Friendships Strengthened Through Volunteering at USO Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio

By Erik Oberg

Dan Bizzarro and Doug Whitacre are permanent fixtures on the volunteer schedule calendar at the USO center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) in Ohio, pulling the opening shift at the center on Tuesday and Friday mornings. Though they’ve known each other for years, it’s their work together at the USO that has galvanized their friendship.

Bizzarro and Whitacre are close in age and used to watch their kids play high school sports together in Bellbrook, Ohio. Throughout past school years, they’d see more or less of one another depending on the season and the sport. That all changed once they started volunteering at the USO.

When Whitacre retired in 2016, he noticed that the USO Wright-Patterson AFB had recently opened and was actively seeking volunteers. He quickly attended a volunteer orientation session and signed up at once.

Eighteen months later, Bizzarro was in the same position, having also recently retired. Though their kids had now grown, Bizzarro and Whitacre still saw each other occasionally and on one of these instances, Whitacre suggested that Bizzarro should also volunteer with the USO.

The pair has worked the Tuesday and Friday morning shifts together ever since.

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Now, after nearly five years of volunteering, Whitacre has given roughly 2,200 hours to USO Wright-Patterson, and Bizzarro has put in approximately 1,000 hours during his almost three and a half years of volunteer work. Since Bizzarro joined the team, the two have been inseparable, spending almost all of their volunteer time together, and their combined several thousands of volunteer hours at the USO have only strengthened their friendship.

The Importance of – and Dedication to – Giving Back

Bizzarro has a previous connection to the USO. He served for four years in the Navy and distinctly remembers how well the USO volunteers at San Francisco International Airport took care of him after he was bumped off a flight on his way to Vietnam in the early 1970s.

“They fed me and gave me a toothbrush,“ Bizzarro said. "They really took care of me.

Whitacre did not have the opportunity to serve in the military and he cites this as his motivation for volunteering with the USO.

“I was looking to give back for a time when I couldn’t,” he said.

Whitacre is currently the volunteer manager of the USO center’s Wright Café. He ensures that all of the snacks and beverages stay stocked and orders what’s needed when inventory is running low.

Whitacre and Bizzarro always arrive at the center within minutes of each other, with Bizzarro typically arriving just before Whitacre so that he can help unload any food or drink that Whitacre has picked up on his drive to the center. Though their shift doesn’t officially start until 8:30 a.m., you can usually find them both on duty by 8:00 a.m.

The two friends also make the two-hour round trip together to Niagara Bottling in Gahanna, Ohio, to pick up bottled water from this generous donor when stocks are getting low.

Ask them why they volunteer, and Whitacre will jokingly reply, “Well, it makes our wives happy because it gets us out of the house.”

Ask them about their visibly close friendship and he’ll dryly respond, “We tolerate each other.”

Truthfully, aside from their friendship, it’s the interaction with USO patrons that keep Whitacre and Bizzarro coming back, week after week, year after year. They wistfully remember airmen who they’ve gotten to know by name over the years.

Even during the interview for this story, the pair remained dedicated to their duties, and sprang to action to celebrate the arrival of first-time visitors to the center – a military spouse with four young children in tow. They served snacks to this family and ensured that center seating was arranged in a way to make their visit as pleasant as possible.

As Bizzarro said, and Whitacre agreed: “It makes us both feel good to give these military members and their families a place to take a break.”

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