One of Us: USO airport operations head runs an 'important oasis'

July 10, 2012, Charlie Patton's Blog

During his 24-year Navy career, Jim Bury rarely traveled by commercial airline.

As a special electronics operator part of the crews of P-3 Orions and S-3 Vikings, he spent his entire career stationed in Jacksonville.

But today, Bury spends lots of time in an airport, the Jacksonville International Airport, where for the last 1? years he has been director of the USO's airport operations.

After retiring from the Navy and spending five years as a civil service employee, he had retired when Bob Ross, development director for the USO in Jacksonville, persuaded him to take the job at the airport.

"This is the best job I ever had," said Bury, 58. "I think I have the most important job in the world."

He works out of an office on the ground floor. Service members traveling through the airport can stop there to relax, enjoy snacks and soft drinks, watch television, go online, have conversations via Skype.

"For some service members, this is the last stop before Afghanistan," he said. "It's an important oasis."

He's the only USO employee at the airport, so he relies on volunteers to help keep the office open 7 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

"I don't do anything compared to what the volunteers do," he said.

Usually, he receives no notification that a current or former service member is traveling through Jacksonville.

"I never know what's coming through the door," he said. "It can be anyone from a Tuskegee airman to the new recruit to someone who was in a battle zone 24 hours ago."

But when Bury does know that a service member is coming home, he and his volunteers will take signs and flags to greet the returning warrior.

On one occasion, he accompanied a young mother and her 10-month-old baby, dressed in a sailor suit, to greet her husband, returning from Afghanistan. As the woman met her husband, she held out the child, Bury remembered, and said, "I want to introduce you to your daughter."

"We make memories every day," he said.

Probably his most serious duty is to "take care of fallen warriors' spouses and parents."

Though the casket of a fallen warrior doesn't come through JIA, family members traveling to meet the casket often do. There's a separate room, called "the quiet room," where Bury puts the families so they can be "away from the public eye."

The room is decorated with a flag that flew over Al Taqaddum Air Force Base in Iraq.

"It's the most important space we own," Bury said., (904) 359-4413