USO—the light at the end of the…hallway

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Wendy Weidenhamer
  • 349th AMW Public Affairs
Time at the airport these days can be stressful and days can be long. But, one organization located inside the Travis Air Force Base passenger terminal would like to make time spent there a little more enjoyable.
Walk down a narrow hallway in the terminal and near the end a small red, white and blue sign hanging from the ceiling announces USO. Step inside and an oasis appears, leaving behind what may seem like an unfamiliar terminal in a faraway place. There to greet you with a big smile and a Betty Boop voice is Toni Colip, one of the three paid staff.
"I'm a Navy vet and I used to be on the other side of the desk so, I just want to give back," said Ms. Colip. "Also, I have a son in the Army and while working here I've met soldiers who served with my son--it's been a rewarding experience for me."
The USO is a private, nonprofit organization with a goal to provide morale, welfare and recreation-type services to military members and their families and at Travis AFB, retirees are also welcome.
"The USO at Travis AFB was started in 1984 as a pilot program and became the first USO program located on a military base," said Elaine Marino, Travis AFB United Service Organizations, Inc., executive director.
The center at Travis offers a television and reading area, play areas inside and outside, a nursery with cribs and mats, a small kitchenette, a washer and dryer, a fax machine and computer to check e-mail on, and they even have towels, bath soap and shampoo. There is also a place to store luggage while waiting for a flight.
Sometimes food is donated to the center, but for the most part those using the center must bring their own food.
More than 12,000 people use the center annually with over half being families with one parent deployed. While there is a constant flow of people into the center, the holidays can be the busiest.
The center isn't open 24/7, but for times when a large group is deploying during the early morning hours when the center is closed, staff will open the center, covering the center's floors with mats to make sure everyone is as comfortable as possible.
"It's wonderful here!" said Jacqueline Wilson, wife of Maj. Bruce Wilson, a U.S. Marine stationed at Okinawa. She and her three sons were waiting for a flight home to Okinawa. "It's my favorite place to be stuck; the staff is so incredibly warm and pleasant."
Being a non-profit organization, keeping the doors open at the USO can be a challenge. The cost of running the center is about $3,000 a month. A clear plastic donation box that sits on the counter brings in only about $500 a month, so the staff, led by Ms. Marino, must be creative to make up the difference. They hold various fundraisers like golf tournaments along with accepting donations from local military and civilian organizations.
Volunteers are a big part of keeping the center in the black. There are three paid staff who work in the morning when it's difficult to find volunteers. Several volunteers work the remaining hours, many of which are stationed at Travis AFB. But volunteers have not been limited to the local area. A few traveling military retirees volunteer at the center when they are passing through Travis AFB.
For travelers who stop at this USO it may very well seem like a light in the darkness and as long as Ms. Marino and her staff have anything to do with it, they'll be leaving the light on.
For more information regarding the USO see
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. - 7- 9 p.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.