San Diego Opens Largest USO Airport Center in the World
Thursday, June 27, 2013
By Joseph Andrew Lee
Before a young man bound for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego lays eyes on his first drill instructor, he is introduced to a USO volunteer at the San Diego International Airport.
“It’s both the happiest and saddest day of a young recruit’s life,” said Brig. Gen. and MCRD Commanding General Daniel D. Yoo, at Wednesday’s grand opening of the USO Neil Ash Airport Center. The center is a new 10,000-square-foot USO facility located just outside the San Diego International Airport.
“It’s the happiest day when they are introduced to some of the warmest people on this planet: USO volunteers. Then it quickly becomes the saddest when they step off that bus onto the yellow footprints to meet a creature called a [drill instructor].”
Open 365 days a year, the new airport center in San Diego will provide support to more than 125,000 troops and their families annually. Its primary customers will be those Marine recruits headed to or coming from boot camp.
Amenities like a luggage room and expanded restrooms were much-needed upgrades included in the new center. High-speed wireless Internet, barbecue grills, Skype access and complimentary snacks and refreshments are all available, too. The center has even installed monitors listing airline departure and arrival times so troops can track changes to their flights.
San Diego’s Fox 5 anchor Paul Bloom functioned as Wednesday’s master of ceremonies and explained to the crowd exactly what the new center will mean to troops passing through.
“They may be 18, fresh out of MCRD with a one-week pass home or they may be 48, passing through on their way home from their fourth tour of duty overseas,” he said. “They may be hungry. Maybe tired. Maybe the plane was delayed. Maybe they’ve got to make a phone call some place to let someone know that they are still OK. Whoever they are, they are military, they are our people and this is their home away from home. This is their haven.”
The sculptures placed throughout the new center were made possible by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s Public Art Program. Created by coLAB Studio, 15 large sculptures represent individuality, community and connectivity. Inspired by interviews conducted between the artist and troops, the collective installation represents all Americans as a small, connected community.
“Looking at this wonderful facility, I think about the enormous support the airport authority and the San Diego community provide for our military, their families and USO San Diego,” said USO Neil Ash Airport Center Director Bobby Woods. “It’s incredible.”
Like its predecessor, the center is named in honor of Neil Ash, a World War II and Korean War veteran and the visionary behind the creation of the first USO center at San Diego International Airport in 1990. After 10 years of service on the USO’s national board of directors, Ash recognized a gap in service in the San Diego area, where 20 percent of Navy and Marine Corps forces were stationed.
“The truth is here in front of you,” Ash said before cutting the ribbon to the new center. “My time has been well spent in this most worthy cause of establishing and maintaining the high stature of a San Diego USO airport center. It is wonderful to be in an organization where you have a lot of competent people who know the USO mission so well. I can relax and I can rest assured that our troops will have a home here in San Diego for a very long time.”
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Photo caption: Neil Ash prepares to cut the ribbon Wednesday evening at the grand opening for the USO Neil Ash Airport Center at the San Diego International Airport. (USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee)
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