By Brenda Flanagan
From Marilyn Monroe’s performance in Korea to Katy Perry’s Fleet Week concert in New York, the USO keeps American troops entertained but it also keeps them comfortable in more than 180 USO Centers around the globe.
The USO’s Show Troupe helped celebrate its newest center today — a safe haven for weary military travelers — at Newark Airport’s Terminal B, Level Two, Room Nine, open just in time to welcome Petty Officer George Layana back from Guantanamo.
“This is the best way to communicate with our families, saying, ‘Hey! We’re home!’ Newark Airport is actually one of the major international airports. Many of our personnel can actually come and relax after a long, long trip. So this is very new, and very valuable,” Layana said.
The center features a wall of cabinets, filled with snacks and goodies plus a microwave and fridge so service members and their families can grab a bite to eat, during sometimes long and unexpected layovers. The Port Authority helped carve out this 2,000-square-foot facility. There’s one at JFK Airport, too.
“We are at every major U.S. airport in the United States. We were not at Newark. And so that’s one of the main things. You know, our motto is, ‘Always by their side.’ And this is a place we need to be by their side, because we’ve got troops and families transitioning though Newark Airport,” said USO President and CEO J.D. Crouch II.
“The number of inquiries that we received from service members that are residents here that are traveling through this area — or that work here — they’ll share that information with us. And when we hear that we are going to be there, we’ll stand up a facility as quickly as we can,” said USO of Metropolitan New York President and CEO Brian Whiting.
Pillows and books create a corner for tired kids. And at the center’s heart, a comfort zone with recliners, a wide-screen TV and banks of computers. Wi-Fi’s free. Prudential kicked in more than $1 million to make this happen.
“This USO Center is so nice. It’s bright, it’s modern, it’s big and it really feels inviting,” said Jim Beamesderfer, vice president of veterans initiatives at Prudential.
“A place to rest, use the Wi-Fi. They just accommodate the service members and welcome us with open arms. They’re wonderful,” said Navy Reservist Kelly Beard.
The new center’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. but plans to go 24/7 as soon as they get enough volunteers. To sweeten the pot, they’re letting volunteers park right out here for free.