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USO celebrates military families

Military families celebrate the holidays at USO gathering at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek

By Mike Connors

Thomas O’Connor’s two young daughters were dancing up a storm.

Among a crowd that ultimately reached the thousands, Emma, 3, and Evelyn, 1, had found a prime spot Saturday on a basketball court at the Rockwell Hall gymnasium on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek. Dressed in bright red and green, their moves were drawing attention, and other youngsters were joining the fun.

O’Connor, who serves on the Navy’s Norfolk-based guided-missile cruiser Vella Gulf, had to corral the girls once or twice when they tried to make a break from center court. Other than that, he was able to stand back and smile.

“I don’t get a lot of this time,” O’Connor said. “So having this is fun.”

O’Connor’s family was at the base to enjoy an annual holiday party hosted by the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia. The USO is a nonprofit organization that aids military service members and their families.

From the morning into the afternoon, Santa saw a steady stream of children giving gift requests. Carolers sang nearby, serenading onlookers. Elf costumes, reindeer antlers and flashy Christmas-colored outfits seemed the norm.

Paula Moran, president of the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia, said organizing the party is a yearlong effort. The group handles a slew of tasks, from organizing volunteers to coordinating with food donors.

To Moran, the work is well worth it because it lets military members – who sometimes spend holidays away on service – time together with loved ones.

“Everybody serves in a military family,” Moran said.

William Hardison is serving at the Hampton Roads Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex in Chesapeake. When he saw a flier for the holiday party, he decided to bring his wife and four children.

The free snacks were a hit with the children, Hardison said. For him, the environment stood out. It was special having so many people in one room who all come from the same situations and could easily connect.

“You’re really building memories,” he said.

About noon, the Hardison clan got in line to see Santa. Kyle, 5, wore a shirt with a plea: ‘Santa, I was framed,’ it read.

Kyle’s face was painted on both sides, with reindeer and presents. He planned to ask for Legos and a scooter.

The popcorn had been Kyle’s favorite so far. But it had all been good.

“A lot of fun,” he said.

Source: PilotOnline.com