By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett
Veterans Day is that special time of the year when the nation celebrates the service and sacrifice of veterans with special events and parades. But what happens in the days beyond November, when hundreds upon thousands of service members return stateside from deployments abroad.
Thanks to the United Service Organization (USO,) the inconveniences of active duty military families at home or deployed in other countries are lessened through a range of support services at more than 180 locations across the world. Three of these USO centers are located in Port Authority facilities: the Port Authority Bus Terminal, John F. Kennedy International Airport and the newest service center, a warm and inviting space in Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).
Newark Liberty’s Deputy General Manager Doug Stearns recalled how he first discovered the USO years ago. “Some of my fellow soldiers and I were granted a weekend to spend in New York City. We were delighted to discover there was a USO that would put us up for the night, not only because hotels at the time were pushing our budget, but because of the hospitality and familiar environment the USO provided.” Because of the USO, he said, “we were able to stretch our limited resources to experience much of the great culture the city had to offer.”
USO CEO & President Brian C. Whiting said, “The reality is, without the incredible support we receive from the PA, we wouldn’t have USO centers at some of the major transportation hubs in the region. We rely heavily on the people who work at the Port Authority, who are often first to volunteer at our events at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and at the airports.”
Earlier this year, in an effort spearheaded by Port Authority Aviation Director Thomas Bosco, the PA donated 2,000 square feet of space to the USO to house the new Newark Liberty center. “Our contribution to the USO demonstrates our deepest gratitude and reverence for all members of the U.S. armed services. God bless our troops,” said Bosco, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, and is a recipient of the Bronze Star for meritorious service in a combat zone.
Besides space, additional contributions for the service center came from JetBlue Airlines. Gensler Architects designed the space and Turner Construction built it. The new center has computers and communication technology, allowing loved ones to connect via Internet or telephone, play a video game, catch a movie, use baby changing stations, have coffee or just put their feet up and relax. Although each USO Center is slightly different, visitors can usually find comfortable seating, reading materials, TV, recreational activities, snacks and friendly volunteers.
James Munday, the Airport Operations Division Manager at Newark Liberty, is also a 21-year U.S. Army veteran. “It is an honor and a privilege to have a USO center where the Port Authority can say ‘thank you’ to our active duty and retired men and women who have served our country,” Munday said. “Newark’s new home away from home is just a small token of the extreme gratitude we have for them. On this Veterans Day, we remember their sacrifices.”
The USO is seeking volunteers to work four-hour shifts at Newark Liberty and at other USO centers. For more information or to apply, go to volunteers.uso.org.