By Brad Meltzer

I murder people for a living. As a thriller writer, with books like “The President’s Shadow,” that’s my job. But this group that I was looking at was a group that was truly terrifying. Fear-inducing. And ready to eat me alive.

I knew what I was getting into.

The USO asked me to go to Cuba. I didn’t hesitate. I was excited for the trip. Here it was — a chance to say thank you to our troops on behalf of all of my fellow thriller writers in ITW (the International Thriller Writers). I was here with friends Sandra Brown, Kathy Reichs, Brad Taylor and Kathleen Antrim.

And now, here I was, in front of a roomful of children.

You’d be scared too.

This was Day 2 of our trip, and the USO invited me to the library on Guantánamo, to read to local kids. Rather than bringing my thrillers, I brought them the books I wrote for my own kids. A few years back, I started this series because I was tired of my kids looking at reality TV stars and thinking those were heroes. I decided to give my own kids better heroes to look up to with books like “I Am Abraham Lincoln” and “I am Amelia Earhart.”

So here I was, standing in a library in Cuba, as a roomful of little kids stared me down, ready to eat me alive.

I told them the truth:

Did you know that when she was seven years old, Amelia Earhart built a homemade rollercoaster in her backyard? That Abraham Lincoln failed and lost four different elections? Or that George Washington, as a boy, was a bad speller and loved to dance!?

I love hearing stories like that, but why?

Because they’re true. And when I hear those stories, it tells me that those famous people—those spectacular heroes—are just like the rest of us.

It’s the one rule about heroes: Whoever you admire … whoever you look up to and think is the best … at one point, they were all scared, all worried, all terrified that they would fail. And when I hear that, it reminds me that it’s okay to be scared too. And then I feel more powerful. Unstoppable even.

To my relief, the kids felt the same. And in no time at all, we were fast friends, laughing, sharing stories and taking pictures. Best of all, when I asked them who their heroes were, they told me: “My mom and dad.” I couldn’t agree more.

I came to this island to thank my heroes. But in the process, I found a brand-new group of new ones.

You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.