Army Spc. Vanessa Torres | USO Kandahar, Afghanistan | SWA Region
Army Spc. Vanessa Torres
Kandahar, Afghanistan, can be a difficult place to volunteer. Service members’ priority is to complete their missions, which require long hours at work, travel around the region and helping out with leftover duties. That doesn’t leave much free time.
Yet even with all these challenges, Spc. Vanessa Torres still makes time to volunteer at the USO.
Torres prioritizes giving back to the USO despite the stresses of work and her constant travel.
“These trips require a great deal of emotional and physical energy,” said Emilia Kihslinger, USO Kandahar Duty Manager. “However, no matter how often she is required to go, Vanessa always returned to [Kandahar Airfield] with a bounce in her step and renewed dedication to USO Kandahar, our mission, and her role here.”
Torres is a shiny light in a dusty, hot world. She enjoys orchestrating both small and large-scale events. When a scheduling issue derailed a food order for a USO event, Torres stepped in to organize her coworkers over two days to acquire the necessary provisions. USO Kandahar’s Walking Tacos event was a success thanks to her actions.
When USO Kandahar hosts a race, Torres is the first to the site in the morning to help with registration, runs the race herself and then returns with energy to assist with the awards ceremony and clean up.
Torres’ relentless energy and organizational skills are in high demand, and USO Kandahar is elated that she chooses to donate her time to its events.
Ralph Nelsen | USO Osan, South Korea | PAC Region
If a service member has a permanent change of station (PCS) move to Osan Air Base in South Korea, they’re going to meet Ralph Nelsen.
Nelsen is one of the longest-serving volunteers for USO Osan’s Patriot Express Program. Nelsen mans an information table near baggage claim in the Osan Airport Passenger Terminal twice a week. There, he greets service members and their families with a warm welcome, and a wealth of knowledge about the area.
“He is legendary among airmen PCSing to [South] Korea through Osan AMC Terminal,” USO Osan Manager David Yoo said.
Nelsen, a former airman, was stationed at Osan in the 1970s. He not only knows the base like the back of his hand, but also knows the stresses of moving far from home. has made Nelsen into a reassuring presence and a connection to home for first-time PCSers.
When he’s not welcoming newbies, Nelsen helps with events and managing the USO center. In 2010 when there was a staff changeover, Nelsen stepped in to open and close the center for five months, ensuring that service never faltered.
Before his role at USO Osan, Nelsen was a volunteer at Camp Humphreys. He was integral in the creation of their most popular program, Humphrey’s Lunch Box. This program serves up free food to service members and families on the base.
If you ever find yourself at Osan, look for Nelsen, he’ll be the one smiling in baggage claim.
Melissa Simons | USO Bavaria, Germany | Europe
Melissa Simons volunteers a lot.
In just two months, she’s put in 200 hours for the USO Bavaria centers at Camp Aachen and Grafenwoehr. She’s also earned the moniker of “Bavaria’s Inventory and Organizing Guru.”
If it can get alphabetized, arranged by size, or sorted by date, Simons has done it. Because of her work, video games, DVDs, marketing materials, reception desk binders, in-kind donations, food, program supplies, and more, are now easily available to USO staff, volunteers – and, most importantly – service members and their families.
Simons orchestrated the arranging of care package items by expiration date, resulting in 400 care packages being ready to distribute to redeploying single soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. Simons sorted DVDs by rating and popularity, creating an inventory template that could be easily updated as new donations came in. In less than four hours, she organized the collection to 311 catalogued titles.
With summer in full swing, Simons has assisted with programs such as Welcome Back Barbeque, USO Father’s Day Barbeque, Hometown Barbeque and the USO’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations. She also handled the distribution of 500 free Paul McCartney concert tickets to service members and their families at a live American Forces Network Bavaria event.
“She frames certificates, cuts fruit, runs errands, takes pictures, trouble shoots equipment, sweeps, cleans, and picks up trash,” USO Bavaria Area Director Carly Harris said. “Quite simply, Melissa gets things done.”
Army Staff Sgt. Ahmed Rage | USO Fort Campbell | CONUS
Staff Sergeant Ahmed Rage was exceeding expectations as a new volunteer at USO Fort Campbell. Then they checked our records.
It turns out Rage has been a USO volunteer for more than eight years, donating 4,450 hours at three USO locations around the globe.
Rage enlisted in the Army in 2008 and was assigned to Fort Drum, New York. After only a week, he was deployed to Iraq. While en route to Iraq, his unit stopped in Kuwait, and Rage wanted to contact his uncle in Somalia to let him know he arrived safely. A fellow soldier told him USO Camp Ali Al Salem could help him out.
Rage has been hooked on the USO ever since. Rage began volunteering at USO Fort Drum when he returned home. When he later deployed to Afghanistan, he started volunteering at USO Bagram.
Injured in an explosion, Rage was sent to Walter Reed Hospital and then back to Fort Drum. But he kept volunteering. In 2012 the Army moved him to Fort Campbell, where he quickly became a familiar face at the USO, sharing his loud, infectious laughter and beaming smile.
As a non-commissioned officer in the Army, Rage often takes time to help junior enlisted soldiers at the center. He teaches them not only the skills they need to be a great soldier, but to be a kind and compassionate human being as well.
MaLissa Harris, USO Fort Campbell’s center operations supervisor, says Rage is, “a perfect example of a devoted, selfless, humble volunteer.
“He sets the bar high for other volunteers.”