Nestled in the main terminal of the Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, near A and B gate security, is a haven of warmth, safety, and hospitality known as the USO airport lounge. The Las Vegas center, which opened on Veterans Day 2010, serves active duty military, their families, and veterans as space allows.
USO Las Vegas is, according to Doug Bradford the USO Las Vegas Center Director, a transitional facility which serves five military installations within a 300 mile radius; Nellis and Creech Air Force Bases, Yermo Marine Supply Depot, 29 Palms Marine Air Ground Support Facility, and the Fort Irwin National Training Center, as well as the Nevada National Guard.
“Because it is transitional,” stated Bradford in a recent interview, “our volume base is less and our audience is primarily active duty and their families, with strong support from retirees and veterans.” At USO centers operated on military installations, such as Army posts, the participant community is built in. According to Bradford, the Las Vegas airport lounge is a stopover facility for most people, without the same amenities as a post center; which means there are fewer resources for supporting the USO mission. The Las Vegas USO airport lounge has two desktop computers, where a post will have a computer room. The lounge has three video game consoles, a large screen television, a snack bar, and available WiFi. Although the Las Vegas USO airport lounge does not have a sleeping room, showers, or large reading room, the facility does offer toiletries, and does give out books.
As with any USO center, it is the volunteer base that makes it operate. According to Marianne Wojciechowicz, the Las Vegas USO Programs Manager, volunteers logged over 24,776 hours in 2011 for the Las Vegas USO. There are currently 163 active volunteers with the Las Vegas center, and another 40 on a waiting list. However, the need for volunteers continues to grow, according to Wojciechowicz, as community outreach efforts grow.
Said Bradford, “Our volunteer base is about 90% former military, 5% who have someone in the military, and 5% mix of ROTC and active duty. They are required to serve at least four hours, minimum, per week…16 hours a month. This is required because all volunteers must possess a McCarran International Airport badge and they cost $53 each.”
At the airport lounge, volunteers primarily serve at the front registration desk signing in and welcoming visitors, giving them a tour of the facility and resources, and providing nourishment at the snack bar, which serves salads, sandwiches, burritos, and beverages. Volunteers are also responsible for following the policies and procedures set out by the USO, such as keeping the airport center clean and orderly. There are also two standing committees which volunteers can participate in; Families of the Fallen, and Homecoming and Deployment.
“For most of us who either have had military experience or have had family members in the service, working at the USO is our way of paying back,” affirmed Bradford. “We may be a bit older to join, but this is our way of giving to the war effort. Our troops and their families, especially with the incredible sacrifices they make with an all-volunteer military, need as much support as we can give. They put their lives on the line every day; their families suffer long periods of separation; and often troops go on three or four tours of duty. But that is just part of it. When troops return, there are often obvious physical injuries, as well as unseen mental injuries.”
Bradford continued, “I am fond of saying the USO is there from the day you sign your papers to the day you leave the service...and then some. Yes, the USO is famous for providing celebrities and centers, but what most folks don’t know is we provide 10 other programs designed to keep families connected, give our troops as many of the comforts of home as possible, and to let them know that America does not take for granted, and should never forget, what these brave men and women do to maintain our freedoms.”
One of the programs Bradford and his team are proud of is the program McCarran Airport management initiated in December 2011, called the “Sundries for Soldiers” campaign. Employees from Clark County, McCarran airport and the airlines donated more than 1,500 pounds of toiletry items they collected in bins located at the three gate facilities within the airport. Troops are able to use these items at their ultimate training destination, or when they transition to a new duty assignment.
USO Las Vegas expanded the program further, with the assistance of the local Transportation Security Administration (TSA), by unofficially creating the “Drop a Drink for the Troops” program. According to a conference paper written by management of USO Las Vegas, any unused, unopened, liquid items over three ounces; such as water, soda, energy drinks, etc., which cannot be taken through the checkpoints, is requested by TSA Agents to be gently dropped into one of the eight collection bins. Twice a day, USO Las Vegas volunteers empty the bins; sanitize and wash the bottles; and then store the items. Bottles generally range in size from six to 20 ounces, and anything over this size is saved and given to U.S. Vets; a local homeless veterans organization which serves a great need in the Las Vegas Valley.
The “Drop a Drink for the Troops” program has been so successful that USO Las Vegas has been able to supply the USO airport lounge and is now considering replacing their soda machine with a countertop refrigerator, which will save $500 per month. And throughout March and April, USO Las Vegas has been able to donate about 3,000 bottles of water, soda, and electrolyte replacement drinks to Nellis Air Force Base for Red Flag Exercises, and to the U.S. Vets two-day Homeless Stand Down program.
USO Las Vegas is always in need of volunteers and donations to assist with program operations. In order to maintain their toiletry supplies for the troops and their families, USO Las Vegas seeks items such as travel size containers of shower gel, hand sanitizer, shampoo and conditioner, lip balm, deodorant, and hand & body moisturizing lotions; as well as food supplies for the snack bar such as individually wrapped hard candies, Slim Jims, microwave popcorn, and gum. To get information on volunteering opportunities visit the USO Volunteer website. To view the full USO Las Vegas wish list, contact the Programs Manager, Marianne Wojciechowicz, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and to make a financial contribution in support of the Las Vegas USO, visit their donation site online. To discuss a corporate partnership, contact the USO Las Vegas Center Director, Doug Bradford, at email@example.com.
The USO Las Vegas airport lounge is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year!To learn more about the center and center activities, visit USO Las Vegas on Facebook.