Service members passing through La Crosse Regional Airport on their way to and from Fort McCoy will no longer need to pile up on one another and sprawl on their bags as they take over the waiting area.
Thanks to a partnership between the city’s airport, Fort McCoy and USO Wisconsin—with a little help from La Crosse businessman Don Weber—they’ll be able to enjoy some privacy and comfort in a new military lounge near the airline check-in area, which opened Thursday.
“For me, it’s just awesome,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Deeann Dunstan of Fort McCoy’s garrison commander’s office.
“It will give our soldiers a boost of energy when they come through here,” she said. “The USO just brings a different ambience that puts them at ease.”
Soldiers waiting for their flights will have the chance to plug in their electronics, play some games, get a snack and relax in the USO-staffed lounge.
“When they leave to go on training, it gives them a place to charge their phones and hang out,” Dunstan said. “When they come back, it gives them time to decompress before they go back to their families.”
The airport first put in a military lounge in 2010, but plans to improve it began in 2013.
“It was just really not comfortable,” said airport manager Clinton Torp, who led efforts to improve the space.
“I thought it would provide better support for them as a positive thing (for service members), and as one of our larger customers,” Torp said.
The airport put up walls to provide the military service members with some privacy, but the largest expense was furniture, Torp said. Fortunately, Logistics Health Inc. founder Weber and his wife, Roxanne Weber, stepped forward to furnish the area with several bar-height tables and chairs, as well as lounge chairs and other items for the men and women to use.
Not long after Weber provided an undisclosed amount for furnishings, someone put a bug in the ear of USO Wisconsin Director of Operations Ellie Hazlett that the airport was looking for an organization to take up running the lounge.
“It was a weird mesh of wonderful timing,” Hazlett said.
Hazlett reached out to Torp, who was thrilled to hear the USO was interested in sponsoring the space, and then contacted USO Wisconsin President Daniel Toomey.
“It was really a simple, ‘Yes,’” Toomey said.
As sponsors, USO volunteers will staff the area from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, essentially acting as ambassadors to the La Crosse area.
“They’ll be able to shed some light on what to do in their sparse free time,” Toomey said.
The USO will also provide video games, board games and other entertainment, including local musicians who volunteer to play music and visit with the service men and women.
“It’s a great way to give back and sometimes these guys don’t see that kind of appreciation,” Hazlett said.
It’s been a stressful couple of years pulling the project together, but it was well worth it, she said.
“Now that it’s up and going, it’s just nice to know we’re not missing these guys,” Hazlett said.
The USO has 35 applications for La Crosse airport volunteers and needs 70 to keep it up and running. To volunteer or donate, visit USOWisconsin.org.
“It will give our soldiers a boost of energy when they come through here. The USO just brings a different ambience that puts them at ease.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Deeann Dunstan
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