Peaceful Refuge

Military personnel and their families relax away from the whirlwind

Tucked away above the Bank of America Business Center is a little peace and quiet for military personnel, active and retired, and their families. Operated by the United Service Organizations of North Carolina, the USO Lounge hosts an average of 7,000 people a month. It opened at the airport a little more than two years ago in the former space of British Airways' VIP lounge, so it's very plush, and the USO has added all the amenities a soldier could want.

Oversize recliners are lined up in front of a large plasma TV. To the right of them are computers with Internet access and even a PlayStation room, complete with PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Across from that is a movie room where guests can choose from hundreds of DVDs.

"It's a joy to be able to work here, to see the smiles on their faces and the chance that they get to relax," says retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jack Ahart, director of USO of Charlotte.

The best amenity is the food: sandwiches made on Panera bread, hot dogs, chips, pastries from Cinnabon, coffee, tea, lemonade, cakes and pastries from Johnson & Wales, and more. And almost all of the food is donated, which enables everything in the USO Lounge to be free.
Walter Lewis, who is retired from the Navy and now works in the private sector for the Army, was recently on a layover to Virginia. "Those young guys—I know the feeling. You're scared in a way," he says, looking at a group of soldiers sitting in the recliners. "But then again you want to get over there, do good, and come home."

When the soldiers leave the lounge, many show their appreciation by writing in the guestbook, which is near the door, placed next to the complimentary Bibles and rosaries.

Categories: Feature