A Haven For Travelers In Uniform
Sunday, June 8, 2008
If you're a member of the military, or a relative, and you plan to fly out of Reagan National Airport, you might want to get there early. Need to make a long-distance phone call or reschedule a flight? How about relaxing in a massage chair? You're in the right place.
The airport opened a United Service Organizations lounge in March. The USO, perhaps best known for entertaining troops abroad, is a nonprofit group that assists members and their families through a number of channels.
"It's a home away from home," said Elaine Rogers, president of USO of Metropolitan Washington.
The lounge offers such amenities as a flat-screen TV, massage chairs, a movie library, free books, two computers and a snack bar. The USO was incorporated in 1941 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, four months before National Airport opened. The airport went on to house a service members lounge for more than 30 years near the administrative offices in Terminal A.
The new lounge, on the terminal's ground floor, is larger and lighter, with sunlight pouring through the windows. The new location also has longer hours, opening at 6 a.m. and closing at 10 p.m., said Pam Horton, a USO airport services specialist who works at the lounges at National and Dulles airports. She also oversees 90 volunteers at National.
Volunteers there have seen an "incredible reaction" to the lounge, Horton said. "I've had a stack of comment cards that say, 'Love the new lounge,' 'Love the new lounge,' 'Love the new lounge.' "
"We were grateful for what we had, but this is so much better," Horton said. "Every week has been busier than the week before."
Since the lounge opened, the number of visitors has jumped from 350 to 850 per month, and the number of volunteers has almost doubled. The volunteers include veterans and college-age people unaffiliated with the military.
Volunteer Mike Brownell spent 40 years in the service, first in the National Guard and then in the Army Reserve before serving for two decades in the Army and retiring as a colonel.
"I had been served by USOs all over the world," said Brownell, 71, of Alexandria. "I was a big-time USO customer when I was on active duty."
Brownell, who retired in 1995, has worked the USO desk at National every Wednesday afternoon for two years. He didn't mind the old location but said he likes the new one a lot more. "The bright light coming in the windows makes it a lot more cheerful," he said. "This is better and easier to find."
But the lounge still seems far from the bustle of terminals B and C. So the location of the lounge is posted on airport maps, and the USO is working with Transportation Security Administration officials to guide service members to it.