U.S. Olympic Team swimmer Tom Shields: One of United’s own is Rio bound - United Hub
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U.S. Olympic Team swimmer Tom Shields: One of United’s own is Rio bound

By Matt Adams , August 05, 2016

Beneath the glaring lights of the 17,500 seat CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, in June, the eight American swimmers competing for a spot on Team USA in the 200-meter men's butterfly used the final moments before stepping onto their starting blocks to limber up. They shook out their triceps and stretched their wrists, each man anticipating the twice-down-and-back sprint they were about to endure.

Tom Shields, the son of United 737 Captain Tim Shields, stood behind the block in lane three, hands on his sides, pulling his elbows together in front of him to loosen his shoulders. The media likes to play up the 24-year-old's Southern California-cool image, and at that moment he looked every bit the part. Mouth parted in what could have been mistaken for a smile. Eyes scanning the pool before him and the crowd seated in the arena around him. A viewer would have been hard pressed to detect any sense of concern in the young man's body language.

Not the same happy-go-lucky kid

Shields talks like he stepped out of The Endless Summer and looks like every 20-something you see walking along Abbott Kinney Boulevard in board shorts and a pair of Vans on a sunny Saturday afternoon. At one time, he embraced the laid-back surfer persona, though he says it isn't representative of who he is now.

Young Tom Shields with Pilot Father

“I can appreciate that image, but it's totally fake," Shields said, amused at how he's perceived. After four years swimming for the University of California at Berkeley and more than three years competing in pro events in the U.S. and overseas, Tom felt the weight of expectations. “In 2012 [at the London Olympic trials], I had the talent but I didn't do the work. I was just happy to be there," he said. “This time was different – I worked hard to be competitive and put a lot of pressure on myself."

Of the men lined up in Omaha, only the top two would qualify for the Games. Shields took his place on the block, his torso hovering over his bent knees, deathly still, waiting for his shot at creating a legacy in the sport that has meant so much to him since childhood. His parents, Tim and Jolene, were both avid surfers who taught their children the finer points of staying buoyant in the Pacific Ocean. “One of my first memories is of my dad teaching me to swim," Tom said.

By age 7, Tom was part of a youth club near their home in Huntington Beach, California. Throughout his childhood, Tim and Jolene supported Tom's amateur pursuits, rousing him from bed well before dawn for morning practices and transporting him around the state and the country for meets. “We became that swimming family that we always said we would never be," Tim recalled.

The pool became Tom's sanctuary. In spite of excelling at team sports growing up, social anxiety made the solo aspect of swimming more favorable to him. “It's always been hard for me to get along and make new friends," he confided. “Even now, I get a lot of anxiety. When I get in the water, it resets me."

Tom and dad Tim Shields

Tom credits his dad as one of the most influential people in his life. Not only did Tim have a cool job as a pilot, he was a successful water polo player in his youth, and was able to help Tom navigate the college recruitment process. Tom has flown United for years, thanks to his family connections and his involvement with Team USA, which United has sponsored for more than 35 years. Father and son occasionally cross paths in an airport somewhere during their travels, and in 2008, Tom got the ultimate in-flight surprise. “I was flying back from Sydney, Australia, with the junior team, and my dad walked up next to my seat on the plane and said 'Hey dude.' I had no idea that he was going to be our pilot."

Competing with a legend

When the buzzer sounded to start the 200-meter finals in Omaha, the American hopefuls dove in unison. In the lane next to him, the most decorated American Olympian of all time took an early lead, but Shields hung close by as the other six fell back. After the second turn he was vying for first. Shields came on strong halfway through the final lap and, for a moment, it looked like he might pull it off. Shields finished the race in second place, earning his first Olympic berth. In spite of the significance of the moment, Shields might have been one of the most disappointed swimmers in the pool.

Tom Shields, American Olympian

“My swims need to be a lot faster," he said. “I've got to get back to my process, and coming in second was a good way for me to reconnect with the fact that there is more work that needs to be done."

Team USA began training together shortly after Omaha, and the members had but a few weeks to think about their respective processes before they all departed for Rio at the end of July. For his part, Shields focused on getting rest, working on his flexibility by doing yoga, watching race film and getting back in touch with his technique. While he was busy doing that, his friends and family were coming to terms with the more surreal aspects of having a world-class athlete in their midst.

Shields's image currently graces boxes of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes and his legion of fans grow by the day. “It's weird," Tim admitted. “His face is on the cereal box and people are waiting in line after meets to get his autograph. This experience has been unbelievably fun for the family."

Reflecting on Veterans Day: a message from our CEO Oscar Munoz

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , November 11, 2019

Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.

When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.

They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.

I want them to look no further than United Airlines.

That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.

They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.

That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.

We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.

We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.

We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.

As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.

Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.

They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.

Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.

Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.

Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.

But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.

We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.

It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.

On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.



United named a top workplace for veterans

By The Hub team , November 10, 2019

Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.

"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."

Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.

Mission Accomplished

By Matt Adams , November 06, 2019

The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.

Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.

Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.

Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.

"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."

When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.

For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.

Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.

That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.

"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."

The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.

About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.

"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."

When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.

"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."

On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.

"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."

For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.

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