Red, White & True Blue: USO of North Carolina keeps families connected

1/2 Photos


2/2 Photos


Nancy Pardue, Cary Magazine - About 60 young Marines step into the bustle of RDU International Airport, lugging camouflage duffels and wiping sleep from their eyes. They’ve traveled overnight from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and are headed to duty stations at Camp Lejeune and elsewhere.

Many are new to the mobility of military life, but Cathy Sheppard of Cary is there to help them navigate. She points them toward food and rest at the USO of North Carolina center, located in space donated by the RDU Airport Authority.

“When my grandson Ryan (a 2011 graduate of Cary High) joined the Air Force, it was devastating to send him off. I saw the USO and thought, ‘I could go there,’” said Sheppard, now USO of North Carolina’s Triangle area volunteer of the year. “Now for every person I help here, I hope that someone is helping Ryan.”

USO of NC volunteer Sarah Blazewicz USO of NC volunteer Sarah Blazewicz keeps visiting Marine recruits Mitchell Pieniazek, Raul Ferrer Castro and Jacob Griffin fed with pizza and sandwiches donated by area sponsors. Lining the walls of the center are murals made from actual military photos, depicting the history of the USO of NC.

One of 11 USO of North Carolina sites in our state, the RDU center is separate from the national USO organization. It’s an independent nonprofit operated by volunteers and reliant on individual and corporate donations and sponsorships.

Its number one goal is to serve all troops stationed in or traveling through North Carolina, from Marines to “Coasties,” and their families.

“Our center at RDU is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” said director Patricia DeZetter, also of Cary. On average its staff of two, including DeZetter, and 350 volunteers assist 5,500 service members each month.

“Our tagline is ‘The Force Behind the Forces,’” DeZetter said. “We’re here for them, so they can focus on their mission.”

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