Melvin Kearney II served two combat tours in Iraq with the N.C. National Guard before landing a role on ABC’s television show “Nashville.”
So when filming began on a special episode designed to honor the troops, Kearney knew exactly where he wanted to be when the show aired – at home with his friends and family.
On a Wednesday night in May, Kearney held a watch party at Ribeyes Steakhouse in Tarboro for people in the community and soldiers with whom he served. Some of them were being reunited for the first time in several years.
“We’re one big family,” said Kearney, 31, a 2001 Tarboro High School graduate. “Brothers and sisters for life.”
Kearney, who plays “Bo,” the bodyguard for Hayden Panettiere’s character, Juliette Barnes, said acting has been therapeutic for him because it allows him to tap into feelings and emotions and reconnect with a person that he buried away. He stumbled into the television role rather unintentionally.
After Kearney’s second tour in Iraq, he went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., for a couple of months to visit Michael Beck, a fellow soldier from Rocky Mount who was severely wounded during a mortar explosion in Iraq. It was there that Kearney said he discovered his calling.
Kearney became an advocate for severely wounded, ill and injured soldiers, veterans and their families through the Army Wounded Warrior Program.
A soldier’s wife suggested that Kearney put his photo on the back of a business card, so Kearney found a photographer in Nashville to take his picture. The photographer asked if he could pass along Kearney’s information for a new show that was coming to Nashville. That eventually led to “Bo.”
A recent episode of “Nashville” was filmed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky.
Kearney said everyone wanted to know where he planned to watch the episode when it aired. He wanted to watch it with his “battle buddies” in the same community that sent them care packages and lifted them up during their time overseas.
“We went through so much together,” Kearney said.
Before the show started, the group gathered in a room at Ribeyes and snacked on chicken wings and other food as they updated each other about their lives, showed off new additions to their families and told stories.
The room erupted when Kearney appeared on a big screen TV in the corner of the room.
A number of people who served with Kearney attended the viewing party Wednesday, including Beck, who came with his wife and two daughters.
Kearney said Beck has been an inspiration to him.
“I take his photo everywhere I go, and I look at it every day because it keeps me encouraged,” Kearney said. “It reminds me not to forget and how precious life is and how anything can change in a matter of a moment, but when it does, you have two choices. You can give up, or you can keep going.”
The people who gathered last month aren’t the only ones who have inspired Kearney, who has made it his mission to help and inspire others.
Before Kearney’s first tour in Iraq, his mother died from cancer. During his second tour in Iraq, five of the soldiers he served with were killed in action and others were wounded.
After he came back, his sister died.
Before his mom died, she shared some wisdom with Kearney.
He said he didn’t get it then, but he does now.
“My mom said, you can choose to never have a bad day again,” Kearney said.
“You can’t control your circumstances or situation, but you can control your attitude and be positive and smile. Keep the faith, and I do.”