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Servicemembers newly arrived for duty in South Korea make their way through the interim passenger terminal at Osan Air Base Thursday. Base officials recently took the vacant former base exchange building and transformed it into a bustling passenger terminal.

Servicemembers newly arrived for duty in South Korea make their way through the interim passenger terminal at Osan Air Base Thursday. Base officials recently took the vacant former base exchange building and transformed it into a bustling passenger terminal. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

Servicemembers newly arrived for duty in South Korea make their way through the interim passenger terminal at Osan Air Base Thursday. Base officials recently took the vacant former base exchange building and transformed it into a bustling passenger terminal.

Servicemembers newly arrived for duty in South Korea make their way through the interim passenger terminal at Osan Air Base Thursday. Base officials recently took the vacant former base exchange building and transformed it into a bustling passenger terminal. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

Outside the interim passenger terminal at Osan Air Base in South Korea Thursday, airmen stack newly-arrived troops' baggage.

Outside the interim passenger terminal at Osan Air Base in South Korea Thursday, airmen stack newly-arrived troops' baggage. (Franklin Fisher / S&S)

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — Before it shut its doors last fall to give way to a big new shopping mall, the building that housed the base exchange here had been one of the busiest spots on base.

Servicemembers and their families came by the hour to buy everything from sunglasses to sneakers, toothpaste to widescreen TVs. People waited for cabs at the taxi stand, and the adjoining food court always seemed crowded.

Then it closed, and a new exchange — the U.S. military’s biggest in South Korea — opened down the street in November.

The former exchange complex soon took on the feel of a ghost town. Workers had gutted the building for eventual demolition and the parking lot lay empty. People who passed by were headed elsewhere.

But now the former BX complex once again is bustling.

Airmen racing a two-day deadline last month transformed the barren structure into a busy air passenger terminal.

Officials stopped using the regular terminal last month after several beams were found to be badly misshapen and engineers declared it structurally unsound.

Hundreds of airmen, including carpenters, electricians and plumbers, worked long hours to revive the old building. They restored lights, water, phones and computers. They painted, plastered, set up service counters and hung signs. By March 22 it processed its first planeload of new troops.

Its parking lot, silent all winter, now is crowded with buses. Some shuttle passengers to and from the flightline.

Others wait to take travel-weary troops in jeans and baseball caps to their new units around South Korea.

Work crews have repainted spaces for taxis and other authorized vehicles.

The terminal will relocate again this fall to allow demolition of the former BX, officials said. They have yet to decide on the next location, said Air Force Capt. Tom Strassberger, Aerial Port Flight commander with the 731st Air Mobility Squadron.

Nevertheless, efforts continue at further terminal improvements, he said.

In recent weeks, two large, flat-screen TVs have been set up in waiting areas. Food and beverage vending machines have been carted in.

An X-ray machine and baggage conveyer belt have been moved over from the regular terminal.

Airmen meeting arriving aircraft give passengers a heads up.

“What we tell them is that right now, ‘Our passenger terminal is under renovation … apologize for any inconvenience. It’s just a short bus ride,’” said Staff Sgt. Maurice Hill of the 731st Air Mobility Squadron.

Romy Kerstetter and Kristen Stone flew into Osan from Japan on Thursday. Both work at Seoul Middle School, Kerstetter as a librarian, Stone as a reading teacher.

“They were efficient and friendly and helpful every time we’ve been here,” Kerstetter said of Osan’s terminal staff. She compared it to other military passenger terminals she’s been in.

“The other terminals were a bit more comfortable, but we understand” that Osan’s is temporary, she said.

Meanwhile, said Strassberger: “We’re still tweaking it.”


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