Veterans received a hero’s welcome from cheering onlookers as they arrived for their virtual Sacramento to Washington, D.C., honor flight. However, there was a slight change in the standard operating procedure at the “Travel Document Checker” (TDC) station, but the adaptable TSA officers from Sacramento International Airport (SMF) stayed on mission, honoring veterans who weren’t able to board a plane and physically visit war memorials in Washington, D.C.
Sponsored by military and corporate agencies, Mission to Honor Veterans, now in its fourth year, was hosted at a Sacramento, California church. TSA partnered with the group, providing “TDC” duties at the mock check-in, posting and retiring the American flag and escorting veterans to their seats.
SMF honor guard captain Supervisory TSA Officer Mary Angel-Hernandez, herself a Marine Corps veteran serving during Operation Iraqi Freedom, finds fulfillment in taking part in events honoring service members who came before her.
“I have been part of the honor guard team since 2017, and I remain because it means a lot more than just holding a flag or wearing the uniform,” said Angel-Hernandez. “Any chance that I get to honor a veteran, regardless of how small the duty, I do not turn my back.”
It’s a heartfelt sentiment shared by other honor guard members who sometimes rehearse and represent TSA in honorary gathering on their own time. They’re proud and committed to the events, especially ones with military veterans.
“Participating in events with veterans is very personal to me,” explained Lead TSA Officer John Hammell. “My father served 22 years in the Navy. He fought in Korea as well as the Vietnam War. Because of this, I am aware of the sacrifices these men and women made leaving their families for long periods of time, never knowing if they would ever see them again. It is my honor to honor them at events such as this.”
At the event, the veterans were greeted by the SMF honor guard who inspected their mock boarding passes at the security checkpoint. Once inside, the honor guard posted the colors, while the veterans who served their country in WWII, Korea and Vietnam were treated to a video tour of their war memorials.
The TSA officers got to mingle with veterans during the event and came away with a renewed appreciation for their sacrifice.
“It opens your eyes to painful memories of others that we will never understand,” said TSA Officer Jamesa Riddick.
“I took in everything that those veterans shared with me and (the experience) just made me appreciate them even more,” said Angel-Hernandez. “I shook the hand of a 100-year-old veteran at the 2019 event and hugged the wife of another. It touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The experience is always emotional and bittersweet.”
“We could only hope that this would help people learn to appreciate life and not to take it for granted,” said TSA Officer Mary Becker of her memorable experience.
This week as the nation honors military veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, Hammell is full of gratitude.
“I am thankful for the TSA honor guard program,” said Hammell. “It gives me the opportunity to give back.”
By Karen Robicheaux, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs