From staff reports
What would it look like if an entire military air terminal became a USO?
Service members flying through Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy, are finding out.
The USO opened the doors to its newest center Oct. 7 and will hold a grand opening Oct. 19. With little space for a traditional center – and weary military travelers often spreading throughout the terminal for hours while waiting for training flights or deployments – the USO decided to spread its services throughout the building.
The organization bolstered the Wi-Fi, installed four TVs with more than 100 high-definition channels throughout the terminal – thanks to USO partner TKS – and even established a coffee station outside the USO center.
Passengers wouldn’t have much to do without those amenities, according to USO Sigonella Center Manager James Hodges.
“Our little center makes the terminal come alive,” said Hodges, an Air Force veteran. “I think the one thing I didn’t realize … is how many people come through on a daily basis. There are people constantly coming in and out deploying or going on a training mission or taking hops to travel.”
The center’s operational tempo varies according to service members’ flights. While it’s open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Hodges says the center will also open up for many overnights and early mornings to accommodate large movements of service members.
The traditional USO center portion features hallmark snacks and drinks, along with two internet-ready computers and one of the terminal’s televisions. Add in a fridge, coffee maker and a printer “and the place is pretty much full after that,” Hodges said. Volunteers and center staff also operate the front desk, where visitors can get information about the local area.
The center will also provide outreach support to the local military community of 4,000, which is growing as NATO expands operations in the area.
USO Europe Vice President Walt Murren said the Navy asked him to look into what the USO could do for service members at Sigonella last year.
“When we looked at it, it was obvious that they needed a USO,” Murren said. “We did our homework and figured out how many people are traveling [through] the location, which each year has gone up.” Murren said roughly 33,000 people came through the terminal last year, up from 24,000 in 2012.
“Many of the flights come in at 2 o’clock in the morning, [and] we’re the only game in town to take care of people,” Murren said. “We’ve already seen people pretty happy [with our new center].”
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.