Updated: Oct 18, 2019
If you are currently serving in the military then you and your family can access USO airport lounges across the country.
Outside the USO San Diego - Neil Ash Airport Center. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
As a veteran (U.S. Army Hooah!), I feel passionate about the USO, which is the abbreviation for, United Service Organizations. Actually one of the reasons why I even started blogging is to put a spotlight on the various travel benefits offered to active-duty service members, military retirees, veterans and all of their families.
I don't feel like there is enough clear and concise information that captures the various traveling benefits offered to the 0.4% who currently wear the uniform and the 7.3% of Americans overall, who've served in the military at one point in time.
The focus of this blog post, is just one travel benefit (among a few, which I plan to write about in the future) for those who've worn the uniform of the U.S. military: the USO.
The USO is not part of the federal government, it's a congressionally chartered non-profit organization. This means that the United States Congress passed a law that "states the mission, authority and activities of a group".
The USO offers more than 200 centers around the world (usually where there are military bases or where troops are deployed). These centers provide entertainment and other helpful resources to make life better for those traveling or away from home. They even provide peace-of-mind to the families back home knowing that their loved ones are being taken care of by such a dedicated and historic organization.
My First USO Experience
I first learned of the USO, while I was on my first deployment to Bosnia and Herzegovina back in the late 90's. It was in the middle of this peacekeeping mission in the Balkans where a majority of the soldiers at Tuzla Air Base gathered around a stage in anticipation for a performance by the, Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. The official cheerleaders for "America's Team".
It was a nice break from the 24-7 duties and a slice of home (even though I'm a 49ers fan). The USO sponsored the cheerleaders to come out and to boost morale to those deployed far away from home. This memory, will never be forgotten and I've always been thankful for the USO. Just seeing something from back home boosted everyone's morale while dealing with the awfully cold, wet and muddy environment we lived in.
A photo of U.S. Army veteran, Elvis Presley inside the USO Las Vegas. (Digital Nomad Foodie)
USO Airport Lounges
The USO, in addition to providing entertainment and morale, also has airport lounges in select domestic airports across America.
I was able to recently experience two USO airport lounges. One was at McCarran International Airport (Las Vegas) and the other at the San Diego International Airport. Both offer a safe, free refuge from the busy airport terminals.
No two USO airport lounges are physically designed the same, but they all share a common denominator, which is the dedicated all-volunteer staff. Many of the all-volunteer staff are military veterans, spouses or other family members. Some are members of the local community who want to do their part in saying, thank you to those who serve.
The entrance as you walk inside the USO Las Vegas. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
USO Las Vegas Airport Lounge
The USO Las Vegas Airport Lounge is located in Terminal 1 (to the right of the A & B Gates), where it's open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That's a huge benefit, especially if you are traveling through Las Vegas and need a place to relax and connect before you travel to your next destination.
You can now check-in using a tablet at the front desk or by downloading the USO Mobile App. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
What I noticed after being warmly greeted by a volunteer was the new sign-in process. It used to be pen and paper on a clipboard, but now the USO uses technology in the form of a computerized-tablet to capture your name. They also have a USO Mobile App (Google Play or App Store) that you can download on your smartphone and check-in as an alternate way.
As always, you need to provide proof of identity. To enter a USO you need a current "smart card", which is the standard identification card that active-duty and reservists use.
USO Las Vegas offers a place to grab food while you travel. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Depending on how busy each USO is they sometimes allow military retirees and certain disabled-veterans (those with 100% disabled ID cards) to enter and use their airport lounges. If you fall into one of the aforementioned categories, it doesn't hurt to check and see if you are allowed inside a USO if you are traveling.
The USO Las Vegas Airport Lounge was pretty small, but it offered clean bathrooms, a movie room, free food (i.e. sandwiches, instant noodles, sodas and other snacks), video games, computers, a mobile charging station and quiet places to sit and relax.
Connect and recharge at the USO Las Vegas. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Amenities of the USO Las Vegas Airport Lounge:
Food and beverages
Multimedia and gaming (DVD & Blu-ray Player, PS4, TV & Cable, Xbox One)
Connectivity (CAC Readers, Charging Stations, Computers & Laptops, Phones, Printers, WiFi)
Rest and relaxation (Air Conditioning, Bathrooms, Board & Table Games, Children’s Play Area, Playing Cards)
Travel services and gifts (Flight Time Boards, Luggage Carts)
Open 24 Hours
Actor Gary Sinise is a long-time USO supporter. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Interior view of USO San Diego - Neil Ash Airport Center. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
USO San Diego Airport Lounge
The USO San Diego Airport Lounge (Neil Ash Airport Center) is located outside (but steps from) the airport terminal. It is also open 365 days a year with operating hours from 6:00 AM to 12:00 MIDNIGHT. The USO signs places around the terminal were easy to see and navigate you to the USO.
This USO was much larger than the USO Las Vegas. Since San Diego and the surrounding area has a large military presence it just makes sense for this USO to offer a bigger space.
You'll show your identification and then sign-in using the computerized-tablet. As you walk inside you see a very spacious interior with multiple lounge areas and sofas. The squeaky clean bathrooms felt like a big locker room with showers.
The large showers in the men's bathroom at USO San Diego - Neil Ash Airport Center. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Amenities of the Neil Ash Airport Center:
Wifi and computers for use
Televisions and couches
Snacks and beverages
Unlimited Domestic calls
Large bathrooms with showers
7,000 square foot enclosed patio with BBQ
Game room with XBOX, Ping-Pong and Pool table
Board games and pool table
Children's Play Room
United Through Reading
Homecoming and Deployment support
Quiet room for Families of the Fallen
Shuttle service to bases (prices vary)
Since I was pressed on time, I wasn't able to explore the entire facility, but I did have time to recharge my devices and catch-up on the latest news, social media feeds and emails. There are also lot's of televisions that showed the news or various movies.
To summarize, if you are currently serving in the military, traveling and need a place to relax and connect don't forget about the USO airport lounges. You can search for them here.
Please share your questions, thoughts, comments and experiences below!
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