ATLANTA -- For more than a decade, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been one of the key hubs for troops heading to and from war.
But as the war winds down, the Airport USO keeps going strong with a touch of home for thousands of military personnel.
But on Christmas there is a noticeable difference.
For more than a decade, on Christmas Day, The Hartsfield-Jackson Atrium has resembled a parade field as troops headed to waiting flights, on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan. It brought everyone to their feet with thunderous applause.
Now the troops are down to a scant few, most going home as the wars are winding down.
At the Airport USO, whether it is hundreds of troops or just a few, the hospitality remains the same.
USO volunteers range from Larry Thomas, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General, to more than 30 members of Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs. Tables are stacked with a full Christmas buffet no matter how big or small the crowd.
"We are very happy that we do not have a flight taking our troops into combat today," said Mary Lou Austin, USO President in Atlanta.
"It is definitely hard being away especially with the holidays during the holiday season. But you know in the military I guess it becomes like a way of life you have to be used to saying goodbye but you know that eventually you will see them again," said Ashley Deng, US Air Force, on her way back to her base in New Mexico.
"I like being with family but I like being with my brothers and sisters in arms too," added Kim Parker, Major, U.S. Army. He has just returned from his fourth tour in Afghanistan.
And for more than a decade, the USO's special Santa has not missed a beat.
He is Fulton County Superior Court Judge and Vietnam Navy veteran Jackson Bedford.
"I've got about 102 combat support missions and about 65-70 carrier landings, so I've put my time in too," Jackson said.
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