When Nancy Flores stepped off a plane in Germany in 2003 with just her luggage and her cat, there was supposed to be someone from the military there to pick her up. There wasn’t.
“I saw that USO sign and thought, ‘I can go there. They will help me!’”
She was right. A USO volunteer invited her inside the center where more volunteers took the then-23-year-old's luggage, looked up the phone numbers to her husband’s unit, gave her a snack and even cut down a plastic cup to make a water dish for her cat.
Her husband, now-retired Army communications Sgt. Johnathan Flores, had sent the duty driver to pick her up, but they had left an hour late and were stuck in traffic. It was something the volunteers at the USO at Frankfurt International Airport had seen before.
“At a very young age, I was alone in a foreign country and that was a very huge relief for me to find the USO,” said Nancy, who was 23 at the time. “[My husband is] my security blanket in those situations, so being alone in that situation was scary.”
When the driver arrived, the USO volunteers helped her on her way, and that singular moment of compassion spawned Flores’ lifetime commitment to both the organization and the military community.
“Seven years later I found out we had a USO on Fort Hood and as soon as I could I started volunteering,” she said. “I enjoy every day making soldiers and their families smile.”
She currently volunteers once or twice a week from four to six hours at a time, helping anywhere she’s needed, from flightline welcome home events to working behind a desk in a center.
But her favorite program by far is the Story Time Early Literacy Workshop. She’s volunteered once a month at the USO Fort Hood/Military Child Education Coalition event for the last three years, helping feed breakfast and read books to pre-school-age children who attend with their parents.
But her connection to the USO runs even deeper than a missed ride and the resulting volunteerism. Her son, Johnathan Flores Jr., 10, has watched her husband deploy three times. Nancy says it was the USO that made it possible for her husband and their growing boy to connect.
“We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”
The first time her husband deployed, Jonathan Jr. was only 3 months old. Nancy knew she would have some contact with her husband over the Internet, but didn’t know which moments he’d get to see from afar.
“Daddy does bed time,” she said. “That was a moment every day. And when he left it was sad that we had to break that pattern.
“But then out of nowhere we received these books he recorded at a USO center.”
When the USO/United Through Reading packages arrived, Flores broke down in tears knowing bedtime was back on again.
“I had no idea it was even coming,” she said. “Every night we played the video and, even though it was the same story, it was a moment with Daddy. He knew that Daddy cared.”
“We have that memory,” she said. “And that’s a really cool moment for us. Every time my son was missing Daddy we’d pop in that DVD.
“We were very honest with him that Daddy was away protecting America and doing his job. He learned really young to deal with it and I believe the USO was part of making that happen naturally.
“Now, even though we’re not technically in the military, we’re still very much a part of the military community. We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect: http://uso.org/messages. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.
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USO's Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program Keeps Service Members and Their Kids Connected
The USO provides service members with the unique opportunity to record themselves reading a book for their loved ones back home. When they finish recording themselves, the USO then sends the service member’s recording, along with instructions and a copy of the book, to school-aged kids back home.