Story by SGT Carlos Garcia on 03/24/2018DETROIT (Sept. 9, 2017) - Today's military requires extensive travel for all of its service members. Traveling can range from reporting to a new duty station or a professional military education school across the country or the world.
For some, traveling through the airports can sometimes be a little nerve-racking or stressful, depending on the circumstances. Things like being away from family, adverse weather affecting flight schedules or having that feeling of butterflies in the stomach before departing the comfort of home can create discomfort.
Thankfully nonprofit organizations like the Michigan Armed Forces Hospitality Center, Inc. have organized to create hospitality and reception centers or military lounges oriented to help military service members in-transit.
On November 11, 2011 at 11:11 a.m. a military lounge called the Freedom Center had its grand opening ceremony in the McNamara Terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan as a permanent facility within the airport dedicated to serving all military service members and their families, said Tim Wirkus, the operations coordinator for the Freedom Center at the McNamara terminal.
"Also, since the Detroit Metro Airport never had a USO," said Wirkus, "the Freedom Center is the thought of retired Air Force Col. Kenneth S. Pratt, president of the board of directors for the Michigan Armed Forces Hospitality Center, Inc. and retired Navy Capt. John G. McCandless, vice-president of the board of directors for Michigan Armed Forces Hospitality Center, Inc."
Pratt and McCandless established and operate the Freedom Center with the generosity of multiple donors ranging from major commercial air carriers to local popcorn vendors to what is now an annual $150,000 operation.
Furthermore, the center is volunteer operated and services all members of the military to include active, reserve, national guard components, along with service academy cadets, military dependents, military retirees and our NATO allies.
"This is my way of helping out our military since they do so much for us," said Karen L. Vanassche, a volunteer at the Freedom Center.
Most volunteers are prior service military or have family members in the military, said Wirkus. Vanassche, who has a daughter in the Navy and volunteers on a frequent basis to help the Freedom Center provides a little piece of home for those service members traveling through our airport.
The Freedom Center offers the comfort of recliner chairs, food, cable TV and even bunk beds for the occasional nap, said Vanassche.
"We have seen over 47,000 guests come through here," said Wirkus.
"You never know who is going to walk in through this door," said Wirkus, "we see high ranking officers in the military and brand new recruits from basic training."
Wirkus recalled an Army private coming through here and stated that she had missed her flight connection and needed help. The Freedom Center was able to give her a free hotel room for the night, food, and most of all comfort and care until the following morning while she waited for her flight.
"Really and truly we are here for the low ranking enlisted people that get stuck in this airport and need a little guidance, rest, and peace of mind," said Wirkus.
"This place is super friendly and nice," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony M. Allen, an instructor for the 5th Ranger Training Battalion, Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence out of Fort Benning, Georgia, "the staff told me where to go and stop as I make a few more layovers on way up to Vermont for a mountaineer assault climber course."
Along with helping military members in the airports, the Freedom Centers are now also assisting enlistees and their families as they go through the enlistment process with new centers opening in Troy and Lansing, Michigan with its most recent Freedom Center in the North Terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Michigan.