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USO Northwest unveils new SeaTac Airport Center

Impressive center triples occupancy with new amenities and upgrades

USO Northwest celebrated its new SeaTac Airport Center with speeches by dignitaries, ribbon cutting and cake Feb. 4. Photo credit: Kevin Knodell

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On Feb. 4, the USO Northwest unveiled its new SeaTac Airport Center. Located on Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's Mezzanine level, the new space is a major upgrade from their old one, and is two years - and about 1.5 million dollars - in the making.

It will be open for servicemembers and their families Feb. 14.

The new center is nothing short of impressive. They went from a space that was roughly 3,400 square feet to a space that's around 7,000 square feet. The change has allowed them to triple their occupancy.

There are plenty of new amenities and upgrades. The new bathrooms have showers, most of which are handicap accessible for wounded veterans. Soda and drinks that once cost money are now complementary.

One the most significant features of the new center isn't as obvious though. The teak wood flooring that guests will walk on as they enter the space has a history - it's what remains of the deck of the USS Colorado. During WWII, the Colorado took part in 10 amphibious landings and several naval battles. She fired more tonnage at Japanese forces than any other ship in the American fleet.

The teak shows evidence of the vessel's storied history, scarred burn marks and scratches from its service. Ninety-four men died and 338 were wounded serving aboard the ship fighting in the Pacific. It was decommissioned and scrapped in Washington state, but Boeing bought up the teak deck and preserved it.

The USO's National President and CEO J.D. Crouch - on hand to speak at the unveiling - told The Ranger that it's no coincidence that they've decided to invest in the USO facilities along the West Coast.

Today, with the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan, there is a renewed interest in the Pacific. The so called "Pivot to the Pacific" under President Barrack Obama puts emphasis on protecting U.S. interests in the Far East, keeping watch over an evolving Chinese military power as well as an increasingly isolated and unpredictable North Korean regime.

"I think the president is right about that," Crouch said. He explained that with more troops moving to and from the Pacific region, that means more traffic at places like SeaTac, and a greater need for the USO's support.

Crouch flew out from D.C. for this occasion. He said he thought it was important to be here. "This is where the goodness our organization does takes place," Crouch explained. "It's the most important thing we do."

>>> Seattle Seahawks donated a plasma screen for the new USO Northwest SeaTac Airport Center. Photo cedit: Kevin Knodell

Later, as guests and dignitaries arrived for the unveiling, a host of speakers took the opportunity to talk about the significance of the milestone. Among the speakers was USO Northwest board member Hossein Khoram.

Khoram opened his remarks by thanking the U.S. military. He told the audience stories of militant Islam and atrocities in the news today might seem far away. "They may seem like just stories," he said. "For me it was a reality."

Khoram's family moved to the U.S. fleeing persecution after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. He said they arrived without any money. After going to college at University of Washington and studying engineering, Khoram is living the American dream.

As a result, he feels very strongly that supporting the military is the best way he can give back to his adoptive country, and express his thanks for the freedom and success he has enjoyed.

>>> USO Northwest board member Hossein Khoram, left, gives USO's National President and CEO J.D. Crouch a tour of the new SeaTac Airport Center before the unveiling. Photo credit: Kevin Knodell

A wide range of dignitaries and VIPs arrived to witness the unveiling, which included mayors, Washington state officials, military brass and Boeing employees. All the while, USO volunteers directed the mass of visitors.

Crouch praised the volunteers as "the heart and soul of the organization." He said that internationally the USO has around 30,000 volunteers compared to about 400 employees. It's very much a volunteer driven endeavor.

One of those volunteers is Doug Hoople, a Navy veteran who servedfrom 1960-80.He began volunteering with the USO at SeaTac in 2003.

Hoople said at the time he was volunteering with United Way, and thought to himself about what he was doing to help the current generation of servicemembers.He thinks helping new soldiers is an important part of what they do. Hoople said new servicemembers often arrive to be stationed in Washington without anyone telling them where to go or how to get there. Sometimes young troops even tell him they were told to report to the USO.

Hoople explained volunteers also spend a lot of time helping out families, particularly those who travel to and from overseas duty stations in places like Japan. Traveling so frequently can be rough on families. Having a place like SeaTac Center lessens the burden.

It's one of three travel centers in the Northwest, with the other two at Portland International Airport and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.


Before and after photographs of the USO Northwest SeaTac Airport Center

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