Former Air Force Capt. Jeff Smith has started some of his most memorable travel adventures at airport USO centers.
But they weren’t planned that way.
On one trip, Smith was traveling home to Ohio to attend a friend’s funeral. A delay forced him to miss his connecting flight at Washington Dulles International Airport. After trying to reschedule for the following day, he realized he might not make it home in time for the service. He went to the airport’s USO center to clear his head. While relaxing at the center, Smith started chatting with a Marine who he recognized from his first flight.
“I talked to him and found out that he was going to his grandmother’s funeral on the same day, but one town over,“ Smith said. "We figured out that if we took turns sleeping and driving, we could make it to Ohio by morning.
“We went from being complete strangers, to renting a car together and driving seven hours and 400 miles across the country.”
And it wasn’t the last time this happened. On another trip home, this time to see his family for the holidays, Smith found himself sitting in the Destin-Fort Walton Beach airport USO facing a similar situation.
Due to a series of flight delays, Smith and two soldiers he met at the USO were stuck at the Florida airport and were told they should anticipate missing their connecting flights home from Atlanta the next morning. Instead of spending their holiday time at the airport, the trio decided to rent a car and drive to Atlanta so they could catch their connecting flights.
“We all made our flights and got to see our families for Christmas instead of just New Year’s,” Smith said.
Another USO visit also led Smith to talk with a major who helped spark his involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Smith has been mentoring his Little Brother for over a year now.
“I’m very grateful that the events turned out the way they did, because I probably wouldn’t have met him any other way,” Smith said.
“Some of my best memories from nine years in the Air Force were in airport USO facilities,” Smith wrote in a Facebook post.