ommunity connections are the cornerstone of new USO of NC in Jacksonville Coastal Area Director Amy Leuschke. As far as bringing people together goes, the organization’s biannual fish fry, which took place March 8, was a great way to start.

“I want to carry on the legacy of the USO of NC Coastal Area,” said Leuschke. “Our events are becoming focused on community connections. This is another great way to connect to the community.”

Volunteers from the retired military community as well as active-duty personnel came together to serve dinners of fried fish, french fries, beans, slaw and hushpuppies to scores of hungry mouths. Volunteers operated fryers, packaged trays and delivered food to individuals calling in orders.

Food was donated by the Jacksonville Central Council, a group consisting of various longtime volunteers like Joe Houle, a retired Marine Corps sergeant major, and Paul Levesque, a retired Marine master gunnery sergeant, and other pillars of the community.

“It’s good people here,” said Luis Cisneros, a retired Marine master gunnery sergeant who came for the food and to see his former comrades. The bonds of community became apparent in their conversation.

Cisneros recalled the actions of his former commanding officer at Camp Johnson, Wayne Morris, a retired Marine colonel.

“I was a staff sergeant with the All-Marine Soccer team,” Cisneros said. “Col. Morris, he called me into his office one day and asked me what was going on with the team. I told him we had a game in Norfolk, Virginia. I didn’t think much of it but, lo and behold, there he was. He kept asking me, ‘What’s going on?’ and I told him. He kept showing up. He even came to the ceremony where I became a citizen on the Battleship North Carolina.”

“These are good people,” agreed Mike Marion, a retired Marine staff sergeant who served with Cisneros. “People need to step up and fill these shoes. Guys like Joe (Houle) and Paul (Levesque) and Tom Mattison. They’re big shoes to fill.”

“It’s good for the community,” Cisneros said. “It keeps it running.”

The future attended as well. Active-duty personnel from Logistics Operations School, such as Pfc. Denys Flores, helped batter and clean fish.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Flores said of her first time volunteering with the USO of NC. “It’s a great way to come together.”

She said she would definitely help in the future.

“You’re going into logistics?” Levesque asked of Flores, who split time between efficiently packaging meals for delivery and helping keep fish brined. “You’ll be great at it,” Levesque said.

Leuschke saw the growing connections in the community in her own way.

“I say this a lot, but, family is not who you are born into. It is neighbors, friends and people around the block. It’s the community. These people, the volunteers, they’re my family,” Leuschke said.

For more information about the USO of NC in Jacksonville visit https://northcarolina.uso.org/jacksonville.