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Airport Lounge Welcomes Weary Military Travelers

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, Oct. 5, 2005 – Long layovers between flights can be challenging, but servicemembers passing through Ted Stevens International Airport here can seek refuge in the Atwood Military Lounge.

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Army Spc. Daniel Welch signs into the Atwood Military Lounge at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska. Welch had just completed the Primary Leadership Development Course at Fort Richardson, in Anchorage, and was awaiting his flight back to his unit, the Idaho National Guard's 1st Battalion, 183rd Aviation Battalion, out of Boise, Idaho. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Whether it's for a few minutes or a few hours, the lounge, operated by the Armed Services YMCA of Anchorage, welcomes weary military travelers from 8 a.m. to midnight every day.

"Just having a place to throw your luggage and meeting other military people, ... I think it's great," retired Army Master Sgt. Pauline Knauf said as she and her husband relaxed in the lounge before a recent flight to Chicago.

By presenting their military identification card, servicemembers, retirees and family members have access to some of the comforts of home while they await a flight. The lounge provides a TV area, a small business center with Internet access, light snacks, and a shower facility. With advance notice, the lounge can even accommodate a limited number of overnight guests.

Retired Marine Cpl. Nona Johnson has helped welcome the lounge's guests for 14 years. She's here every Tuesday and Thursday because she loves volunteering and meeting the servicemembers, she said.

She said she frequented similar lounges during her service from 1943 to 1946 and saw that they offered a comfortable place to wait on a flight.

"I didn't have a family (then), but I can imagine those with young children really appreciate ... a place (where) they can unwind and wait," she said.

Louise Hart, a volunteer for two years, keeps supplies stocked, including the kitchen.

"It's important for us to let (servicemembers) know that we're thinking about them and they have our support," she said. "We're giving back to those who are giving to us."

Johnson said sometimes military people passing through just need a friendly person who has gone through some of the same experiences.

"One little gal came in ... and she signed in and she had a recruit tag on her, but she didn't have any other ID," Johnson said. Nor did she have her travel orders.

"She was going to Parris Island, S.C., Marine boot camp, and I said, 'Tell me about it.'" Johnson said with a bittersweet chuckle. "She was so flabbergasted."

Johnson told the young Marine recruit to go on in and grab a cup of coffee. "I think it helps to be able to accommodate them when you've been there and done that," she said.

Visitors seem to appreciate the accommodations and often find thoughtful ways to show their appreciation. For instance, the wives of two Coast Guardsmen stationed at Kodiak Island, Alaska, made quilts and donated them to the lounge, Hart said.

"And people do donate paperback books, (and) they donate movies," she said. "We're always getting magazines."

The volunteers believe helping troops is reward enough for their efforts. Johnson recalled one servicemember returning home from Iraq. He was "home," she said, but wanted to shower and shave before seeing family and friends.

"He went out of here just 'on his toes,'" she said. "That sort of thing is rewarding."

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Related Sites:
Anchorage Armed Services YMCA

Click photo for screen-resolution imageLouise Hart (left) and Nona Johnson have been volunteering at the Atwood Military Lounge at Ted Stevens International Airport, in Anchorage, Alaska, for 16 years. They both said they volunteer at the lounge to give back to those who sacrifice to defend the country. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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