Chicago’s Midway International Airport (MDW) hit a big milestone with the 100th Honor Flight taking off from Midway to Washington, D.C.
The Honor Flight program celebrates our military veterans who served in World War II, the Korean or Vietnam Wars by inviting them to share in a day of honor at our nation’s war memorials. It also serves catastrophically ill and injured veterans from all eras.
“The 100th Honor Flight is a significant milestone,” said MDW Assistant Federal Security Director-Screening Jose Flores. “Since our first Honor Flight, TSA MDW screened over 9,200 veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Last year, we had the pleasure of welcoming our first all-female veteran Honor Flight. Recognizing veterans from each of those campaigns is an honor and pleasure.”
Flores said TSA officers provided the latest Honor Flight veterans with expedited screening at a pre-designated checkpoint location, and the TSA Honor Guard from Midway and nearby O’Hare International Airport greeted the guests.
“Being a Vietnam era veteran and the son of a Korean War veteran, these flights are deeply meaningful for me,” Flores said. “I enjoy shaking each veteran’s hand, welcoming them, and thanking them for their service on behalf of TSA.”
He said preparation for such an event is truly a team effort. TSA partnered with the Chicago Honor Flight chapter, Chicago Department of Aviation and Southwest Airlines to make it happen.
Supervisory TSA Officer Curtis Jenkins oversaw the Honor Flight screening and supervised each Honor Flight for TSA since the program first started at MDW.
“It has been wonderful seeing the Honor Flight expedited screening process evolve over the years,” said Jenkins. “From a time when the screening of these men and women and their family members was cumbersome and challenging to now when it is smooth and respectful. TSA has combined our high-level security efforts with customer service that is second to none.”
Jenkins said 117 veterans and over 50 family members, medical staff and other volunteers were on the latest flight.
“It’s a pleasure and an honor to see the expressions of joy and appreciation on their faces,” Jenkins emphasized. “Many expressed excitement of having the opportunity to visit the war memorials and to share the experience with relatives and other veterans.”
Flores said it was a long day for the veterans and their families and friends who accompanied them.
“They started their day at 3 a.m., departed at 6:45, spent their day in Washington, D.C., and then returned around 9 p.m.,” Flores explained. “However, the appreciation of the veterans didn’t end with the flight home. They were greeted with great fanfare upon their return to Midway, starting with a receiving line for the aircraft consisting of fire trucks, lights ablaze!”
A large group of military officers, retired and active duty, lined up to greet each Honor Flight veteran, and cheering families welcomed their loved ones home with balloons and signs in the baggage area. Flores said many of the veterans were moved to tears.
TSA Officer Nancy Thomas has been on the TSA MDW Honor Flight team since the program’s inception.
“Being a veteran, I love being part of the Honor Flight screening team,” Thomas said. “Interacting with WWII, Korean and Vietnam vets has been an honor for me. Through their laughter and smiles, they show their appreciation to us performing the screening. I’ve only missed one Honor Flight since joining the team. I look forward to many more.”
Flores said his team is extremely fortunate to participate in the program.
“It’s an honor to welcome veterans who have served our country and enabled the freedoms we enjoy. We owe them a debt of gratitude and ensuring their day gets off to a great start is the least we can do.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs