Published Articles: A Man of Service: Ray Gaster

By Sue Brown

 

Ray GasterI don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. —Albert Schweitzer
With the ever increasing use of texting on our cell phones and Instant Messaging, also known as IM-ing on our computers—we use more acronyms than ever before. Some of these grouped letters that represent longer phrases will make an appearance in new versions of the dictionary. We easily recognize “LOL” as laughing out loud, “BTW” as by the way, and “brb” for be right back. I was curious as to how many folks knew the meanings of an acronym that we often take for granted or have seen for years, yet are really unsure what the three letters represent. Late one recent Friday afternoon, I conducted an informal poll outside of a very busy supermarket in Richmond Hill.
The query was a simple one: “What is the meaning of the initials USO?” After all, who uses more acronyms than the Military? Without fail everyone said it had something to do with the armed forces. Few actually knew the extent and depth of this organization or more importantly the correct meaning of the letters USO. The acronym means United Services Organizations and not the more popular answer of United States Overseas or something similar to that. It’s not so much about stars and celebrities that go over to entertain and support our troops, but about doing something for our country right from home. Our town, which is in close proximity to Ft. Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field is home to many soldiers and retired military.
The USO of Georgia is a private, nonprofit organization; it’s the way Americans support their troops. Our local USO, Savannah Chapter, which began in 2002, a few months after the World Trade Center bombings of 9/11/2001, is fortunate to have as its Chairman, Ray Gaster. A Richmond Hill resident, Ray had a desire to help those families affected by the bombings in New York City. With proceeds from an excess inventory sale at his lumber company, Gaster Lumber, it was suggested that perhaps a good use of the monies would be to start a Savannah USO chapter. It seemed evident that America would soon be involved once again in warfare. The suggestion quickly became a reality.
As a former Vietnam helicopter pilot, an OCS (Officer Candidate School) graduate, Ray was in the 4th class to complete flight school at nearby Hunter Army Air.
Soldier abot to embark overseas
After serving our country for five and one-half years, he completed his education on the GI Bill at Armstrong Atlantic University. This year, his successful business celebrates its 25th Anniversary. Douglas MacArthur in a speech before Congress said, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Perhaps, just as many don’t fade away at all, but continue to serve our country in other capacities. That for certain is Ray Gaster. Although he readily credits his volunteers as the reason the local chapter is so successful, it is important to mention that any organization is only as good as the person at the top.
The slogan: Until Every One Comes Home has long been attributed to the USO.
Founded in 1941, the USO provides morale, welfare, and recreation services to military personnel and their families. Its volunteers and members are committed to improving the quality of life for those military families in service to our country. “Often the last face a deploying U.S. soldier sees is a USO volunteer,” Ray acknowledged. It matters not whether a U.S. solder is deploying to foreign soil, arriving home for R&R (rest and relaxation), redeploying from active duty back to home—the volunteers give thanks and gratitude in the send-off and an equal warm welcome when they come back home.
In the last eight years, the local USO has seen off approximately 100,000 soldiers. They have provided care packages, served refreshments, handled travel and lodging details, and most importantly given all military men and women a warm smile and sincere gratitude. Mitchell Bush is the current President of USO of Georgia, the Savannah Council. Further adding honor to our local USO chapter is Mary Nelson Adams honored as the 2008 USO National Volunteer of the Year.
365 days a year, Soldiers, Marines, Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard receive support from the USO. As Georgia has one of the largest military populations in our country, it follows that many volunteers are needed. There are opportunities for all of us to serve—as our Servicemen already do—our country, in many capacities from home. Group volunteers, clubs and business groups, local business that can provide refreshments, corporations and civic minded individuals all can serve our country. Of course, monetary donations are most welcome and can be made at any time.
Ray Gaster strives to maintain standards and professionalism within this volunteer organization. Let us learn from his example of service to our country and his continued service to our community. Thank you, Ray. You are so appreciated for all you have done and continue to do.
To volunteer or donate funds:
USO Council of Georgia, Inc.
340 Eisenhower Drive
Building 300, Suite A
Savannah, Ga. 31406
Tel: 912-303-9119

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