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Lifting Spirits of Service Members

Barbara Dwyer became a USO volunteer when the Nashville location opened. Photo by Hollis Bennett


By Sheila Burke

Sgt. Eric Jarvis, a 22-year-old serving with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., relaxed in the Nashville International Airport USO center one day last fall while waiting to fly to Afghanistan. He was heading back to the war after some time off.

“You know, going to a combat zone, that life is going to become exponentially harder,” Jarvis said. “What the USO provides to soldiers like myself is a last sense of calm—a chance to call or email loved ones and eat some food that isn’t prepared in a mess hall or even just catch up on some sleep.”

Jarvis is among more than 12,000 active-duty and retired military personnel and family members who have made use of the Nashville USO since it opened in May.

The center, open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, is staffed with about 80 volunteers. More volunteers would allow the lounge to be open longer, and AARP Tennessee is helping to get the word out.

Comforting families
Volunteers offer a welcoming smile and hand out refreshments. Sometimes they provide comfort in the midst of a family’s heartache.

For instance, USO volunteer Barbara Dwyer escorted family members of a fallen soldier when they traveled to a memorial service at Fort Campbell. “It’s a solemn experience,” Dwyer said of her time at the USO center with the bereaved family.

“It’s solemn and respectful,” she said. “They can be emotionally numb at that point. We can offer compassion.”

Dwyer, 59, of Franklin, offered to volunteer as soon as she read that the Nashville USO had opened. “I love our country, and I want to give back to the men and women who are serving to protect something I hold very dear—freedom,” she said.

The center features multiple rooms that offer quiet getaways for military personnel and their family members. “We want to make it as comfortable and peaceful as possible,” said Tammy Bass, the Nashville USO manager.

Many AARP members, especially those who have served in the military, are looking for a way to help. Volunteering at the USO center is a natural fit for them, said Tara Shaver, AARP Tennessee associate state director for community outreach.

The center lifts the spirits of active-duty military members and their families, said Shaver, who also volunteers at the Nashville USO. The volunteers are asked to work two four-hour shifts each month.

Training provided
Most volunteers are retired, Bass said, but some are as young as college age. No military experience is required, but would-be volunteers receive training and obtain a security clearance.

The center provides books and magazines. A bank of computers lined up on a table allows the center’s visitors to check email and surf the Web.

Recliners offer a comfortable place to await the next flight. TVs, toys and a room with Xbox video game consoles provide entertainment for service members and their families.

“We’re having a marvelous time,” Nashville resident Doug Minton, a 66-year-old retired Army officer who served in Vietnam, said of his experience volunteering along with his wife, Janice, 59. “You almost always come away with a story each time you volunteer. It’s very rewarding,” he said.

The Nashville USO is the newest U.S. site among the 72-year-old nonprofit organization’s more than 160 locations worldwide.

In addition to operating the centers, the USO has several programs that help deployed military personnel stay in touch with their families. For information about volunteering at the Nashville USO, go to, visit or telephone 615-835-3128.

Sheila Burke is a writer living in Nashville.

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