By Danielle DeSimone

Walking through the airport, you might see the USO logo on a door to a private lounge and think – what is that? What is the USO and what is it doing here? Who can use a USO lounge? And are those doughnuts free?

We’re here to break down the who, what and where of USO airport lounges and why they’re so important for our military service members.

Who can use USO airport lounges?

Since 1941, the USO - a charity organization - has served the active duty service members of our country’s Armed Forces, as well as their spouses and families, who are stationed around the world. We are one of the largest (and only) organizations dedicated to supporting the active duty military community, rather than veterans.

Many brave Americans have served in our Armed Forces. In fact, the latest U.S. Census data shows that there are currently 18.2 million veterans in the United States, and the USO is incredibly grateful for their service to our nation.

However, as a nonprofit, the USO has limited space and resources. Our USO airport lounges and the volunteers that work in those locations cannot properly support active duty service members and their families as well as millions of veterans and their families, too.

Although we would like to open our doors to all of those who have honorably served, as a charity charged with serving the active duty military population, we must remain committed to our 78-year old mission: connecting active duty military members to family, home and country. That is why only active duty, Reserve and Guard service members, as well as their families, are permitted to use our USO airport lounges and other locations.

USO volunteers at a USO location serve free tacos to service members.

What services do USO airport lounges provide?

USO airport lounges are made to provide comfort to the military community on their journeys, no matter where they’re going. At these lounges, which can be located before or after TSA security checkpoints, service members can find everything from free snacks and coffee to a comfy chair to take a quick nap. Most locations, which are typically staffed by friendly and helpful volunteers, feature televisions, video game systems and free Wi-Fi so visitors can use their own devices to check in with loved ones back home.

Additionally, some centers are open for specific hours each day, while other locations are open 24/7, 365 days of the year. Military family members passing through airports should do a quick internet search before they arrive to see the specific operating hours and amenities offered by the USO location they are intending to visit.

In times of extreme weather or family emergencies, USO airport lounge volunteers and staff often go above and beyond to help the USO visitors. In the past, they have helped stranded service members find a way home, offered to keep a location open past typical hours or simply helped entertain children so a military spouse could get a moment to herself to rest.

Photo credit Dottie White

Where in the world can you find a USO airport lounge?

Of the USO’s more than 230 locations around the world, more than 50 of these are USO airport lounges, which can be found at several major and local airports across the United States and abroad.

Many of these lounges are strategically situated at airports where new recruits leave or arrive for boot camp or deployments so that service members and their families have plenty of support from USO volunteers as they take the next step in their journey in service.

Why are USO airport lounges so important?

The strain of traveling can take its toll on anyone, but especially on our service members and their families. In addition to the daily stresses and duties of life in the military, many service members may be traveling far from home, or on their way to their next duty station or deployment. Military spouses may be traveling alone with their children while their spouse is out to sea. Some service members might just have had a flight delay and are now stranded with nowhere to go.

That’s where the USO comes in. No matter where they are coming from or where they are going, the USO is there to provide support to our nation’s service members and military community.