The USO Is a Traveling Milfam's Best Friend

Many years ago, my daughter and I flew to a December dance competition in Dallas, Texas. Because my daughter was a late addition to the competition's registration list, I could not book a nonstop flight. I chose a layover in Houston because, well, it wasn't Chicago, or Detroit, or some other city known for severe winter weather. What could go wrong?

You guessed it. Houston was hit by a freak snowstorm, and my daughter and I were stuck in the airport for more than eight hours, waiting for our flight to be cleared for takeoff. I thought about renting a car and driving north to Dallas, but decided that if the airport couldn't handle a snowstorm, Houston drivers couldn't, either.

Fortunately, the airport directory included a listing for the USO lounge, so that's where we waited out the snow delay. My daughter played Guitar Hero and ate the free snacks the USO lounge provided. I charged my phone and checked the monitor screens to make sure I had the latest information on our flight. We watched the USO volunteers tell soldiers, sailors and airmen to settle into lounge chairs and take a nap. The volunteers tagged each chair with a Post-It note indicating when the chair's inhabitant should be awakened. When a frazzled mom with two young children arrived, trying to get information about her flight to Germany, a USO volunteer helped her get that information and gave her a phone card so she could call her German relatives for free and let them know that her flight was delayed. Everyone who entered that lounge received a warm greeting, an invitation to relax and enjoy a snack and an offer of truly useful help. I was amazed, and I was filled with gratitude for this warm haven filled with friendly people. When our flight finally departed, my daughter was still smiling, thanks to the kind folks who ran the USO lounge and the cheerful military members who stopped to talk with us. 

Since that day (yes, we made it to the competition in time, and she was happy with her results) I have been thankful for the USO's presence in our communities. Many airports have USO lounges that help active duty military members and their dependents relax, email family and friends, give small children a place to play, watch TV and get up-to-the-minute flight information. The USO also has offices on military bases. These offices serve as focal points for community events, outreach programs and morale-boosting opportunities.

Overseas USO offices offer tours and special events that are open to active duty/dependent military ID card holders. Depending on location, DoD ID cardholders may also be eligible to participate. 

Veterans and retirees may or may not be allowed to use USO lounges and services; access is location-specific. Your best bet is to go to the USO airport lounge or local office, show your ID card, tell your story and ask for the assistance you need. If the USO volunteer can't help you, he or she will be able to offer advice and airport information.

Wherever you travel, be sure you know the location of the nearest USO lounge or office. Check the USO website as you make your travel plans; you may be able to save money by using USO-sponsored local tours. And you might just find a way to turn a travel disaster into a success story, just as we did, thanks to the USO volunteers who generously give up their time to help service members and their families.

To learn more: 

Visit the USO's website.

Check out the USO's Facebook page.

Watch a YouTube video about the USO.