HM1 Benny Flores | SWA Region: USO Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan
In the first century B.C., the writer of maxims Publilius Syrus said, “Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.” But to hold the helm in the midst of a grinding maelstrom is the stuff that Benny “Doc” Flores is made of. On April 28, 2012, this quiet, self-effacing man who, on the outside, seems to represent “every troop” had his mettle tested in ways few of us can even imagine. While on patrol “outside the wire” of Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, his convoy was ambushed on the border with Iran, killing one marine. Though Doc, a Navy hospital corpsman, was himself injured, he stayed focused under ongoing sniper fire in order to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. Within six days of this horrific event, an injured Flores was back volunteering at the USO warmly welcoming guests.
Benny’s decision to return to volunteering just days after his release from the hospital is nothing short of remarkable. His choice to focus on service to others represents the incredible character of our nation’s men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way. Because he had volunteered with the USO in Kuwait on a previous deployment, he rallied his unit to take special care of the USO at Camp Leatherneck, organizing a night time cleaning crew to ensure that the center would open for troops the next morning all spic and span. Perhaps because he has experienced such turmoil in combat, he knows how soothing a “home away from home” can be for his fellow troops.
Benny does everything. No task is too menial or beneath him. He works the desk, assigns phones and computer games, helps with the United Through Reading Military Program, takes out the trash, refreshes snacks, makes the coffee and even mops the floor. His respectful demeanor and quiet professionalism put everyone at ease and serve as a model to younger soldiers and volunteers.
It is precisely Benny “Doc” Flores’ ability to stay calm and care for others both in the midst of disaster as well as everyday life that makes him so extraordinary. He goes about his business attuned to the needs of others, whether it is serving up a smile and cool bottle of water or working to save their lives.
Evans E. Formica | PAC Region: USO Camp Schwab, Okinawa
The sun never sets on Camp Schwab in Okinawa, at least on weekends and holidays. And this is due in large part to Evans Formica who has spearheaded efforts to keep the center opened 24 hours during these times to support the large contingent of Marines needing late-night access to the center.
Camp Schwab is located in northeast Okinawa, which means that new marines who have just landed on the island often find themselves arriving at their duty station late into the evening. Many of these young service members are on their first deployment, so the USO’s role as a “home away from home” can mean a lot to a novice traveler arriving in a foreign country. Evans recognized the importance of this and stepped up to the plate to organize the volunteer support required to operate the USO outside of its normal hours.
After seeing many Marines that return to the installation following a night on the town, Evans also understood the importance of providing a safe environment for the late-night revelers to unwind and stay out of mischief. As a result, he spearheaded the Midnight Barbeque to provide hot food and a gathering place long after the chow hall and other facilities on camp have closed down.
His determination to implement the Midnight Barbeque led Evans to find new vendors that provide quality products and competitive pricing for the center as a whole. The combination of this initiative, new programs and overall operational improvements has increased donations by 35%, increased the use of the facility by 55% and increased volunteerism by 25%. His efforts have created strong camaraderie between volunteers, employees and patrons alike exemplified by the regular birthday celebrations they hold in the center for individual troops.
So if you are a weekend night owl in Okinawa, look no further than Evans Formica at Camp Schwab. He’ll help you quell those late-night hunger pangs, keep you out of trouble and may even reserve a recliner for you when the sandman finally comes to call in the wee hours of the morning.
Helen Durkin | CONUS Region: USO Delaware
Fido never had it so good – at least when Helen Durkin of USO Delaware at Dover Air Force Base is in charge. When 40 canine heroes returned from Afghanistan along with their handlers, they found themselves stuck outside the passenger terminal of USO Delaware in 90 degree heat as the result of a broken aircraft. As both dogs and their masters began to wither under the weather, quick thinking by Helen turned what could have been a bad experience into a pleasant and even fun day. Without missing a beat, she took charge of organizing water and food stations for both the soldiers and dogs until their plane could be fixed and they could resume the last leg of their long journey home.
It’s all in a day’s work for Helen. When she’s not running an impromptu camp for canines, she’s welcoming troops and their families to USO Delaware with an ear-to-ear grin. She is full of charm, which just comes naturally, and everything Helen does comes straight from the heart. Helen’s face is often the last one troops will see when leaving U.S. soil and the first smile to embrace them when returning from deployment. It’s not unusual to hear a returning troop exclaim, “I remember Helen!” A familiar face means so much when a deployment-weary service member comes home.
In her “spare time” when she’s not organizing people or animals, she’s organizing systems and processes. Helen created an automated “on call” list of volunteers making it as easy as 1-2-3 to get a fill-in should volunteers be unable to report to their scheduled shift. This allows the center to stay opened continuously and not miss a beat. She also developed a series of spreadsheets for various activities making it easier to schedule and implement projects such as the Golf Challenge, Cupcake War and Wawa Store listing. And when she’s finished with her volunteer duty at the end of the day, she’s quick to enforce the philosophy “leave the center the way you want to find it.” This phrase has become contagious among the other volunteers who are quick to rise to the challenge to keep the center shipshape for USO guests.
Whether it’s pooches or people, Helen Durkin’s heart is big enough to care for both. From Dover’s military leaders, to retirees, veterans and visitors, Helen’s positive attitude and the goodness that pours out of her puts a smile on the faces – or a wiggle in the tails – of all she meets.
David Steiner | EUR Region: USO Stuttgart, Germany
If “heart” has anything to do with it, then the next class of contestants on “Food Network Star” should make way for the competition because David Steiner is hot on their heels. Although this seemingly unassuming Marine has been with USO Stuttgart for a short amount of time, he has already baked a plethora of desserts and chopped an ocean of onions for the Mobile Canteen and a variety of USO events. And when he’s not leading a culinary charge himself, he’s happily taking instruction from the head chef during USO meal events.
This service member, father, husband and volunteer seems to mysteriously carve out more than 24 hours in a day. Not only does he volunteer with the USO, but he supports the ACS, FMWR, Semper Fi Club and the tutoring program with Boeblingen Elementary School. And that’s all in addition to his regular work and family responsibilities. However, he’s still the guy who comes in early for his USO volunteer assignment and stays late to help with setup or breakdown – whatever it takes.
David will take on any task necessary and is constantly finding ways to improve the center’s efficiency and communications. He is an enthusiastic promoter of the USO and gets other Marines involved as volunteers, center patrons and event participants. He is so dedicated to the USO that he even called in from temporary duty in the country of Georgia to wish everyone a happy “Monthly Lunch” and to let folks know that he couldn’t wait to get back to the USO.
He is filled with positive energy, shows respect to others regardless of the venue and always has a smile on his face. Other long-time volunteers love having him around and consistently comment on his maturity, kindness and patience. Of course, visitors pick up on his dedication as well as his laid back attitude to help troops and their families feel a little touch of home when they are at the USO.
So the next time you taste a delicious dessert or attend a Mobile Canteen barbeque at USO Stuttgart, know that the frosting has been made sweeter and the onions have been chopped with tender loving care by an extraordinary young man dedicated to service to both you and your country.