Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military members pass through Washington Dulles International Airport each year -- many on their way to and from conflict zones. While many other airports have welcome centers providing services or a place to rest for traveling service members, until a few months ago, Dulles did not. VOA's Jim Bertel has the story.
Across from baggage claim 12 at Dulles Airport, the USO of Metropolitan Washington has opened a lounge for traveling service members. Congress established the United Service Organization to reach out to U.S. troops. Among its many services, the USO operates lounges at airports all across the country -- providing free services and a place to rest while waiting.
Colonel Daniel O'Brien was in Kosovo for more than six months. He returned temporarily to the U.S. for medical reasons. "I always stop at the USO usually when I come into the airport for military travel. And I sign-in, see what's going on. It's a good place to rest and all your soldiers are here and navy personnel, marines."
Melissa Reguiera is the airport services coordinator for USO at Dulles. Officials estimate the new lounge will serve 40,000 military travelers each year. "We basically provide hospitality services. We have free food and free water, hotel assistance, hotel rooms, free wireless. We have phones that call anywhere in the world for free."
Specialist Torian Watkins of the U.S. Army's 502nd Engineering Company is stationed in Germany. He needed help getting to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "Soon as I walked through the door I got a greeting and a 'How can I help you?' Then they took the information they needed, got on the phone, and got me a ride to Walter Reed."
The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority donated space for the welcome center. And USO-Metro raised money from donors in order to build the $500,000 lounge.
Volunteers, including Alivia Tagliaferri, staff the lounge everyday. She says it’s her way of giving back. "Basically I just wanted to give back in the best way I could. I wanted to help them help others and I think that they are a wonderful organization."
At the Dulles USO, Tagliaferri and other volunteers get a chance to serve and interact with members of the military. Visiting service members simply find a friendly place to relax.