JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Thursday the USO marked 75 years of connecting America’s service members to their loved ones and to mark that anniversary, the USO of North Carolina will be hosting events throughout the weekend.
It’s all to honor the oldest USO center in the entire country, which is located right here in the east.
With North Carolina ranking the fourth largest military support state in the country, it only makes sense to house a USO at nearly every airport in the Tar Heel state.
On Thursday, the newest USO of North Carolina participated in a ribbon cutting to celebrate their opening at Albert J. Ellis Airport in Onslow County.
“Having a USO here at a small regional airport just tells you how important the relationship is between the community and service members here,” said Colonel Yori Escalante, the Deputy Commander of MCIEAST.
The center first opened its doors at the airport in October and in the past five months more than 5000 service members have passed through.
“When the young sailors, and marines and their families get here they have a place to go and relax,” said Tom Waskow, the Chairman of USO of North Carolina.
With Camp Lejeune being a large military training base, many young Marines and sailors complete MOS training locally.
One of those young Marines includes 19-year-old Karl Aurentz, who graduated MOS training school on Thursday and says his journey home is a long one.
“From here to Charlotte, Charlotte to Chicago, Chicago to LAX and then in like ten days I go from LAX to Seattle to Okinawa.”
But luckily, USO’s across the country will provide him with the comforts of home which include snacks and drinks free of charge and a place to relax.
“A place for them to sit, get a cold drink, get something to eat, but more importantly now a place where they can receive services as we come out of war and to make sure they’re ready to transition on to what’s next,” said Escalante.
“So our role here at Ellis is to make sure the first time those Marines see the brand USO, which is something they will continue to see throughout their career, that they will have this feeling of family,” said Waskow.
And whether they’re deploying for the first time or heading home, the main goal of the USO remains to help provide our local heroes the comfort of help every step of the way.