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Soldier up for USO volunteer of year

Four finalists picked from pool of 26,000

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POSTED: January 19, 2014 8:00 a.m.
Photo by Denise Etheridge/

3rd ID deputy commanding general Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, far left, thanks Fort Stewart soldier Spc. Raymond Castle, a USO Volunteer of the Year finalist, for lifting soldiers’ morale. Also from left are Savannah USO Chairman Ray Gaster, Castle’s son Tyler, Castle, his daughter Leeah, wife Amy, oldest daughter Morgan and son James.

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Fort Stewart soldier Spc. Raymond Castle is an easy-going kind of guy, always ready to lift the spirits of fellow soldiers, even in a war zone, according to Georgia USO President Mary Lou Austin. Castle logged more than 440 USO volunteer hours by leading card games, video-game competitions and sporting events while deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, Austin said. He even donned a Statue of Liberty costume for the July 4 holiday.
“It’s good to help fellow soldiers who don’t have as much downtime as me,” Castle said.
The USO (United Services Organizations) is a private nonprofit founded 1941, according to usogeorgia.org. It provides morale, welfare and recreation services to military personnel and their families, according to the website.
Castle was awarded the USO Volunteer of the Summer Quarter for the Southwest Asia Region designation and was named one of four finalists for the national USO Volunteer of the Year award during Tuesday’s ceremony at post headquarters on Fort Stewart. Castle was unable to receive his award at a November gala dinner in Washington, D.C., because he had redeployed to Fort Stewart, Austin said. During his deployment, Castle was a wheeled-vehicle mechanic assigned to the 766th Ordnance Company (explosive ordnance detachment) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“He didn’t even know. He wasn’t even here,” Austin said. She added that he wasn’t easy to track down, but once they found him, presenting Castle with the award and informing him of his status as a national-award finalist before his peers on Fort Stewart was “just perfect.”
“It came as a complete surprise when I found out,” Castle said.
He decided to volunteer for the USO when he and his wife, Amy, experienced the kindness of USO volunteers when he boarded a plane for a deployment to Iraq. The young soldier said a USO volunteer led them to a USO lounge at a busy airport, where they could relax and “feel at home.” Then, after he went through security to board the plane, he looked back and was concerned because Amy was visibly upset over the parting.
“I texted her to make sure she was OK, and she said a USO volunteer was there to comfort her,” Castle recalled.
The Georgia USO president said Castle is one of four finalists selected from more than 26,000 USO volunteers for the Volunteer of the Year honor. Austin said the USO is divided into four regions: the Pacific, Europe, CONUS — which includes the 48 contiguous states in the United States and the District of Columbia — and Southwest Asia.
“It’s a friendly face in a sometimes-unfriendly environment that makes a difference,” said Brig. Gen. Peter Jones, 3rd ID deputy commanding general – support.
Jones also recognized longtime USO volunteer Mary Nelson Adams, who was named the USO Volunteer of the Year in 2008. Adams has been a local USO volunteer for more than 10 years. She greets and bids farewell to soldiers arriving and departing from Hunter Army Airfield.
Adams, a Savannah-area native, said she has been involved with the USO since the mid-1950s, and met her late husband through the USO.
She said she views men and women in uniform “as if they’re my children.”
“I can go home to a warm bed,” Adams said. “They (deployed soldiers) can’t.”

 

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