I walked into the Rocky Mountain USO at the Denver International Airport last week, to see a dozen or so soldiers resting, reading, and sleeping in this calm and well-stocked refuge far from the madding crowd.
Some of us can remember the family sitting around a black and white TV set watching a Bob Hope USO Special, laughing along with the watching troops, far from home as they were given an hour of respite from the toils of war.
The mission of the USO is to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families. They have been doing it since October 30, 1941, when FDR created the organization to provide the troops with emotional support. The USO has over 27,000 volunteers, who donated more than 1.375 million hours last year serving America’s troops and their families.
At the Denver Airport, 255 USO volunteers served 126,000 visitors last year alone. And won a 95% Guest Approval Award for their above and beyond service.
It is a beautiful place, nestled between the richly paneled walls at the entrance to the American Airlines Admirals Club (the official airline of the USO, thank you AA!) and British Airways Executive Club at the end of Terminal A. The moment you walk in, there is a smiling face at the reception desk where you sign in with your military ID. The club is open to servicemen and women and their dependents, including reservists and retirees.
Across from the reception desk is a wall display of “coins” (tributes about the size of a silver dollar, engraved with special honors that military men give out on special occasions throughout their careers) from Medal of Honor recipients, and rows of “coins” donated by visitors to the center.
Each new person entering the club is given the full tour – from huge X-box screens, to the luggage storage area, the children’s play area, a large room of extremely comfy looking recliners in front of wall-sized window looking down into the terminal, a view broken only by a large flat screen TV that visitors can watch while relaxing.
In the back is a foosball table, a computer room with printer, and a quiet, dark room for those who need to sleep.
Snacks and beverages fill the top of a long wooden counter, behind which are shelves of military memorabilia – autographed publicity shots of astronauts and military leaders, stuffed bears, hats and coffee mugs emblazoned with a variety of unit insignia, homage to those lost in battle, and framed photos of every size and shape depicting the heroic servicemen and women who have stopped into rest on their way to war or to nap between flights on their way home. Scattered tables offer cards and games.
One entire wall is glass, looking out into the atrium of Terminal A, down into the terminal train stop, and up at the giant art sculpture “Dual Meridian” with its curving tracks and Colorado stone, concrete landforms and tiled global map. Artist David Griggs - “I’m fascinated by transportation, its evolution has revolutionized our ideas about ourselves and the world.”
Bruce Conklin, Volunteer Coordinator for the Rocky Mountain USO, was preparing for a trip to Italy and Germany with his wife (also a USO volunteer) to visit USO sites and to visit our wounded warriors at Landstuhl Warrior Hospital and Ramstein AFB in Germany. In these days of political cynicism and economic uncertainty, it was a joy to meet someone so enthusiastic about the prospect of service to others, so proud of the work of the volunteers he brings together. When I asked to take his photo, he immediately rounded up volunteers Scott and Winnie to be in the photo with him. He’s a sharing kind of guy.
Above all, that sharing spirit hits you right when you walk in the door. These volunteers are here to serve soldiers, to lift their spirits – and Bruce and Scott and Winnie and all the others are clearly doing just that with their happy hearts. God bless the soldiers, and God bless the volunteers of the USO.
Visit the Rocky Mountain USO on Facebook at: Facebook.com/RockyMountainUSOatDenverInternationalAirport