Publication Date: 5/3/2013
Author: Eric Brandner

Heather Harrington was having trouble finishing a conversation. It was hardly her fault.

The new manager of the USO Nashville – located in the Nashville International Airport – had a stream of well-wishers flowing past the 900-square-foot center’s welcome desk at its official grand opening Friday morning. After months of 90-hour weeks, she still wasn’t at the point where she could catch her breath.

“I’ve got a really good group of volunteers and they’ve been willing to bend to do anything I’ve needed them to do,” she said, pausing between sentences to shake hands and trade smiles. “I took [this position] knowing I would have a lot to do, and as my husband is deployed right now, I have a lot of time to do it.”

While her husband is in Afghanistan with the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Harrington and Kari Burgess,  USO Nashville and Fort Campbell Director, as well as a host of other USO and airport staffers have been working behind the scenes to bring the USO’s newest airport center to life.

Located between the C and D concourses inside security, the center will serve more than 14,000 troops and families – many of them Fort Campbell-based – who travel through the airport each year. 

USO Nashville squeezes a significant number of features into a modest, winding space. There’s a TV room with leather sofas, a game room with six flat screens hooked to Xbox 360s, a kids play area, four computer terminals with Internet access, free Wi-Fi, a small kitchen and plenty of places to sit and relax.

“Every day inside this center, countless little things will make life better for our troops and their families,” USO President Sloan Gibson told a crowd of more than 200 people at the airport Friday. 

Gibson said the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority (MNAA) built the center, donating $155,000 to the project. The center was completed less than four months after the Jan. 17 wall-busting ceremony. “[The USO] is very adept at recognizing and providing a solution to an identified need,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mark F. Herndon. “This facility will assist with the bridging of a gap in transportation, families driving through on business or leisure that need comfort … or [families that] just need a place to relax and unwind.”

Herndon was among several local leaders – including Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority President and CEO Rob Wigington and the Armed Forces Family Foundation’s Roger Kahn – who spoke at the event.

The USO also brought several partners on stage to recognize their donations during the center’s construction. Kroger, the Armed Forces Family Foundation, HMS Host and both Wigington and Cathy Holland from the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority were recognized for their efforts. 

“We are just thrilled to be part of this MNAA family now,” Burgess said.