USO-BWI Joins 'America Supports You'
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
BALTIMORE WASHINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Md., May. 24, 2005 One of the military's largest support organizations joined the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program today during a ceremony here.
Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington, speaks during a ceremony for the five-year anniversary of the USO Gateway Lounge at Baltimore Washington International Airport on May 24. During the ceremony Rogers announced that the USO would be joining DoD's America Supports You program. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Today's observance also celebrated the five-year anniversary of the United Service Organizations International Gateway Lounge at BWI. America Supports You is a DoD program to promote support for American servicemembers at war.
"We're very excited about partnering with America Supports You, because one of the things that we want to do is to be able to show to our military personnel that there are so many people out there supporting them," said Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington. "Whether it is the volunteer at the BWI airport USO or the corporate contributor who is really saying, 'We support you; we want to do whatever we can to make your life little bit easier.'
"That's what today is about, to let the service personnel and their families know ... that America is supporting them."
Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communication and public liaison, relayed a personal message from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thanking the USO for its support.
"There are only so many things the Defense Department can do," she said. "And there are so many things that we have to rely on the American people to help us do. And that's what you (USO) do everyday."
During the ceremony, officials honored the countless USO volunteers who Rogers said have helped make the USO lounge here a success. She noted that about 300,000 servicemembers have passed through the center since it opened.
USO volunteers Coast Guard veteran Charlie Fink and his wife, Bina, have been volunteering at the center for more than a year. They have a son currently serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom as an Air Force C-130 pilot, and they offered their services because they wanted to support the troops.
"It's all about putting your arms around the kids and saying, 'Thank you,'" added Bina. "That goes for the women as well as the men. I'm really impressed with our women in the military."
Officials also used this event to recognize several corporate sponsors that have donated services offered at the USO lounge.
The Pentagon Federal Credit Union set up a no-fee automated teller machine, while computer giant Microsoft donated a computer room with free Internet access. Cisco Systems Inc. set up wireless Internet service, and MCI donated 15 mobile phones with free airtime for servicemembers to call home.
In return, the USO awarded each corporate sponsor with a U.S. flag that had been flown in Iraq. World Wrestling Entertainment, which has been a USO strong supporter, sent wrestlers Chris Nowinski and Ron Simmons to present each corporate sponsor with a championship belt.
New expanded services make the BWI USO International Gateway Lounge one of the nicest and an asset to servicemembers, Marine Sgt. Maj. Ray Watkins said. "This is a first-class facility and hopefully one that will be here for many more years for our servicemembers to enjoy," he said. "We really appreciate all the people who came together to make this place happen."
Army Command Sgts. Maj. Elvis Irby, garrison sergeant major for Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., and Esmond Bakker, garrison sergeant major for Fort George G. Meade, Md., two soldiers with over 40 years of service between them, said the USO has always been there to support the troops.
"The USO is great thing; it's one of the cornerstones of support for our soldiers and families," Irby said. "It's one of the best organizations we have to support us and our families."
Added Bakker, "When I first came into the military, (the Army) flew me to the airport and I didn't know where I was going to, and the first place I saw was the USO. And I went there, and they were there for me. ... The USO is always there in time of need. And they will continue to be there."
Both men agreed that today's USO is a far cry from what they were used to many years ago.
"They definitely changed. You could not make phone calls, sit and watch TV, e-mail your loved ones. A whole lot has changed, but it's changed for the better," Bakker said.
Said Irby, "From the time we came in 20-odd years ago, the USO has changed by leaps and bounds. They are definitely keeping up with the times. This is a great, great organization."