The USO has shut down a longtime resting spot for soldiers and sailors flying in and out of Jacksonville International Airport.
It is one of a number closed this week with no explanation or advance notice, as well as little explanation from the nonprofit group.
A sign on the door of the USO Welcome Center near the baggage claim area at the airport at 2400 Yankee Clipper Drive was posted earlier this week, stating it was permanently closed and adding, “We apologize for the inconvenience.”
When asked why Jacksonville’s facility was closed, all USO spokesman Dan Drummond’s brief statement would say was that its agency, like other nonprofit organizations, “routinely evaluates activities to ensure our resources have the greatest positive impact possible.”
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“As a result of our recent evaluation of center operations, it was determined that the airport lounge based in the Jacksonville International Airport will close,” his brief statement continued. “We are proud to continue serving service members and their families at installations and communities across Jacksonville. While the lounge is closing, we will continue to provide services, such as support for Dignified Transfers of our fallen heroes at Jacksonville International Airport.”
Airport center volunteer Bob Henning said the closure was a surprise to him and the volunteers who have worked there.
“We were averaging about 25 to 30 visitors per day,” he said. “There was only one paid director and about 15 volunteers. As of this email, no one from USO has contacted any volunteer. … It is unfortunate because two of the ladies have over 15 years as volunteers.”
United Service Organizations, or USO, was founded in early 1941 by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide entertainment, social events and support for active duty U.S. military members and their families around the world. Jacksonville’s USOs were established in 1979, currently operating facilities at Jacksonville Naval Air Station and Mayport Naval Station, as well as a transition center at the Vystar Credit Union at NAS Jacksonville.
According to the USO website, more than 50 of the USO’s 230-plus locations around the world are USO airport lounges that provide free snacks and coffee as well as a place to hold over between flights or pickups. In 2016, the Jacksonville airport welcome center was helping about 2,000 service members a month, according to the Florida Times-Union. Most lounges have televisions, video game systems and free Wi-Fi so visitors can use their own devices to check in with loved ones back home. And many of these lounges were at airports where new recruits leave or arrive for boot camp or deployments, the USO’s website states.
The USO apparently closed other airport centers this week, including ones at the airports in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, according to news reports. But Drummond did not respond to WJCT News’ requests for more information on any of the closings.