USO Elves to Host Troops at BWI Airport

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2007 - Santa's USO elves will be checking their list twice this weekend to ensure they're ready to host about 2,000 troops slated to transit through Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport before catching flights home to their families and loved ones.

The elves ? actually volunteers from United Service Organizations of Metropolitan Washington ? will work through the night Dec. 15 to prepare for a mass holiday exodus to begin at the suburban Maryland airport at 6 the following morning.

As some 1,800 soldiers attending advanced individual training at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., await their flights, BWI's USO International Gateway Lounge will offer up a host of freebies and services, Nicole Causey, USO communications manager, told American Forces Press Service.

Another 7,000 or so soldiers training at Fort Lee, Va., will get similar treatment as they pass through the airport in the wee hours of the morning later in the week, she said.

All transiting troops will get full access to a host of free offerings, including refreshments, travel assistance, international calls, Internet access and movies, Causey said. USA Cheerleaders, a professional promotional team, will be on hand to cheer the troops on, and volunteers will pass out care packages along with holiday cheer.

"It's a good way for the soldiers to be touched, both by the USO and through our donors who help contribute to these great lounges," Causey said. "It shows the troops that people care and gives them that little bit of TLC."

Although BWI's USO lounge typically operates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Causey said it frequently extends its hours, sometimes staying open all night to accommodate troops passing through the airport. "If we know in advance a large group of soldiers is going through, we'll stay open," she said.

At 5,000 square feet, the lounge is the USO's largest in the United States and offers a full range of services. Troops can watch a wide-screen TV, log on to the Internet or call anywhere in the world for free on a voice-over-Internet phone donated to the facility, Causey said.

Military families with children can take advantage of play and nap areas. And troops wanting some shut-eye themselves can catch their Z's in the lounge's sleep room. They simply take a nap until a USO volunteer awakens them in time for their flight, Causey said.

USO Elves to Host Troops at BWI Airport  [ ]