Sometimes, it is hard for Donna Gardner to hold back the tears. She's a mom.
You see, her youngest son, Jason Gardner, was in the National Guard for eight years. He was deployed to Guantanamo Bay and, in 2007, to Iraq.
"So I know firsthand what these soldiers go through," Gardner says, misting up.
So, she does what moms do.
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Every Friday, Gardner, 61, goes to the USO Armed Forces Lounge at Columbia Metropolitan Airport and does whatever she can for the young soldiers waiting to fly out at the end of their basic training at Columbia's Fort Jackson.
"They need a little tender loving care because they are just coming out of hell," she says. "I get them coffee, snacks, books, newspapers. Sometimes, they have problems with their tickets, and we help them. I just mother the ones that will let me."
The biggest joy, Gardner says, sometimes comes from the smallest comments.
"One day, we had a line out the door, and one girl said, 'You're the nicest thing we've seen in the past six weeks!'"
- Jeff Wilkinson, staff writer