At least 15 Patriot Guard Riders were on hand during a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday that celebrated the opening of the 500-square-foot Rhode Island Military Organization (RIMO) lounge at T.F. Green Airport.
Green is the first airport in the country with space dedicated to the military and their families managed by an organization other than the United Service Organizations (USO).
The lounge, located on the second floor behind the Delta Airlines ticket counter, is complete with furniture, a flat-screen television and kitchen. It will cater to more than 10,000 military members annually, with volunteers available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
The initiative was a collaboration of RIMO, a non-profit organization that primarily helps transition veterans back to civilian life after serving overseas and educates them about available options for the future, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), which donated the space, as well as generous local business owners and community members.
“I just feel a huge sense of pride,” Chief Master Sgt. Lori Ashness, the vice chair and airport committee project chair, said during an interview following the ceremony.
RIMO President and CEO Staff Sgt. Anthony Paolino, who serves in the Rhode Island Air National Guard, feels the same. He is pleased the airport has a place where military members can avoid busy crowds to connect with loved ones, enjoy a cup of coffee and relax before or after a flight.
“I’m blessed to be a part of a community that’s so supportive,” he said.
Several military members expressed thanks to all who made the lounge possible. Among them was Maj. General Kevin McBride.
“We’re truly grateful for everything they’ve done and everything that they continue to do,” he said.
For Army National Guard members such as SPC Gabriel Morales, Sgt. Diana Jimos and SFC Jodi Fritsche, the lounge is a dream come true. While it isn’t open 24-7, RIMO volunteers are able to open the area on off hours, pending a request in advance.
“It’s fantastic,” Fritsche said, while Jimos added, “This is a nice touch.”
Kelly Fredericks, RIAC’s new president and CEO, agrees.
“It’s a wonderful asset,” he said. “As a new guy here, I had no idea of the military travel at this airport.”
Council members, including Thomas Chadronet, Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Ed Ladouceur and Joseph Gallucci, were in attendance, and said it’s a great way to show appreciation to those who have served and are serving, especially since Vietnam vets didn’t have such perks. Each is a military veteran.
“This is long overdue,” Chadronet said.
Vella-Wilkinson, who Ashness credited as being an important component of the project, said the lounge speaks highly of the admiration Rhode Islanders have for the military. It means much more than just pinning on a yellow ribbon, she said.
“We fully embrace, respect and love our veteran community, not just those who live in Rhode Island, but those who are passing through,” said Vella-Wilkinson, a Navy veteran who helped establish the Warwick Veterans Service Organization at the JONAH Center.
Mayor Scott Avedisian and Gov. Lincoln Chafee were also at the celebration, with Avedisian highlighting the fact that many local police and fire personnel serve overseas.
“It will be nice to have a spot to welcome them back,” Avedisian said. “It reminds us of how important it is to say a great big ‘thank you’ to all of those who serve the city, our state and our nation.”
Chafee agreed. He, along with Ashness, read a long list of donors, including Cardi’s Furniture, The Airport Project Committee, RIMO’s Service Member Support Committee Chair Ramona Cook, who secured donations from Pepsi Cola and the Girl Scouts, to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, as well as Gilbane Building Company, State Captain of the Patriot Guard Riders, Barbara “Wolfy” Dardeen, and other community members and businesses.
“I’m proud to be able to support our members of the military,” Chafee said. “We have a rich history of military here and this continues to show our appreciation for all our members of the military.”
Ashness shared his sentiments. She also said that without the help of “extraordinary” Rhode Islanders, RIMO’s dream of having the space would not have been possible.
“It’s a great day to be a Rhode Islander,” said Ashness.