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Funding sought to help more military members get R & R at MSP

Being on active duty can be so exhausting that military members sometimes joke they have learned to sleep standing up.

A new, bigger space for the Minnesota Armed Forces Service Center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport would mean more active duty military members passing through can get the R & R they deserve – including a bed to sleep on.

Sponsored by Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL-International Falls), HF143 would appropriate $100,000 in Fiscal Year 2020 to the Department of Veterans Affairs for a onetime grant to remodel and expand the center.

The bill was laid over by the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Division Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. The companion, SF225, is sponsored by Sen. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo Township) and is awaiting action by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.

Funds would be granted only if the center provides matching funding.

The center has already raised approximately $141,000, said Center President Terry Branham. He testified that the move would increase the space of the current center from 2,700 square feet to 5,900 square feet.

Equally important, he said, the move would put the center inside the airport’s security perimeter. That would allow the center to serve more military members making connections at the airport, who currently would have to exit through security to access the center.

The nonprofit center is a 24/7 operation staffed by approximately 200 volunteers that serves more than 1,500 active duty military members per month, offering free food and even beds for overnight stays when needed.

Beds for men would increase from 20 to 30, and beds for women would increase from six to 10, Branham said. Dining space in the new center would be triple the current capacity, increasing from four seats to 12. It is scheduled to be in operation in October.

Branham said there is no U.S.O. service center at the airport because the federal government determined not enough military members pass through.

The hospitality provided by the center “was such a blessing for not only myself, but for all the other men and women I was serving with at the time,” said Rep. John Heinrich (R-Anoka), a Marine Corps veteran.

In addition to providing a space for active military members to get a little rest and relaxation, the center hosts Honor Flights from the airport to Washington, D.C., and provides escorts for wounded military members travelling through the airport.

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