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USO won’t operate Las Vegas rest stop for military travelers

Despite a lengthy effort and high-profile support, McCarran International Airport will not be getting a USO club to serve military travelers — at least, not right away.

Why not?

It depends on whom you ask.

A spokesman for the United Service Organizations, which provides rest stops and entertainment to U.S. service members around the world, said the organization is too strapped helping overseas troops and relocating centers to make Las Vegas a priority.

“We’re not saying no,” said John Hanson. “We’re just saying not now.”

But what that means is never — at least according to Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Henderson, who said Las Vegas’ reputation is getting in the way.

“Because of my office, I’m able to find out some things that sometimes ordinary citizens cannot,” Beers told the Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday. “The reason the USO is not interested in putting a facility in this region is because of their perception of the Las Vegas personality.

“That is the real reason. Quite frankly, I think it is a load of fertilizer.”

Beers refused to discuss his comments when contacted Thursday.

Hanson said Beers’ remarks are way off target. “That has never been said by anyone at the USO,” he said.

A new mobile USO center that travels the Western United States will be based in Las Vegas, Hanson said, although he wasn’t sure when it was scheduled to arrive. The mobile centers are large RVs that have a 10-person lounge, Internet access and refreshments.

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said he was concerned by Beers’ comments and wants to investigate further.

“I can’t believe that the USO finds Las Vegas objectionable,” he said. “If they have a beef with Las Vegas, then they have a beef with me, and I will put my face in their face. Hopefully, they love us.”

A couple of airport employees started the push for a USO club there after they saw soldiers struggling through long layovers, sometimes having to sleep on the floor.

They attracted many backers — city and county leaders, members of Congress, Wayne Newton — and worked out a deal to use an existing VIP lounge at the airport, with Clark County putting up $750,000 toward the project.

But in August, one of the organizers received a letter from the USO that said a Las Vegas club was not in the works. In fact, it said, “we do not anticipate opening any new USO centers at U.S. airports in the foreseeable future.”

That’s because the USO has its hands full with troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and southwest Asia, Hanson said. The USO is moving personnel to at least two locations in Iraq and is scouting locations in Afghanistan.

The USO recently opened centers at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Drum, New York, and has plans for new centers at Fort Carson in Colorado and Fort Riley in Kansas because of where realignments are taking troops. Existing locations in South Korea and Europe also have to be moved because of shifting troop locations.

“We really try to be where the military is, not where it’s passing through,” Hanson said. “We don’t want to move into a place where we might not be in five years. There’s no way to make this answer any happier. I appreciate that people still care about this.”

Chuck Lombard, an Air Force veteran who has been spearheading the local effort, said he’s not giving up and may try to get veterans groups to support a lounge and rest area for troops and their families.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or (702) 229-6435.

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