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YMCA Military Welcome Center at Will Rogers World Airport stays busy

Active and retired military personnel can relax in the welcome center while waiting at the airport.
by Bryan Painter Published: June 26, 2011

The cinnamon sugar atop the compact disc-sized snickerdoodle acts as a neon sign.

This homemade chunk of heaven is just begging clean-cut Brandon Hockersmith, 21, of Stratford, to snatch it from the white plastic tray.

It had been three months since the U.S. Army private first class made it home to peach country in Garvin County. Now, the four-day pass is up and it's back to Camp Shelby, Miss.

When he arrived at Will Rogers World Airport at 6 a.m., the flights were overbooked. So instead of waiting for hours in the terminal, he's been on a leather couch in the YMCA's Military Welcome Center, hugging his wife, Shenay Hockersmith.

In the other room, two young men are playing “Blacks Ops” on the Xbox 360 while two buddies watch.

The welcome center, a joint effort of the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, the Armed Forces YMCA, Will Rogers World Airport and so many organizations, offers a restful and relaxing atmosphere each year for about 30,000 traveling active or retired military members from all branches, as well as allies.

Down the wall, John Cox of Madison, Ind., taps a text on his phone with two pieces of pepperoni pizza on a plate before him. The 19-year-old anxiously awaits the bus to take him to basic training at Fort Sill.

Ever been to Oklahoma?

“No sir, I've never been this far west,” he replied.

To kill time and soothe his nerves, he's devoured a mammoth chocolate chip cookie, played on the Xbox 360 and checked his Facebook back in the computer room.

The military welcome center is 3,600 square feet of home nestled in a cargo bay just outside the east side door of Will Rogers' Baggage Claim 1. The center opened four years ago this month inside the airport terminal.

Back then it could seat about 15 people, had one television and two computers amid about 750 square feet. The traffic kept increasing. Plus, the hours of the center expanded from about 40 to about 90 hours a week.

So the move was made last year to the cargo bay. Now there's seating for about 100 people, plus two televisions, six computers — and, oh yes, three guitars.

“They get played very regularly,” said Clyde Tullos, a retired Army soldier serving as the Center's director. “Over in the corner is the karaoke machine. The volunteers encourage the young men and women to use it, and they do.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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