SAN ANTONIO – On Friday afternoon, Jonathan Rodriguez-Maldonado, a Senior Airman in the U.S. Air Force, tried calling his parents in Puerto Rico.

He didn’t get an answer.

Less than 24 hours later, as Rodriguez-Maldonado stood on the Coca-Cola Music Stage at the March Madness Music Festival in San Antonio, Texas, before a crowd of several thousand fans, he realized why. His mom and dad, who he hadn’t seen since well before Hurricane Maria devastated their hometown of Caguas last fall, surprised him by appearing from backstage during a presentation honoring local military service members and their families.

“The first thing I told them in between hugs was, ‘Now I know why you didn’t pick up the phone,” Rodriguez-Maldonado recalled.


Coca-Cola partnered with the United Service Organizations (USO), NCAA, CBS and Turner to orchestrate the reunion, working with the senior airman’s colleagues to pull off the surprise. Rodriguez-Maldonado, 24, thought he was representing his colleagues for a check presentation to the USO to support the San Antonio military community during halftime of the first NCAA Men’s Final Four semifinal matchup. The moment showcased the USO’s mission to strengthen service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country.

San Antonio March Madness

San Antonio March Madness

San Antonio March Madness

San Antonio March Madness

“I didn’t know anything going in,” Rodriguez-Maldonado said. He and his parents attended the second semifinal later that night and Monday’s championship game between the University of Michigan and Villanova University.

He got to show them around San Antonio, where he completed basic training nearly three years ago and now works as a financial customer service technician at JBSA-Randolph Air Force Base.

“It was great to spend time together,” Rodriguez-Maldonado said. “I was already planning on going home to Puerto Rico, so seeing them unexpectedly ahead of time was great.”

San Antonio March Madness

Rodriguez-Maldonado is the first member of his family to serve in the U.S. military. Less than two years after joining the Air Force, he was deployed to the Middle East for an eight-month assignment in Kuwait. Since returning to San Antonio in April 2017, he has not been able to travel back home to see his parents, sister and grandmother – who were left without power, phone service or access to clean water for more than six weeks following the devastating hurricane.

“They ended up staying in their home and riding out the storm, and fortunately they didn’t suffer much damage,” Rodriguez-Maldonado said. “But communications were absolutely terrible, so I was not able to reach them for more than a month.”

San Antonio March Madness

San Antonio Spurs legend and former United States Navy officer David Robinson was on hand to help Coca-Cola present the check to the USO and witness the emotional reunion. “Being a military veteran myself – and with a father and brother who both served in the Navy, I know what it feels like to have family away from you,” he said backstage after the event. “So to watch this family come back together… I know how they feel. The excitement is real.”

The former NBA star known as “The Admiral” acknowledged the longstanding support of Coca-Cola, which became a founding partner of the USO 77 years ago during World War II. He said the NCAA Men’s Final Four provided a high-profile venue to honor the country’s service members.

“Everyone’s watching,” Robinson said. “It’s one of the biggest sporting events of the year, so to be on this big stage and feature our military – San Antonio is Military City USA – is a pretty cool thing. For Coca-Cola to be involved and benefit these San Antonio military means a lot… so thank you for reaching into our community and making a difference.”