By John Hanson

The USO’s been long enough to touch the lives of troops and families from World War II though the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hear stories almost everywhere we go. It’s like joining an ongoing conversation friends have over a cup of coffee.

This afternoon someone came to our office to thank us.

It seems he was in the neighborhood, visiting a client when he saw our name on the sign outside the building here in Arlington.

He told us he was a young Marine officer in Somalia in the early 1990s. It was awful duty. One day he ran across a small USO canteen on his base. “I was able to get a warm Coke,” he said.

“Best Coke I ever had.”

He almost apologized for being a “small donor.” I told him there was no such thing, and showed him around the office.

We have a large photo of Toby Keith and one of his guitarists entertaining troops at a very remote forward operating base in Afghanistan. “People ask me what Afghanistan is like,” I told him. “I steer them to this photo. That’s Afghanistan – not very lush, very desolate in places.”

Yeah,” he said. “When I was in Somalia you guys sent Garth Brooks. I stayed in back so my Marines could see him. I was more interested in the warm Coke.

It was one of those profoundly simple meetings that illustrated the good our donors cause to happen. Just a passing kindness from one stranger to another stranger in a very strange and remote place that is for most of us a dot on a map we don’t pay much attention to.“

- This story was originally published on the USO blog in 2010. It has been updated in 2019 for style, brevity and accuracy.