USO Opens Lounge at Dulles Airport

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2007 - The United Services Organization of Metropolitan Washington officially opened its much-anticipated lounge at Dulles International Airport here today.

The USO is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad

More than 400 servicemembers and military family members took advantage of the lounge during its first week of business before it officially opened. With the airport seeing heavy military traffic, the USO is a welcome sight, said Donald C. Winter, secretary of the Navy.

"Up until the opening of this USO, Dulles was the airport most heavily used by uniformed personnel in the United States that did not have a (USO)," Winter said. "(Servicemembers) really do appreciate the type of support that they get from the USO.

"So having that capability here and being able to help, in particular many of the young kids that may be traveling for the first time in their lives ... it's important, it makes a difference, and quite frankly, it's the least we can do as a grateful nation," he added.

Winter was a Northrup-Grumman executive when Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington, talked to him about the possibility of a new USO at the airport. Nearly four years and more than $600,000 in donations from various corporate sponsors later, servicemembers will finally find a piece of home at Dulles.

"Our first two weeks of operation of the numbers that we have had go through this lounge ... this is huge," Rogerssaid of the lounge's "soft opening." "To these service personnel, this really is their home away from home."

Because one of the airlines that serves Dulles has a direct flight from Kuwait, Rogers said the lounge has seen a lot of "walking wounded." In addition to those returning with minor injuries, the Dulles USO also has been able to help the families of injured servicemembers flying into the area en route to Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.

After the ribbon cutting officially opening the USO for business, Rogers thanked all the donors that made the lounge possible. Key donors included the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which donated what Rogers described as "prime real estate" for the lounge, Verizon Business and Cisco Systems Inc.

"From a very personal experience I can attest to what the USO means," said Chris Browne, vice president and airport manager for Dulles International Airport, Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority. The former Naval aviator recounted a story of a float in the Mediterranean lasting 93 days with no port calls.

"Somewhere in month two, the USO came out to the Eisenhower with some prominent entertainers of the time," he said. "To see Steven Stills play an acoustical version of 'Southern Cross' on the hangar deck ... was truly remarkable, and it would have not been if not for the USO and the supporters of the USO."

The new 770-square-foot facility at Dulles is located on the arrivals level across from baggage claim 12. Troops can get information and assistance, a snack, watch a movie and make unlimited domestic and international phone calls. Business services, including wireless Internet, photocopying and faxing, also are available.

Servicemembers who attended the ceremony were excited to see the facility open. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Alison Smith said the USO at Dulles will help young servicemembers the way it helped her.

"When I was a private 21 years ago, I needed the USO," said Smith, who serves as the senior enlisted soldier in Headquarters Battalion on Fort Belvoir, Va. "I was on assignment for Korea (and) I'd never been on a plane before in my life.

"They always told us if you have any problems, go to the USO," she said. "After my first flight ... I went straight to the USO. My next flight was the next morning, so at that time they provided us a place to stay right there at the USO."

She said the advice she received 21 years ago is still valid for servicemembers traveling today. With the opening of the new facility that advice is much easier for servicemembers to heed. Troops now have USOs in each of the three Washington metropolitan area airports, Baltimore-Washington International, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Dulles International, if they're in need of assistance or just a place to relax, Rogers said.

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