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USO helps military as they travel, return to civilian life

The general public knows the combination of letters “USO.” Many even know the type of work the USO is involved in. But if one were to ask those individuals what the letters stand for, and where the organization is located in Southern Nevada, the answer might just involve a blank stare unless the person being questioned is involved with the local military or veterans community.

USO stands for United Service Organization, and employees and volunteers are engaged in providing a welcoming place for active-duty personnel who are traveling from one city to another while on duty. In Southern Nevada, the USO is inside McCarran International Airport, which, of course, makes perfect sense. That’s where annually thousands of servicemen and women find themselves traveling from one military post to the next, day in and day out.

As we go to press, the local USO director is Tim Mullin. He’ll soon be leaving for a new position with another organization, but under his leadership the past several years, the USO has grown, thrived and expanded.

I was there in 2010 when Wayne Newton helped open the initial location inside the airport. It was joyous occasion attended by many celebrities and elected officials, as well as military personnel. Gen. Frank Gonzales was commander of the Nevada Army National Guard at the time, and he explained to the attendees that when a serviceman or woman sees a USO logo welcoming them, “They are happy.”

Newton added: “It’s amazing what you can get accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

And so much has been accomplished since that opening day. Mullin noted that the USO has since opened a second location within the airport, allowing for easier access for the military, depending on what airline they are traveling on. In fact, the USO also has a third location, this one situated at Nellis Air Force Base.

More than just a lounge, Mullin explained that the Nellis USO offers transition services, personalized support to help service people and their families create plans for life after they leave the military. USO leaders assist transitioning airmen and others in developing personalized action plans, and provide help in advising about resources in the communities the men and women will be moving to.

“The transition services can include information about employment, education, veterans benefits, housing, financial plans, legal assistance and other topics,” Mullin said.

It’s often thought that the federal government finances the USO, but that is completely wrong, Mullin said. The organization is funded through corporate and individual donations. No tax dollars are involved. And most of the individuals who operate the facilities around the nation are unpaid volunteers.

Mullin has left the local USO in good shape, but help is always needed. For more information about donating or volunteering, call 702-261-6590.

Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.

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