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U.S. Soldiers Trek Through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Stay Connected to Family While Serving in Iraq at Holidays
By Roishina C. Henderson

Modern-day technology, special meals and entertainment lightens the homesick atmosphere in Iraq for U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Antwan Foster during the holiday season.

“They do a lot for us here during the holidays to help us deal with the time away, like having special meals and entertainment to get our minds off of the fact that we are not home,” said Foster, a 35-year-old Alabama native who passed through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently on his way back to duty in Iraq. He will not be home for the holidays this year. “Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to be away, but this isn’t the first time I have been away. So I guess you can say that I am used to it, but that doesn’t make it easier,” Foster said.

Sgt. Foster

“It’s not as hard these days to stay in contact with family and friends. Even in the most remote parts where I am, you can make contact. We have the Internet and technology has made it easier for us.”

While Foster and other U.S. military soldiers receive tokens of love to ease their holiday blues, the United Services Organization (USO) of Georgia, Inc. in Atlanta is trying to do the same. Housed at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, USO of Georgia supports all branches of the military while seeking to enhance the quality of life for U.S. armed forces personnel and their families.

USO Council of Georgia President and Chief Professional Officer Mary Louise Austin said it’s not uncommon for her to see as many as 500 to 1,000 soldiers on any given day, especially during the holiday season. “It’s really a privilege to be that vehicle to serve these men and to support our soldiers,” said Austin, a military wife who met her husband in Germany.

For U.S. Army Platoon Sgt. Robert Sepulveda, he counts the number of days he’s away from his wife and three children, the youngest of which is less than a year old, who live on a North Carolina Army base.

“It’s hard leaving them,” said Sepulveda, a 29-year-old Arizona native who was headed to Iraq for the third time. “These days, I rely on phones and Internet to keep a family connection until I can get back home.”

Sgt. Sepulveda

Douglas Johnson, a U.S. Army infantry specialist from Tennessee, keeps his communication with his family the old-fashioned way—handwritten letters.

“I get letters from my mom and sister, and I like receiving something in hand,” said Johnson, a 20-year-old who was headed to Iraq for his second time. “During my down time, I sleep or watch DVDs. Sometimes, it can get scary out here (in Iraq), and I’ve had a couple of bad experiences. But I’ve made friends in the Army, and they are like my second family— my brothers. So that helps.”

Sandy Aycock, a volunteer at the USO Georgia office, greets soldiers, gives out care packages and does whatever needs to be done.
Mary Austin
USO Council of Georgia President and Chief Professional Officer Mary Louise Austin with two soldiers.
“I believe in what they’re doing in fighting for our country,” said Aycock, who has no family members or friends in the armed services.


© 2007 Hartsfield-Jackson News. A Publication from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. All rights reserved.


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