The USO is opening a center in a closed community center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Sherry Ems, executive director of the USO of Central and Southern Ohio, talks about the reopening of the Airman's Attic thrift store inside the center.

First USO center to open at Wright-Patt

It’s believed this is the first time the USO — marking its 75th anniversary this year — has opened a center on the sprawling installation, Wright-Patterson and USO leaders said.

“At Wright-Patterson, I do not believe that we’ve had any kind of presence whatsoever,” said Sherry Ems, executive director of the USO of Central & Southern Ohio.

USO and base leaders worked for a year to open a place where airmen could gather.

“The USO saw a need,” said Col. John M. Devillier, base commander. “We saw a need.”

Located in Area A in the Kittyhawk section of retail stores and dormitories “it’s a place for airmen to come and relax,” he said. “We found that due to sequestration and other issues that (community center) was closed in 2014 so this is a natural fit for the facility itself.”

The USO has spent $50,000 and collected in-kind donations of everything from food to furniture from “countless” businesses, Ems said.

Active-duty military, reservists and Guardsmen and their families will have access, officials said. To many traveling service members, the USO may be best known as a place to stop and reconnect with the outside world or rest inside lounges at airports, such as in Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus. But the decades-old organization, which opened the central and southern Ohio chapter 50 years ago, has locations on military bases, too.

When the USO Center at Wright-Patterson opens Saturday, an internet cafe will be in operation from noon to midnight seven days a week, Ems said. A game room with a pool table, dart board and television sets will open later. A music and art room could be in the works, too, Ems said.

“We just want to grow this as we grow our presence on the base,” she said. “… We’re in desperate need for volunteers to take shifts as well.”

The Airman’s Attic, a no-cost thrift store for young enlisted airmen and their families, has relocated to the center and will open noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, Ems said.

The store will stock diapers and children’s books and toys to uniform items and ball gowns, among other merchandise.

In winter, warm clothing is popular. In summer PT gear, particularly shorts, are in demand, said Herlinda Tallant, Airman’s Attic manager.

“There’s always a shortage,” she said.

Work continued Tuesday. Deliveries of large boxes rolled through the doors and a worker was busy assembling furniture in a lounge. For weeks, hundreds of volunteers spent hours painting walls and stocking shelves inside the reborn community center.

Senior Airman Franchesca Pancham, 22, of Belmont, Calif., picked up a paint brush recently to help out.

She said the new gathering place will boost morale and camaraderie. “I think that it’s an awesome venture for airmen like me especially because of all the services it will provide,” the Air Force videographer said.

Those interested in volunteering may log onto the website usovolunteer.org. Donations may be made at usocso.org.

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