DFW AIRPORT — Army Chaplain Bill Buell knocked down a free barbeque lunch in the USO lounge Monday at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
It helped him smile through a two-day delay getting to South Carolina for training.
He sat surrounded by others in the military; A young Navy SEAL getting advice from an older Navy Reservist and about a dozen teenage Marine recruits headed for boot camp.
Military passengers pack more than luggage. They carry fatigue and stress most of us can only imagine.
The USO provides refuge.
"It's like a home away from home for us," Chaplain Buell said.
If a soldier is going to get stuck, this is the place to be.
“Today is Gary Sinise barbecue day,” a volunteer cheerfully greeted a soldier. “Once a month. I hope you're hungry."
Forrest Gump's "Lieutenant Dan" bought barbecue for the USO in Terminal B; that's about 300 meals.
Ashley Ingram needed the comfort. She was headed home to Memphis after a brief visit with her husband, who just joined the Air Force.
“I've actually seen him twice now in four months,” she said.
Soldiers say the USO at DFW Airport is one of best in the country, because it's on the secure side and easy to get to.
About 240 volunteers keep it going. Many are vets, or the parents or grandparents of kids in the military.
"When they smile, that's all the thanking we need," said Jill Helm, who spent 27 years in the Air Force.
But the USO at DFW needs a lot of help. Back when R&R flights were coming through, crowds greeted flights; people donated goods and cash. They would show up with carloads of supplies.
These days, not so much.
“I think maybe people are fatigued by the fact that the war has gone on for a long time,” said center director Rhenda White-Brunner. "We need snacks. We need chips. We need peanuts. We need toiletries. Trial-size toiletries. Anything that can bring a little comfort to our service members and families coming through."
She said donations like that are down 50 percent. Cash contributions dropped, too.
But the number of military members seeking TLC at the USO has barely dropped at all.
Last year, the center at DFW Airport served nearly 170,000 people.