USO lounge being built in airport: It will have seating, TV, free Internet

Sep. 16--GULFPORT -- The nearly 100 military service members who use Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport each day will soon have a place all their own to await their flights, with comfortable chairs and flat-screen televisions, when the new USO lounge opens next month.

Workers are finishing the new 1,000-square-foot area for armed forces personnel and their families, who account for a great deal of the airport's traffic. Keesler Air Force Base, the Naval Construction Battalion Center and other local military bases send their personnel through the airport. Service members sometimes spend as much as four hours waiting because they often travel in large groups and may have to wait for others to arrive before takeoff.

The new USO room will have free wireless Internet access, computers and a person on staff at all times to answer questions, said airport Director Bruce Frallic.

"They will have a place to relax for a little while," Frallic said.

The military traffic at the airport is about three times more than it was six years ago, Frallic said.

Many larger American airports have opened their own USO lounges in recent months and Frallic said local airport representatives toured those in other cities to get a sense of what was needed here. The lounge is part of the current airport expansion project.

Representatives of the Gulf Coast Chapter of the USO were also consulted about what would be helpful in the space. The USO, which stands for the United Service Organization, is a nonprofit group formed during World War II that aims to help with troops' morale and welfare, and serve as a link between them and civilian Americans through a variety of programs, according to their Web site.

The USO serves about 1.4 million active-duty and 1.2 million National Guard and Reserve military and their families by providing them with Internet and e-mail access, support groups and housing and emergency assistance, among other help.

The airport USO lounge is expected to open at the end of October, Frallic said.

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