Military ‘home away from home’ on base gets new manager

The USO Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base recently celebrated its third anniversary of taking care of Airmen and other service members.

Intended for all branches of active-duty military, Guard, reservists and their families, the organization serves as a “home away from home” from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. most days, plus provides donated household goods, clothing, uniforms and children’s items from its Airman’s Attic.

Now it has a new manager seeing it into its fourth year of operation.

Whitney Armstrong had been serving as assistant manager since last April and took over in January, succeeding Mia Walthers, who is now the development director for the United Service Organizations of Central and Southern Ohio organization.

Armstrong now has a new perspective on what it takes to run the center in Bldg. 1222, Kittyhawk Center, Area A, and she gives full credit to those who provide her with assistance.

“You get to work with countless volunteers who wake up every day and want to make a difference for someone else,” she said. “It’s really humbling and an honor to be in a role where you get to work alongside them. We are fully run by volunteers for the day-to-day operations.”

Armstrong is particularly proud the center has never had to close due to any concerns other than inclement weather. She thanks volunteers for that and hopes to welcome new volunteers, too.

“Even in sub-zero temperatures, we had people here volunteering because military members were expected to be at work, and we wanted them to have a place to have a meal and get warm,” she said.

The Colorado native and her active-duty husband, Capt. Mason Armstrong of the Air Combat Command Intelligence Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory’s 711th Human Performance Wing, moved from Shaw AFB, South Carolina, last year to come to Wright-Patterson AFB. She credits her bachelor’s degree in English and years of teaching middle and high school students with her ability to interact with others and publicly represent an organization.

Armstrong became a stay-at-home mom when the couple’s son Holden (he has since been joined by 7-month-old brother Torin) was born. She began volunteering as a key spouse at Shaw AFB, taught HeartLink classes and was named Military Spouse of the Year for 2017 there.

“I fell in love with non-profit work and that fueled my passion to help more people on a national level,” she said.

Her volunteerism expanded to the Military Spouse Advocacy Network; she currently serves as vice president of programs and operations for the non-profit.

“What we focus on now is finding new spouses and mentoring them by pairing them with a ‘seasoned’ spouse to provide them with accurate, vetted, Department of Defense-approved resources,” Armstrong said.

Her work with MSAN has not gone unnoticed. She was selected as one of 60 people to participate in the fifth annual class of the Presidential Leadership Scholars program. PLS serves as a catalyst for a diverse network of established leaders brought together to collaborate and make a difference in the world as they learn about leadership through the lens of the presidential experiences of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Scholars are selected based on their leadership growth potential and their personal leadership projects aimed at improving civic engagement or social good by addressing a problem or need in their community, the country or the world.

During the course of several months, PLS scholars travel to each participating presidential center to learn from former presidents, key former administration officials, business and civic leaders, and leading academics. They will study and put into practice varying approaches to leadership and exchange ideas to help strengthen their impact in their communities. The program ends in June.

“It’s an incredible opportunity, and I am honored to have been selected,” Armstrong said.

Her project focuses on growing the programs within MSAN and in an official capacity with other military service branches. She said she is also excited to take what she learns and apply it to improving the USO Center and the ways in which it serves military members and their families.

USO never far from Armstrong’s thoughts

“It is my dream job to work for the USO and think about the impact it has all around the world,” she said.

Locally, the number of troops and visitors who have gone through the doors is the USO’s No. 1 accomplishment. As one of five centers within the 65-county USO-CSO, Wright-Patterson AFB’s center is, by far, the busiest.

“We have anywhere from 60 to 80 events going on in the building a month,” Armstrong said. “Our spaces are booked every day – sometimes several times per day.”

In 2018, the USO Center served more than 34,800 people. It’s hosted everything from promotion and retirement ceremonies and official events to birthday parties and even a wedding. A monthly “Serving Heroes” dinner is sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation in the first-floor auditorium. That space can accommodate up to 150 people.

Meeting rooms on the second floor also are available for smaller groups when discretion and confidentiality are needed.

Evenings are a busy time at the center. After Airmen finish their duty day and perform physical training, they often come to the center to “hang out” and relax or work on their career development courses. Many don’t own a vehicle, so they come to the USO to take advantage of free Wi-Fi, free snacks and drinks in the Wright Café – a lounge equipped with chairs, ottomans, counters, tables and flat-screen TVs.

Two common access card-enabled computers sit on one side of the door, while two private computer stations take up the other side. Two coolers hold fresh food; one of them is filled with items donated by Kroger for military members only to take home. Panera donates free bakery items.

Nearby is the game room, with a pool table, poker table, air hockey, pingpong table, three video game stations and a trio of overstuffed chairs.

To dedicate a donation to the base-level USO center, any check should be designated "Wright-Patterson USO Center." To contact Armstrong, email her at or call 937-904-0537. The USO's mailing address is Wright-Patterson AFB USO, Bldg. 1222, 2221 Birch St., WPAFB, OH 45433. To make a donation to the USO Center, go online to Find the center on Facebook at "Wright-Patterson Air Force Base USO Center."

Airman’s Attic offers thrifty savings

Open weekdays whenever the USO Center is open, the third-floor Airman’s Attic resembles a thrift store – except no money changes hands. Instead, enlisted personnel E1 through E6, active-duty, Reserve and Guard only, are welcome to browse through donated items for what they need to wear or with which to furnish their homes. The attic’s hours mean military members can shop whenever they are not on duty weekdays.

Ribbons, uniforms, boots and shoes are available and are welcome donations. Anything that touches the skin in a personal way, like undergarments, sheets, towels or stuffed animals, is not welcome because the center doesn’t have the capacity to wash such items.

New and gently used clothing, books, housewares and children’s items like clothing and toys are needed because the turnover for them is rapid. They are needed by young families, and it’s all free. A list of unacceptable items is available on Facebook at “WPAFB USO Airman’s Attic”.

Furniture donations cannot be accommodated due to space, but USO Center Manager Whitney Armstrong said she is more than willing to match donors with recipients if someone wishes to contact her via email with a photo of what they are offering.

Recently arranged partnerships with Amazon and Wayfair mean sample or returned items like a brand-new Under Armour shirt, a 10-pound bag of protein powder or a cast-iron firepit may be waiting for selection in the Airman’s Attic.

“Sometimes we get strange things like wood putty, but we never say no to a donation,” she said. “Someone can use it.”

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