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Jacksonville, NC, USO is 'surrogate family' at Thanksgiving

By JANNETTE PIPPIN | The Daily News | Published: November 28, 2019

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — The USO has been a home away from home for Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Roberts in more places than one.

While stationed in Guam, he celebrated Thanksgiving with other deployed service members at the USO there and while back in his home state this year, Roberts said due to his work schedule while stationed at Camp Lejeune a trip to the mountains to see his family there wasn't possible.

So Roberts, his wife, Judith, and their 1-year-old daughter, Erin, spent the afternoon at the USO of North Carolina Jacksonville Center.

Roberts said that when you are at a USO you are with other service members and their families; others who know and understand the separation that can come with military service, whether you are stationed far from home or deployed and away from family and friends.

"I think they do a good job filling the gap and creating that sense of family and unity," Roberts said.

On Thursday, the USO center on Tallman Street was filled with activity as volunteers served up a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey and ham and all the fixings for all the active duty personnel, veterans and retirees as well as family members as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade played on television.

The USO expected to serve as many as 2,000 meals at the center and through delivery to Camp Devil Dog for service members in training.

The mission of the USO is to strengthen America's military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country and Coastal Area Director Amy Leuschke said the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner is the perfect example of doing just that.

"We love being a surrogate family to everyone," Leuschke said.

Leuschke said they are also thankful for the band of volunteers and donations from the community that make the day possible.

This year the USO cooked up 140 turkeys and 60 hams for the Thanksgiving Day feast.

"Every year we plan to feed 2,000 people and couldn't do it without everyone's support," she said.

Retired Marine Ammon Stitzer of Jacksonville attended with his wife, Carol, and their son, Shawn Stitzer, who served in the Coast Guard, as well as their grandchildren, Cameron, 9, and Charlotte, 13.

"I used to volunteer here when I was active duty and we love coming back and being around all the Marines and sailors and all the military service members," Stitzer said.

Stitzer said you meet people from all over and from all branches of service and once you meet you have a friend for life.

"We're all a family," Stitzer said.

John and Linda Swett were among the volunteers.

"I volunteer to give back. I'm retired Navy and want to give back to the troops," John Swett said.

Congressman Greg Murphy, NC-03, stopped by the USO before joining family for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Today is Thanksgiving and I just wanted to say thank you to our military service members, veterans and retirees for the sacrifices they made and continue to make for our country," Murphy said.

©2019 The Daily News (Jacksonville, N.C.)
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