The USO holds grand opening at RDU
August 06,2004

RALEIGH - Cpl. Jeremiah Warnick remembers traveling through Raleigh-Durham International Airport when he first got orders to Camp Lejeune four years ago. Just basic stuff was a hassle.

"I had to change into my uniform for my ride to the base," he remembered. "You had all this gear, but you really didn't have anywhere to change or anywhere to put anything."

When he arrived at RDU on Thursday with his wife, Kellie, 6-year-old son Nathan and 3-year-old daughter Jadyn, things were a little different.

Warnick discovered the airport now has a place for him to park his gear and a place where he and his family can relax.

The Raleigh-Durham International Airport USO center held its grand opening Thursday. The 1,550-square-foot facility, donated to the USO by the airport, was fully stocked with volunteers, snacks, computers, entertainment and plenty of places to take a load off - including two changing rooms. It's operated by the USO of North Carolina, which is based in Jacksonville.

The Warnicks will soon be relocating - Jeremiah is about to re-enlist and has tentative orders to California - and the family wants to return home to Colorado for a while. They arrived at RDU at noon but had a couple of hours to kill before their 2 p.m. flight.

The USO center was a welcome relief. Kellie was impressed.

"We've been (to RDU) before when he's been on deployments, and there was never any where to sit. We'd take the kids and find a place on the floor," she said. "Now that the USO is here, I am really excited. Something like this that's for the military is right up my alley."

Wardick said he believes the new center is going to make a big difference for his fellow service members en route to their new duty stations. It's the second USO, or United Services Organization facility in North Carolina, joining the one on Tallman Street in Jacksonville. It's the first in an airport.

"It's really going to be good for those that are brand new to the military. There's a lot coming through (RDU) right out of boot camp - for a lot of them it's the first time they've ever left Mom and Dad," he said. "(The USO center) is a welcome for them."

It's a welcome that Brig. Gen. Ronald Coleman, commanding general of 2nd Force Service Support Group at Camp Lejeune, said his troops can use.

"When our service members are able to walk through those doors and hear a USO volunteer say 'Welcome. Come on in' it makes a big difference," Coleman said. "When the USO takes care of them here (at RDU), it makes them better people when they get to me."

Coleman spoke to a crowd of nearly 200 gathered for the grand opening ceremony Thursday morning. He said he was grateful for the new center and the efforts of the USO and RDU, which helped with the $100,000 renovations. He said that for years the USO had been taking care of the men and women of the military and shared his personal experience from China Beach in Vietnam.

"On Saturdays, there was a standing line that wrapped around forever of service members waiting to make their call home," Coleman said. "You got one three-minute call and you got one chance. Back then, there was no call waiting, no e-mail, no cell phone. If the line was busy you went to the back of the line so you could try again."

Coleman said there was one call he made in 1970 that he'd never forget. "I called home and found out I was going to be a father for the first time," he said. "It was the USO that allowed me to do that."

Contact Timmi Toler at 353-1171, ext. 258 or at