Lt. Col. Megan Stallings recalls stepping into a USO lounge in the Afghan city of Kandahar four years ago. She sat in the room, filmed herself reading Dr. Seuss books, and arranged to have the DVD and books mailed home to her three children.
“It still brings tears to my eyes,” Stallings said.
So when determining what to do with an unused room at the Baltimore Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) at Fort Meade earlier this year, Stallings immediately thought of the USO.
“We have so many family members who come here, and sometimes they’re waiting for hours on end,” said Stallings, commander of the 12th Battalion, U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command and Baltimore MEPS. “When the idea was brought to the folks at the USO, they jumped into the project with such enthusiasm.”
On Oct. 1, more than 50 people attended a grand-opening reception and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Baltimore MEPS USO-Metro Lounge. The lounge will be used by applicants and recruits of all branches of the military and the family members who accompany them. The MEPS facility is the site for military oath ceremonies and a shipping-off point for basic training.
The Center Is Busy
More than 8,000 active-duty, Reserve and National Guard service members come to the MEPS building annually for physical and psychological examinations, aptitude tests, background checks and other matters, said Air Force Capt. Crystal Sermons, executive officer of the Baltimore MEPS.
The Baltimore MEPS takes in recruits from Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. It is the fifth busiest among the nation’s 65 MEPS centers. The MEPS lounge will operate in conjunction with the Fort Meade USO Center at 8612 6th Armored Cavalry Road.
“We are now open for business,” John Falin, director of center operations for USO Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, told the audience of dignitaries, USO and MEPS employees and volunteers, recruits and their families. “This is a momentous occasion.”
Situated in the front of the Baltimore MEPS building at 850 Chisholm Avenue, the lounge features a television and DVD, Xbox consoles, sofas and chairs, shelves of magazines and board games, and a children’s area.
A USO volunteer will be present at all times during the lounge’s operating hours of Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In addition, recruits and family members will be able to play on basketball and volleyball courts in the back of the building.
The 33-by-20-foot space for the lounge was previously used for the physical testing of recruits. The site was vacated in December and recently repainted by MEPS and USO workers and volunteers.
Look for the Sign
The ribbon-cutting was conducted by Garrison Commander Col. Brian Foley, Stallings, Falin and Elaine Rogers, president and CEO of the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore. Afterward, attendees were invited into the lounge where cake and beverages were served, as well as pizza and breadsticks donated by Papa John’s Pizza.
During the event, Foley thanked the USO for its efforts on-post and throughout the world.
“The USO is there for us when we need to be reminded our nation supports everything we do,” he said. “When you’ve been gone from the United States for days or weeks or months, with no contact with America for awhile and in an austere location, you see that sign with the letters ‘USO.’
“You see your nation has not forgotten about you, and America cares and thanks us for what we do each and every day,” said Foley.
As an entry point for service members, he said, the Baltimore MEPS is an ideal location for the lounge. “They will know what the USO means: ‘This is phenomenal. I cannot thank you enough.’”
Defending the Nation
Stallings praised USO leaders, employees and volunteers for making the lounge a reality. “Everything that’s been done has been top-notch, and we appreciate it so much,” she said. “A lot of people walk through these doors. They will utilize the lounge and its amenities.
“It’s a place you can feel at home again,” she said. “It will be enjoyed by thousands each year as they embark on their journey.”
Rogers described the lounge’s opening as a unique event.
“Not often do we get to open a center like this,” she said. “But it’s such an honor to serve the military and their families. We’re stoked about doing this. This is why there’s a USO.”
Following the reception, guests were invited to observe as a group of eight recruits were sworn into service by Foley.
“The world is not a safe place,” he told them before administering the oath. “There are many that would seek to do our great nation harm. Our national interests must be defended. …
“The strength of our military is based on the people who make up our American forces. We need the best,” said Foley. “I thank you personally on behalf of a grateful nation.”
For more information about the Baltimore MEPS USO-Metro Lounge, call 410-305-0660.