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New USO center opens for business on Lewis Main

250 people packed a tent in front of the America’s Credit Union building

America’s Credit Union president and chief executive office Ken Leonard, on left, assists in cutting the USO Northwest Camp Lewis dedication cake during a ceremony in front of the facility Monday. Also pictured left to right are: Col. Nicole Lucas, JBLM g

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About 250 people packed a tent in front of the America’s Credit Union building on Lewis Main Monday morning for the opening of the new USO Northwest Camp Lewis Center.

The event consisted a lot of thank you’s and remarks by a few USO, America’s Credit Union and Joint Base Lewis-McChord dignitaries as well as a tour of the new facility inside the ACU building.

During her speech at the event, Col. Nicole Lucas, JBLM garrison commander, spoke of how fitting the name for the new facility is, given the base’s celebration this year of its 100th anniversary.

She also commented on the importance of the USO for service members — both in traveling and at home — and the longevity of the relationship between JBLM and the USO.

“It’s really fitting to merge them here,” Lucas said.

This was the first time Lucas had seen the inside of the new USO Northwest Camp Lewis Center.

She was impressed, she said, after the tour of the space that includes a 72-inch television — donated by the Seattle Seahawks — with a dozen or more cushioned lounge chairs in one room, as well as a kitchen and several other rooms, including a reading room set up with cameras for videotaping service members reading to their children.

“It’s a good facility, and it’s going to meet the needs of service members and their families,” Lucas said. “The location — close to Waller Hall and the laundromat and other places families use a lot — is really good for making an impact.”

Creating the new facility was “a labor of love for a long time,” said retired Navy Cmdr. Donald Leingang, executive director of USO Northwest, as he began the dedication ceremony.

Although there has been an USO facility on McChord Field since 1984, creating the additional Lewis Main facility was necessary because many service members on the installation aren’t able to use the USO Northwest Shali Center due to the distance from home and work.

Such was the case for Spc. Whitnie Baldwin, 504th Military police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, who attended the ceremony with her 4-year-old German shepherd service dog, Dodo.

She said she’s been to the Shali Center a few times but is really looking forward to visiting the USO Northwest Camp Lewis Center on a more regular basis.

“It will be a lot more convenient at this location since it’s only seven minutes from (Dodo’s) kennels,” she said.

Michael Maratas, who works with the USO Pathfinder program at the ACU location and was active duty in the Army for more than four years before joining the Army Reserve, said he’s impressed with the new USO Northwest Camp Lewis Center facility.

“It looks great,” he said, adding he’s spent a lot of time at USOs around the globe while serving in the military. “I’m sure a lot of service members will love this place.”

Ken Leonard, president and chief executive officer of ACU, also spoke at the event.

He grew up as an Army kid and lived on JBLM while his dad, now-retired Sgt. Maj. Rodney Leonard, served on the installation. At the age of 16, Ken got his first job at ACU and has been working there ever since.

Leonard said it was at his suggestion that work began to create a USO on Lewis Main. He has been on the board of directors of the USO Northwest for about five years.

“There was a need for a USO location here, and we had the space (at the ACU building),” Leonard said. “It has turned out to be a beautiful facility.”

The new facility is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., or as requested by JBLM leadership.

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