The USO has decided that a rest stop for military travelers at McCarran International Airport is a priority after all and is working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to find the money needed to get it started.
Jeff Hill, the USO's vice president of U.S. operations, confirmed Tuesday that the United Service Organization is once again looking at McCarran. That's a change of course from October, when the organization announced that a Las Vegas location was no longer on the drawing board.
"We're proceeding at full speed now," Hill said. "I'm getting ready to head out there."
Reid spokesman Jon Summers said funding probably is the only obstacle to getting the USO to move in.
"Reid met with the head of the USO to discuss what it would take to get it done," he said. "It's not a done deal yet. We're in the process of working on that funding."
The USO provides rest stops and entertainment to troops serving around the world.
Airport employee and Air Force veteran Chuck Lombardo first approached the USO almost four years ago about providing services for traveling service members. He saw soldiers dealing with long layovers at the airport, sometimes sleeping on the floor.
He was surprised and glad to hear from Hill on Tuesday.
"It was a shock to me when he called," Lombardo said. "He says, 'I've got real good news for you.' It made me happy."
Last year, the USO said it didn't have the resources to open a new location in Las Vegas and that no new locations were planned for U.S. airports. That's because the organization was focused on services in Iraq and Afghanistan and relocating existing centers to match shifting troop locations around the globe, a spokesman said at the time.
After that announcement, Lombardo teamed with the American Legion veterans' group to explore opening a center, and a nonprofit group named the Las Vegas Military Hospitality Center at McCarran has been formed.
If the new USO effort works out, Lombardo said, they probably will try to merge the two groups.
Clark County originally allocated $750,000 to help get space ready at the airport for the USO center. Aviation director Randy Walker wasn't available Tuesday to say whether that funding was still available, and Summers declined to say how much money needs to be raised.
USO centers at other airports offer amenities that include computer access, lounges with a television and video games, snacks and drinks, sleeping rooms and children's play areas.
Lombardo admitted to being a little frustrated with the "ping-pong" nature of the process but said it's good that the effort is under way. "The overall goal is to do something for the troops," he said.
Contact reporter Alan Choate at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 229-6435.