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USO aims for happy landings at airport

The United Service Organization, more prominently known as the USO, likes to advertise to the men and women in uniform that “No matter where you choose to go after your military service, the USO will make it feel like home.” That’s because although the USO’s mission is mainly to help active-duty personnel and their families as they travel from duty station to duty station and from airport to airport.

The organization also provides transition advice. That advice, known as the Pathfinder Program, is there for the asking. It’s available to members of the Reserve, the National Guard, active-duty units, as well as to military spouses and dependents.

Las Vegas USO Center Director David H. Thorson explained that, “We help troops that are transiting out of the military into civilian life. We help them in a sort of a one-on-one concierge type service. We help connect them with employment, education, certification, whatever resources they need.”

Military spouses are also helped with Pathfinder, as they have to “transition effectively” every time their service member has to move to a different base, he said.

At McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, the USO has two facilities where members of the military can rest and rejuvenate their energies before moving on to their connecting flights. A third center is at Creech Air Force Base.

In Nevada and at USO centers at airports in other states, visitors are offered a safe, comfortable environment. Once there, service members and their families have access to food as well as “soft drinks, water, internet connections, gaming stations, an area for kids to entertain themselves, and a sort of a theater room, which is more of a napping room,” he said. There are also guitars available for soldiers who are musically inclined.

Thorson said that the USO has about 250 volunteers in Southern Nevada and “it would be impossible for us to do what we do without them.”

The facility in Terminal One is open 24/7 and could not operate without the many volunteers who staff the location, he said.

“A lot of our volunteers are veterans,” Thorson said. “Some are spouses of veterans, and some are even active duty.”

He added that many volunteers never served in the military and they consider their time at the USO as a way to give back to the armed services. Another way for individuals to get involved is by donating soft drinks and snacks, lip balm, wrapped candy, video games, deodorant, deployment kits that include toiletries, and in-kind donations.

Companies can also become financial sponsors to the USO, which is a registered nonprofit charity and receives no money from the federal government.

“You have to remember these people are normal people, and they have the normal needs that all of us have. The difference is that they can get called up and told, ‘You’re going to Afghanistan in two weeks. Pack your bags and get going.’ They don’t always have the time and the resources to prepare for that. So anything we can do to help really makes a difference,” Thorson said.

Each week thousands of people are helped at the facilities, as well as by outreach activities. For example, each month the USO treats families that are left behind when their service members are deployed to one of the local buffets. Another outreach project is Operation Doughnut Drop, where a local doughnut shop provides the pastries to an individual or a military unit that has demonstrated exemplary service.

When it comes to financial donations, anything is accepted and welcomed, he said. Anyone who wants to get involved is encouraged to go to https://volunteers.uso.org or https://lasvegas.uso.org and fill out a brief application. It’s an opportunity to provide service to a service organization.

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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