Blue Star Mothers, YMCA make new Military Welcome Center possible

Tinker Air Force Base -- Who among us will remind you not to forget to call home? Who will be waiting anxiously at the airport for your 2 a.m. arrival? Who will get up at 12 a.m. to bake cookies so they will be warm when you arrive? Only a mother and not just any mother... a Blue Star Mother.
   The Blue Star Mothers of America Oklahoma City Chapter Six is responsible for the vision of the new Military Welcome Center at Will Rogers World Airport.
   Before the June 4 grand opening of the new welcome center, equipped with plush leather couches, computers, endless refreshments and a plasma screen television, a group of about 20 blue star mothers were manning a makeshift welcome center at the airport, spending 6-8 hours daily to ensure soldiers were welcomed and made comfortable.
   "It's our passion. They are all our family and they needed a place," said Terri Robinette, president of the sixth chapter of Oklahoma Blue Star Mothers.
   Not only did the small group single-handedly manage the make-shift welcome center, they also functioned as make-shift moms, doing everything from ordering pizza to playing cards with the troops.
   "We've been loving them and nagging them every since we first opened the room in 2006," said Blue Star mom Debra Wilson.
   The purpose of the center is to provide active duty and retired U.S. Armed Forces men and women with a warm environment to rest and relax during layovers while en route to or from one of Oklahoma's four military bases.
   Col. Mark Correll, 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker installation commander, Col. Jeffrey Beene, 552nd Air Control Wing vice commander, and Cmdr. Jeffrey Marshall, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE executive officer, attended the opening along with community leaders including Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Oklahoma State Lt. Gov. Jari Askins. Also attending was Col. Mary Baker, 434th Field Artillery Brigade commander at Fort Sill in Lawton and some of her Soldiers. 
   "Travel for our troops whether to and from Iraq, arriving for training or transiting en route to another destination can be a high stress event," Col. Correll said. "This welcome center will help reduce that stress and help our folks get to and from their missions with a sense that both their service and that the Oklahoma City community care and support them."   
   "I am so excited to see this facility for our service men and women who travel through Oklahoma City. It is in keeping with the great tradition of community support for the military that is a hallmark of the people of Oklahoma City and the surrounding communities," Col. Beene said.
   From November 2006, when the temporary welcome center opened until June 1, 2007, the mothers served 9,755 service men and women from every branch of the armed forces.
   With the success of the initial center, the mothers soon realized they needed a more permanent solution. They enlisted the help of the airport, the Armed Services YMCA and the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City.
   The collaboration was successful. In a few short months, the vision was made a reality.
   Frank Gallo, Armed Services national executive director, said the mothers' efforts should be commended.
   "There are a lot of people that tell me this country is at war. I know the men in uniform are at war, but the other people that are at war are the people that are actually doing something to support the troops," Mr. Gallo said.
   "Terri Robinette and her people are a classic example of America," he added.
   The 750 square feet facility is located on the first floor of the airport on the west side of the baggage claim area. The center will be staffed by YMCA employees and volunteers Monday-Friday from 3-11 p.m. and is expected to serve 20,000 people yearly.