Officials Laud USO Lounge's State-of-the-Art Security System
By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2003 Military, federal, Maryland and United Service Organizations officials gathered at Baltimore/Washington International Airport Sept. 8 to celebrate a state-of-the-art security system at the USO's International Gateway Lounge.
The system, donated by Honeywell, includes a video surveillance system as well as automatic door locks and a card-access system at the main entry doors.
It's important in today's environment to recognize the need for increased force protection, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Terry Scherling, deputy director, anti- terrorism/homeland defense, Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who spoke before the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"It's a thrill to be here today," added the general, who said she'd used the services of the USO lounge a couple of years ago while en route to southwest Asia. "The USO is important to service members and their families. When we think of home, it brings us some peace and happiness and hope. When our families know that our service members are remembered and that their efforts are appreciated, it makes our families feel better as well. The USO does that every day."
Unfortunately, we've all become painfully aware that Americans both at home and abroad are increasingly the targets of those who wish to do harm to our country and its citizens, said U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes.
The new security system is a "much-needed improvement" and will help ensure the safety of military and families at their "home away from home here at the USO lounge," he added. "The USO runs a wonderful center here. We're very proud of it."
There was no "greater project" for Honeywell, according to Tom Buckmaster, vice president for communications. "There's nothing more important than supporting the men and women of the armed forces and their families."
The new system is "fabulous," according to Elaine Rogers, president, USO of Metropolitan Washington. "We're in the big leagues, and this is how it should be (so we can) protect our volunteers, our military personnel and their families."
The International Gateway Lounge, a 5,000-square-foot facility, processes 250,000 service members a year. It is the largest gateway, or staging point, in the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command, which manages military air transportation around the world.
Rogers said the USO couldn't staff the lounge if it weren't for dedicated volunteers. "We have the best group of volunteers you've ever met in your life," she added. "They are so dedicated to serving military personnel and their families. It is an honor to know them and work with them."
Mia and Dieter Horstmann spend, on average, two days a week helping out at the USO lounge. "It keeps us in touch with the military," said Mia, who added that Dieter served 27 years in the Army. "The USO is a good thing. It's very gratifying, especially now. They (soldiers) all need a hug when they go (to Iraq)."
The volunteers of the BWI USO also help distribute care packages to troops going overseas. Dubbed "Operation USO Care Package," the goody bags contain an assortment of items to include prepaid international calling cards, disposable cameras, toiletries and sunscreen, as well as copies of messages of support from the American public.
While local companies donate items, volunteers -- including soldiers from Headquarters Command Battalion at Fort Meade, Md. -- put the bags together.
The USO provides an excellent service, said the battalion's command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Andrea Marks. It creates a family-friendly environment and is especially nice when military travelers have a long layover, she added. So far this month, 9,300 care packages have been distributed.
After the ceremony, Scherling and Sarbanes joined USO staff in the international flight area, where they distributed the care packages to troops who were waiting to check their bags.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Howell, Sgt. Matthew Schmidtka and 2nd Lt. Tracy Yates of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky., were among the recipients.
Howell, a mortar man, said he'd gone through the package and put what he needed most toothpaste and mouthwash -- in his duffle bags. "The camera is nice," he added, "I'll find something to take a picture of."