Life-lasting memories came roaring back for dozens of military veterans who put their lives on the line to secure our nation’s freedom, and TSA helped celebrate their service.
For the first time ever, an Honor Flight flew out of Michigan’s Flint Bishop International Airport (FNT) to the nation’s capital. Honor Flights are designed to honor and thank Americans who secured our freedom by taking them to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials that commemorate their service.
Michigan TSA Assistant Federal Security Director-Generalist Denise Amicucci said TSA welcomed and screened approximately 60 veterans plus their co-travelers, and what a celebration it was!
“It is incredible to see these men and women who have served their country, walking through with a cane or in wheelchairs, and witnessing their excitement,” said Amicucci. “Knowing what they’ve done for our country and seeing them is really spectacular.”
TSA Officer Marc Fulgencio, an Army veteran, served 13 years of active duty from 1989 to 2002 and was thrilled to be part of the Honor Flight at his airport.
“I was very proud to have the opportunity to greet the veterans and thank them for their service,” said Fulgencio. “It brought back memories of my father, who was a Korean War veteran. He inspired me as far as the military is concerned by sharing his stories with me. I am very proud to have served my country and proud to be an American.”
Lead TSA Officer William Gibson is a Navy veteran, serving during Desert Storm in the 1990s and felt the Honor Flight was all about brotherly and sisterly love. Gibson was part of the meet-and-greet committee, spending time shaking the hands of veterans who came through FNT.
“It’s very humanizing to realize there are veterans still around from the wars they served 40 to 50 years ago,” Gibson said. “I got to meet veterans who served when my mother was a toddler. I believe we should always remember the people who did what they could for our country.”
Supervisory Officer John Mickle is the co-chair of the TSA Michigan Veterans Committee and was humbled by the few moments he interacted with and honored these service members and their families who sacrificed so much for our country.
“Any time I get a chance to engage with a fellow service member from a different branch of the military, especially when I see one from the Air Force, it takes me back to when I served and how much I enjoyed my brotherhood and sisterhood of the services,” said Mickle, who was in the Air Force from 1989 to 2001. “Seeing these veterans come through – especially from the Korean War, Desert Storm and Afghanistan – reminded me of the tremendous sacrifices they gave, and it’s very humbling.”
TSA Manager Darwin Allen said the TSA team at FNT screened 156 people who flew on the airport’s inaugural Honor Flight. Even though the airport only has three screening lanes, Allen said they were able to safely move everyone through without impacting security operations.
“It was a tremendous opportunity for, not only me, but all the staff members at Flint Bishop Airport,” Allen noted. “We bonded together with all the stakeholders. We worked with airport management to make it a successful and very touching experience for Flint, Michigan.”
Allen said his team partnered with airport management to plot a course over several meetings leading up to the big event. They also reached out to Grand Rapids Gerald R. Ford International Airport Lead TSA Manager Christina Kremm for support based on her experience with past Honor Flights.
“Being a veteran, I have worked with Mid-Michigan and other Honor Flight carriers,” said Kremm. “I enjoy seeing the veterans and their guardians, just watching their faces and honoring them as they go through screening.”
Kremm said she provided FNT with ideas on how to organize the welcoming and screening processes along with the speeches at the gate.
“Everything flowed very nicely,” she added. “We didn’t have any issues, because passengers who went through the standard checkpoint screening could see what was happening, and it did not cause a disruption to the screening operation at all.”
TSA’s Honor Flight program is required by law under the Honor Flight Act of 2014 and TSA Operations Directive OD 400-50-1-19B. However, Michigan Deputy Federal Security Director Bill Byrne strongly believes it’s the right thing to do.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to these military veterans who fought for our country in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other wars,” said Byrne. “The expedited screening we provided is a risk-based program that is accompanied with dignity. What made it special was the kindness, care and compassion our employees provided for the veterans and their guests.”
Members of the Michigan Honor Guard stood at attention and saluted the veterans as they entered the gate/boarding area while TSA Michigan’s management team thanked the veterans for their service.
“It was incredibly moving to speak with military veterans who proudly and bravely served our nation,” Byrne said. “We met one captain, who served two tours in Vietnam, with extensive scars and numerous medals, including two silver medals, one bronze metal and a Purple Heart. He spoke proudly of his service and said he was just doing his job.”
The event not only left a lasting impact on the veterans who flew to our nation’s capital, but also a lasting imprint on the TSA team who supported the Honor Flight.
“Remember your service members,” Gibson proclaimed. “Do what you can for them, because they did everything they could for you.”
“If other airports are thinking about hosting an Honor Flight,” Amicucci added, “my recommendation is to embrace the idea, because it’s an incredible experience.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs