Behind The Scenes

In Honor of Memorial Day

Editor’s Note: Karol Sucec, administrative assistant in Communications, enlisted in the Navy Reserves in November 2003 as a Yeoman (Administrative). In December 2009, as a member of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Twenty One, she was activated for mobilization. After training in Port Hueneme, Calif., she was deployed to Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan for eight months in 2010.

Memorial Day weekend had always been just a long weekend for me – one of the few weekends of the year when I got an extra day off from school and work to either stay home and relax or do some spring cleaning. It was also the weekend our pool opened, officially marking the beginning of a very hot and humid summer.

While deployed to Afghanistan last year, my attitude towards Memorial Day changed in a much more meaningful way. I was far from home, and there was no day off, nor pool opening. It was this experience, surrounded by my fellow comrades that taught me the importance of this day and why we should remember those who have died while serving in our military.

In honor of Memorial Day, I had the pleasure of speaking with USO representative Rich McCarty and Sr. Airman Avery Brown, who are both currently serving at Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan. McCarty gives his insights on what this day is like for those currently deployed overseas, while Brown, who has been deployed since March and also served a tour in Iraq, shares her perspective as a sports fan and how she stays informed while so far from home.

FR: How does the USO help our soldiers based overseas commemorate Memorial Day?

McCarty: Any celebration would take place in between shifts, to give those working the morning shift the chance to attend after being relieved, and those working the later shift attend before reporting to work. In an effort to engage everyone, we have outdoor activities such as scavenger hunts, volleyball, bean bag, etc. These activities can run all day, giving everyone a chance to participate.  We also have a movie marathon, prizes, and even facilitate with poker tables, as well as a barbecue.

FR: What does the USO have planned for this Memorial Day?

McCarty: On Sunday, the 10th Mountain Division, a light infantry division of the United States Army, will be having their own memorial, typically a barbecue for the unit. The USO will be providing poker tables along with prizes. On Monday, the USO will host outdoor activities for service members.

FR: Can you describe a particularly memorable holiday celebration?

McCarty: Fourth of July 2010 in Bagdad, Iraq. The USO center is located in the airport, and all incoming and outgoing traffic is through this airport. Some service members would be stuck in the airport for more than 12, or even 24 hours. We at the USO decided to come up with activities to offer some distraction. Someone dressed as Uncle Sam and gave away phone cards worth 300 minutes so that service members could call home. We also held contests, in which the prize was an iPod, and to the airmen working at the airport, we gave monster drinks to thank them for their hard work. In all, it was a fun day. We brought some distraction to those tired and homesick faces and had the chance to share some laughs before they went on to continue their journey.

FR: How does the USO bring some sense of normalcy to service members?

McCarty: The USO center itself is a way for the soldier, airman, marine or sailor to kind of get away. The way the center is decorated is very different from everything else around. It is more like what we would see at home – a living room with couches and a fireplace (though not real wood), and carpeting. The walls are painted in colors other than beige or white, and are decorated with hanging pictures. The lighting in the living room area allows for relaxation, and there’s also a variety of books available.  Within the center we also have a quiet room, and a theater.

FR: ESPN is available through the Armed Forces Network. Do service members watch much ESPN?

McCarty: Very much so. ESPN allows the service members to stay in touch with part of what they enjoy back home. Baseball Tonight, live game coverage, and SportsCenter all mean a great deal out here. Members of all branches gather around the living room to watch the games during their free time. Rather than going back to their living quarters, many gather at the USO center and interact with others

FR: How long have you been at Kandahar Air Field and what is your job?

Brown: Since the beginning of March. I was in Iraq last year. I wasn’t home even six months before coming to Afghanistan. I am military police for the base.

FR: What’s surprised you most about your Afghanistan tour of duty?

Brown: Kandahar Air Field is like a city. There are a lot of people from different nations.

FR: What does Memorial Day mean for service members who are overseas?

Brown: For me, Memorial Day means pride and appreciation.

FR: What are your favorite sports and how do you stay connected while you are deployed?

Brown: Basketball and football. I actually make it a point to watch the games. For example, during March Madness I would switch my shift with others, even if it meant staying up late to watch the games because of the eight and a half hour time difference.  Thankfully, there’s also, and that’s another way to keep up to date.

FR: Are there any Fantasy Sports players in the units?

Brown: I am a huge fantasy football player. For morale, I create playoffs brackets for my unit and the internet allows me to stay up to date with stats.

FR: What do you enjoy most about what’s available on ESPN?

Brown: I love the highlights

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