CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — When you think of the USO, what comes to mind? 

Many of us think of celebrities entertaining our troops far from home, but there is so much more. 

The most beloved entertainers of yesteryear, like comedian Bob Hope, have been replaced by today’s new stars of the United Service Organization, better known as the USO. 

You won’t see them onstage or recognize their names. That’s because they are volunteers who prefer to remain anonymous. They serve in a lounge like no other — nestled above the atrium in Charlotte Douglas International Airport. 

The USO at the Charlotte Center offers around-the-clock hospitality for traveling military service members and their families. The 265 volunteers are the face of the center, the first ones to greet customers with open arms when they come in, according to manager Julie Milani. 

She says the center offers a safe haven, food, drink and a resting place for service members between flights. In a nutshell, a place to relax and destress. 

“With only 1 percent of America protecting the other 99 percent, this is absolutely necessary,” Milani insists. “This is our way of giving back to those currently serving. It is a pleasure to provide this kind of lounge and safe place to come and be appreciated,” 

The USO has been the nation’s leading organization serving men and women in the U.S. military since 1941. It is known for lifting morale and offering support programs from the time they enlist, through assignments and deployments, and finally transitioning back to their homes.

Navy pilot Dave Miller came to Charlotte Douglas on a long layover with his toddler son. He says he enjoys hanging out in the lounge’s gated child’s play area where kid-friendly snacks and toys provide a welcome distraction from the hustle and bustle of the airport terminal. 

“It allows me time to catch my breath,” Miller said. “I am grateful for the USO.” 

There are 250 USO centers around the world, including six in North Carolina. They provide best-in-class service to those who make a sacrifice for America. But it is the comradery its members say they enjoy the most, rubbing elbows with kindred spirits. 

Army Officer Sandra Mingdoyle discloses that too often civilians cannot relate to the places she has been, and the things she’s seen as a service member.  

“Its nice to have conversations with kindred spirits who can relate, who understand,” she said.  

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The USO is a private nonprofit organization that relies on donations to support its activities. Its credo is to always be by military service members’ sides as they defend our country and freedoms.  

“I think it’s a very tough life,” concludes Milani. “I am glad we can be here for them.” 

The Charlotte Center is run 95 percent by volunteers. If you would like to help, reach out to USO North Carolina for recruiting information.