USO hosts troops for holidays at Sunday's Stingrays game

USO sends troops to Stingrays game

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- With Christmas over, many troops from the Lowcountry were not able to make it home for the holidays, but thanks to a partnership between Verizon and the USO, nearly 300 troops had a chance to celebrate with the South Carolina Stingrays.

On Sunday, hundreds of troops lined up to march into the North Charleston Coliseum. As they walked in, the troops were handed tickets to the night's game, a chance to sit back, relax, and cheer on the Rays.

"There are some troops who just can't make it home for a variety of reasons. Either they don't have time off, or they can't afford to get home for the holidays. Some don't have a home to get to, so this is just an opportunity for them to relax a little bit and enjoy the holidays," said Karen Schulz, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.

The USO has been providing special holiday events for Lowcountry soldiers for years; this is the fourth year the organization has traveled to Charleston.

"These young men and women for so many of them have never had the pleasure of coming to a hockey game. They have no idea what they're in for but they are so darn excited after a two-hour bus ride down," said Joanie Thresher, the director of USO South Carolina.

"To come and see this game and be part of this game and to have all these fans just welcome them so open warmly just means so much."

For two troops only a month into the Army, Stephanie Zel Valle Pena and Nathan North says they miss their families but they're grateful for the help of the USO.

"It's really awesome that I see that people really care about the military and what our troops go out there and do," Pena said.

"If I was at home, I'd be eating a lot of food laying on the couch not doing anything so this is definitely worth it right now -- every bit of it," North said.

For many of the troops, this is their first Christmas away from home so volunteers hope with a simple gesture they know their service is not taken for granted.

"It means so much to these men and women they tell us, 'Why would you do this for us? Why? You don't know me,'" Thresher said. "Well, we do know you. You're wearing the uniform and you're protecting all of us so that we could be here today."

The holiday Stingrays game is just one of the events the USO hosts around the state every year for troops who are stationed in South Carolina.