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USO lounge at Fayetteville Regional Airport aids soldiers, families while traveling

Shielded from busy holiday travelers and morning commuters, Dennis and Edda Zuroff welcome Diallo Melvin to the conference room turned USO lounge inside Fayetteville Regional Airport.

Melvin, on his way to a naval base in Washington state, missed his flight and has a two-hour wait before the next.

"It's my first time stopping here," Melvin says of the lounge. "It's a nice place to get away."

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Taking a seat in a plush red leather chair, he plugs his phone in to charge. Edda Zuroff offers Melvin some coffee or a snack.

He declines, but thanks her.

"Volunteering here, it's so different because the people are so appreciative," Edda Zuroff says. "But you don't do anything but open up and make coffee."

The Zuroffs were long-time volunteers at the Cape Fear Valley Cancer Center. They jumped at the opportunity to volunteer with the USO of North Carolina when it opened the airport lounge last year. Dennis is a retired Army sergeant first class and Vietnam veteran.

More than 3,000 travelers visit the lounge each month, said Renee Lane, director of the USO of North Carolina centers on Fort Bragg and at the airport.

As travelers trickle in and out -- mornings are busiest for the airport with five flights during a 90-minute period beginning at 5:25 -- the Zuroffs make coffee, put out a variety of snacks, turn on a large flat-screen television, boot up two computers and tidy the room.

Dennis Zuroff steps into the hallway telling passersby about the lounge, which is open to active-duty and retired military personnel and their families.

"I just let them know we're open," he says from the doorway. "A lot of people just walk on by. It's up to the individual if they want to come in."

He greets a family of four headed to San Diego. Curtis Hall, who is in the Navy, his wife, Dawn, and two daughter, Kira and Kiara, were visiting his family in Stedman during the holidays.

"USOs are awesome," Curtis Hall says. "Now it seems like you don't have as bad of layovers, but it's nice to have somewhere to relax."

The family grabs some snacks, coffee and water and head to their flight.

"Gook luck to you," Edda Zuroff calls as they leave the room.

The lounge, open seven days a week, is manned by about 40 to 50 volunteers who split the 12-hour days into three shifts. The Zuroffs have signed up to work every Wednesday morning for the remainder of the year, as well as some other days.

"It's very uplifting," Dennis Zuroff says. "It's like therapy ... Over the years, people reached out and helped me and I feel like it's time to give back. There's nothing better than a warm hug or handshake."

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