, Sgt. Maj. George Ponder, and said she wanted to make things better. He quickly gave her the go-ahead.

The first step was moving the offices and welcome center for the program. She said the chapel and chaplain’s offices had just moved out of the other end of the building, and that area was complete with offices and A/C.

Another improvement made was increasing the staff to work on the rest and recuperation program. When Walbridge arrived, she said, there were only two people manning the offices. Now, she has a staff of 11 soldiers from the Wisconsin National Guard’s 232nd Adjutant General Higher Headquarters Detachment.

Walbridge, who many here say really lit a fire under the program, said her troops have been told that making the men and women coming here happy is top priority.

“If they’re not providing good customer service and smiling all the time, they don’t need to be here,” said Walbridge, who volunteered to deploy.

Walbridge left the active service in 1999 after more than 12 years, but remained part of the service with the Reserve in Minnesota, drilling with Headquarters, 3rd Brigade.

She said when she saw what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, she volunteered to go; instead, she was told she would serve stateside. She admits she was disappointed, but that quickly changed when the Army called and asked her to pick between Iraq and Afghanistan. She chose the latter.

Things once again changed for Walbridge as she was told she was going to Cuba. But she was thrown another curveball less than two days before she was to leave. That’s when she found out she was coming to Qatar.

“I want to be here because I love ’em. ... We owe them so much,” Walbridge said of the troops that serve in Iraq and Afghanistan as tears filled her eyes, showing her concern for the young men and women.

“I volunteered because I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore, it should be me there, not these young kids who haven’t experienced life yet.’ I want them to go home to be with their families, to be safe and feel good about what they’re doing. But I know it’s not all going to happen.”

Walbridge’s enthusiasm and energy don’t go unnoticed.

Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Corbett, the camp commander, says she has taken the program to another level.

“She came in with a new set of eyes and saw how we could improve the program,” Corbett said. “She is dedicated to treating these servicemembers like the heroes they are. The way she approaches the work, you can tell it’s straight from the heart.

“I consider her a hero for the way she’s treating our deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.”

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