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Veterans propose USO center at PDX

Col. Joe Williams (Ret.) will talk to members of the Portland chapter of the Military Officers Association of America in Clackamas this weekend about his group’s plan to start up a USO center at the Portland International Airport and what’s needed to get the center opened by the end of this year.

by: SUBMITTED  - WilliamsPDX is one of the few international airports in the United States without a USO center. Known for hosting celebrities such as Bob Hope to entertain troops, the center would provide a range of programs and services to the many active-duty military, Reserve and National Guard members who travel through the airport each year. The Port of Portland has agreed to provide the space. Williams said when enough funding and volunteers are available, the center will open.

Williams agreed to answer questions for the Clackamas Review prior to his speech:

Q: Why did you approach the USO about opening a center in Portland?

A: I saw a need. My sons have been in Portland since 2000. I was stationed at then-Fort Lewis from 2000-04; Boston 2004-05; and the Pentagon 2005-07 when I retired. For the three years on the East Coast, I flew to PDX every other weekend for my parenting time with my kids.

Q: Why should people care about a USONW Center opening in Portland?

A: Oregon Veterans come up to me and tell me they’ve been pushing for a USO at PDX for years. ... They cannot understand why we don’t have one, while the only active-duty bases in Oregon are the U.S. Coast Guard. The Portland Military Entrance Processing Station inducts about 4,000 per year. In Oregon and Southwest Washington, we have over 7,000 active duty; 10,600 in the National Guard and Reserves; and 53,000 military retirees. That’s a military community over 70,000 and doesn’t include their family members or veterans.

Q: What kind of events have you and the volunteers supported?

A: Information tents at Rose Festival Fleet Week (without the fleet due to sequestration); Guard and Reserve unit Family Days; The Governor’s Employers Executive Briefing (we provided and served coffee to the 300 attendees). We are especially excited to be named this year’s grand marshal of Portland’s Hollywood District Veteran’s Day Parade.

Q: What is a favorite memory you have from one of the events?

A: The members of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 142nd Security Forces Squadron, upon redeploying after 217 days to Qatar to discover that the USONW Portland’s “Army of Gratitude” had brought VooDoo Doughnuts to their de-mob processing site at the Portland Air National Guard Base.

But I can’t leave out the looks on the faces of the WWII veterans who participate in the Oregon Honor Flights where they travel to D.C. to visit the World War II memorial. On June 14, our lead volunteer, Christine Vu, had several members of the Oregon National Guard, who were wearing World War II uniforms belonging to the James Thayer Military Museum, accompany her to a sendoff of 26 World War II veterans and their caregivers at PDX.

The looks on the veterans’ faces were priceless — a mixture of disbelief, shock and gratitude that these young people would don the uniform of their era to give them a sendoff from PDX. There were very few dry eyes in the gate area that morning.

Q: What are you looking forward to most about the future PDX Center?

A: Getting my 16-year-old son, Brad, off my back! During our return to Portland from Washington, D.C., in October 2012, we had a mechanical delay causing us to spend five hours in the Houston USO followed by five hours in the Denver USO (which has an incredible USO Center).

Relaxing in leather recliners and watching Sunday night football on the big screen, my son said, “So Colonel, I thought you were putting in one of these at PDX?” ... “I tried,” I told him. His reply: “And?” ... “They said “no ...” “And?” (he retorted again). So everyone should be thanking my son for guilt-tripping me into dusting off the plan I created in March 2011 and re-engaging ... It is because of Brad that I decided I was not going to disappoint my son ... or the men and women who provide our national security — whether active duty, National Guard, the reserves — and all their families, plus our retirees, veterans and their families, too.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?

A: I am very humbled by our young men and women in uniform — those who stepped up to serve their country while we were a “nation at war.” Then I see those veterans with their hats reflecting which units they served in during Vietnam, Korea and World War II who are becoming fewer and fewer. The USO Northwest Portland Center at PDX is for those who are serving and those who served “Until Everyone Comes Home.”

PDX USO

Col. Joe Williams (Ret.), a senior volunteer of the Portland International Airport USO project, will speak about the center to MOAA at its Saturday, Sept. 7, brunch meeting at the Monarch Hotel, 12566 S.E. 93rd Ave., Clackamas.

Social time begins at 9 a.m. with the brunch starting at 10 a.m.

The MOAA brunch costs $20.

To make reservations, go to moaaportland.org, call 503-650-9506 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..