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Special Deliveries: USO, Fellow Passengers Make Returning Soldier's Anniversary Surprise More Memorable

Monday, March 25, 2013

By Joseph Andrew Lee 

Kristi Hinson and her two daughters waited patiently at the foot of a baggage claim escalator in San Antonio International Airport. It was her 20th wedding anniversary, but one of less than a dozen she’s enjoyed with her husband between deployments during his 17-year Army career.

Chief Warrant Officer Scott Hinson was scheduled to arrive any minute. Kristi peered up the escalator bank, searching for a familiar face, when an unfamiliar woman in a pink sweatsuit approached and handed her a long-stem rose.

“Happy anniversary,” the stranger said.

The woman in pink was followed by a man in a business suit she’d never seen before. He, too, was bearing a rose.

“You must be Kristi. Happy anniversary,” he said, handing her the rose.

Stranger after stranger came down the escalator until 19 long-stem roses from 19 strangers were in Kristi’s hands. She turned misty when she saw who was carrying the 20th rose.

One month earlier, Scott Hinson contacted the USO for help. Knowing there would be no place to buy roses on the flight back, he drafted an email.

“I'm sure this is a strange request,” he wrote to USO Georgia CEO Mary Lou Austin, “but I'm not sure who else to ask.

“I'm currently serving in Afghanistan and will be coming home for R&R in a couple of weeks. It will also be my 20-year wedding anniversary and I'm trying to find roses to purchase in the airport to give to my wife when I land in San Antonio.”

Hinson wrote that he’d looked through the airport directory but didn't see any vendors that sold flowers and he assumed there wouldn’t be a place to buy any before he saw Kristi and their two teenage girls in San Antonio. He asked if someone from the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport USO office could tell him what stores in the area sold flowers and if they could collect them for him if he ordered them online.

“Again, I know this is a strange request,” he wrote, “but I'm just taking a shot here. Thanks for your time.”

“My reply was simple,” Austin said. “Tell me when and where and I’ll take care of it.”

The day of his arrival, USO Georgia staffer Carol Austin confirmed with Army Sgt. Maj. Tyrone Legier that Hinson was indeed on an inbound flight manifest. She purchased the flowers at a nearby flower boutique, went past security to where Hinson was arriving on a rain-delayed trip from the Middle East and hand-delivered the flowers he requested.

But that wasn’t all. Austin then took Hinson to Concourse E where he was rebooked on a 5:45 p.m. flight rather than his original flight, which would have put him in San Antonio at nearly midnight. 

As he walked off the plane, Hinson gave 19 roses to helpful passengers on his flight. He asked them to walk to baggage claim where they would see one of his daughters holding up a “Welcome Home" sign and to then give the rose to the lady standing next to it. Everything went lockstep and what began as a problem – not knowing where to get flowers – ended up as a wonderful reunion for the Hinsons.

“We’ve spent a lot of anniversaries apart, so I’m glad he made this one special,” Kristi said. “He definitely earned some brownie points on this one, but when he told me how the USO made this all possible, that made the story even sweeter.”

“Mrs. Austin and the USO members at the airport went way above anything I expected to ensure I was taken care of coming through the Atlanta Airport,” Scott Hinson wrote on the USO’s Facebook wall.  “Thanks USO for making this R&R and anniversary special!”

* Update 3/26/13:  Watch the Hinsons tell their story to NBC's "The Today Show." 

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Watch a video of the homecoming: 

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