When Army Pfc. Jennafer Salinas arrived at Honolulu International Airport, Monday, she had no idea she would be the first customer served at the United Service Organizations Airport Center on the day of its grand reopening.
The Corpus Christi, Texas, native had just made a permanent change of station to Hawaii, and came to the center to arrange for a ride to Schofield Barracks.
“I was told that you report to a reception desk (at the center),” the 33-year-old Salinas said.
But what she found was much more than she expected. After looking in the windows of the center, she said it looked like a four-star restaurant.
“I’m in total awe and complete admiration for the volunteers reinventing USO Hawaii,” Salinas said. “It’s mind boggling.”
The project, which took approximately $250,000 to complete, improved or added various amenities including a sleeping room, shower, 70-inch T.V., wireless internet, computers and refreshments.
“I think it’s a great investment to give back to all branches,” she said. “This is definitely a way of showing us appreciation for serving our country.”
Guests including service members, local dignitaries and sponsors gathered for the center’s grand re-opening and
the USO’s 72nd birthday, Feb. 4, 2013.
After a special closed-door Hawaiian blessing inside the center, the outdoor ceremony began with a joint color guard, the national anthem and “Hawaii Ponoi.”
Army Maj. Gen. Anthony G. Crutchfield, the chief of staff for U.S. Pacific Command, shared a personal USO experience as one of the guest speakers.
“I have been lucky enough to serve our country,” Crutchfield said. “I have also been lucky enough to be served by USO volunteers.”
Crutchfield said he once watched a newsreel of service members in Vietnam being entertained by the USO and remembered how lonely they seemed. It was not until 1990 that he stood in a crowd of service members in Saudi Arabia watching entertainer Bob Hope, and realized he was just like the service members he’d seen on the newsreel.
“It was the USO that brought happiness to me and to thousands of others who were there,” Crutchfield said.
Hawaii Air National Guard Maj. Gen. Darryll D.M. Wong, the adjutant general of the State of Hawaii, attended in place of Honolulu Gov. Neil Abercrombie. He said he was happy to fill in for the governor and personally thank everyone who helped with the renovation.
During the ceremony, local artist Henry Kapono performed a special military-inspired song called “I’m coming home.” After special guests helped Kahu Wendell Kalanikapuaenui Silva untie the traditional Hawaiian maile lei, guests enjoyed refreshments in the center, while Waikiki street performers River Seine, 15, and Tiger Maximus, 12, provided music
Volunteers were also impressed by the renovation, including Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Griffith, an electronics technician with Logistics Support Units 3. Griffith called the new center “amazing” and commented a lot of work was completed within the two months the center was closed.
Char Jensen, a USO volunteer, said the renovation was a “long time coming,” and it looked “beautiful.” Jensen said the most interesting aspect of the renovation was the fact that multiple businesses came together to rebuild the center.
The USO Airport Center is open from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. For more information, call 836-3351 or visit http://www.uso.org/hawaii