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Gone but not forgotten

By Matt Adams

Captain Dean McDavid, Standards Director at United's flight training center in Denver, wasn't sure what he'd find when, late last year, he began working his contacts to locate a Gold Star family – the family of a U.S. service member killed in action – that could use a helping hand.

McDavid leads the Denver chapter of United for Veterans, an employee association for military veterans at the airline, which was newly established in Colorado, and the membership was anxious to hit the ground running with a worthy objective in mind: to honor the fallen by embracing the living. They had no doubt they could do some good; they just needed some direction. Then, one afternoon, McDavid received the call he'd been waiting for.

Major General Michael Loh, Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard and one of McDavid's friends from his days in the U.S. Air Force, relayed to him the story of the Sampers family, the widow and children of U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class James Sampers, who was killed in Vietnam in 1969.

One of his sons, Jim Sampers, had recently been diagnosed with a pre-leukemia condition known as myelodysplasia, which required a stem cell transplant. His sister, Christina Ribbens, had been cleared as a donor, but there was one problem: she lived in Colorado and Jim is being treated in Calgary, Canada. With medical bills and other expenses piling up, the cost of airfare for Ribbens to fly back and forth for preliminary tests and the procedure added another layer of stress to an already difficult situation.

Hearing that, McDavid thought of a way to ease their burden. Working with Transplant Recipients International Organization (TRIO), one of United's non-profit partners, he and his group helped arrange travel for Ribbens and her mother, Patricia Sampers, using miles generously donated by United MileagePlus members.

"When Christina and I talked, I told her, 'First of all, we appreciate everything your dad did,'" says McDavid. "I let her know that we were here to support his family members just like he would have wanted."

Ribbens knew it would make her dad proud to know his brothers and sisters in arms are still looking out for him. "I imagine if he were here, he would be doing the same thing for others," she says, fighting back tears. "That's the kind of man he was."

U.S. Navy Petty Officer First Class James Sampers

Jim, like his sister, was touched, but he's not surprised by gestures like this anymore. From his siblings stepping up without hesitation to donate their stem cells (his brothers, Ron and Steve, were also tested, but neither was a match), to his sister giving him the gift of life, to the love and encouragement he's received since his diagnosis, he is regularly reminded of the goodness in this world. But this experience had the added benefit of reminding him of his father's goodness as well.

"Family was very important to Dad," Jim says, drawing from the images of his father that are etched into his memory. "He was a jokester and he loved to tease, but he was very loyal."

The military is itself a family, one in which loyalty stands above all else, even bravery. Loyalty to your country, loyalty to the men and women on either side of you, and loyalty to those who came before you and made the ultimate sacrifice. As they bow their heads in solemn remembrance on Memorial Day this month, Denver's United for Veterans members will reaffirm their loyalty with a commitment to keep fighting for those who fought to their last breath.

"There's nothing wrong with laying wreaths and planting flags next to gravestones," McDavid says. "But we can't forget the loved ones those veterans left behind. As much as anything, that's how we can show our gratitude."

To learn more about how United and TRIO assist transplant recipients, living donors and their families, visit donate.mileageplus.com

Love flies with us: Upcoming Pride month events

By The Hub team , May 20, 2019

To help celebrate Pride Month, we're offering customers the opportunity to use their MileagePlus® award miles to bid on exclusive Pride packages. All proceeds will benefit our charity partner, The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services for LGBTQ youth.

Bid on one of our exclusive Pride packages including:

  • Attend a Drag Queen Brunch in Chicago
  • Pride getaway package + walk in the parade with United in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston or San Francisco
  • WorldPride New York City getaway package + walk in the parade with United
  • VIP Family movie night in the park in NYC
  • Attend a Drag Queen Brunch at Newark Airport

"As Pride Month approaches, we invite MileagePlus members to show their pride, embrace the LGBTQ+ community and join United in saying 'all routes lead to love'," said Luc Bondar, United's president of MileagePlus and vice president of Loyalty. "United is thrilled to offer these unique Pride experiences and help The Trevor Project in their mission to support LGBTQ youth."

Additionally, on June 28, in partnership with iHeartMedia's Z100, we will celebrate PRIDE LIVE's Stonewall Day, the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. The Stonewall Foundation will be inducting key community members including United into PRIDE LIVE's STONEWALL ambassador program at Stonewall Day.

"Supporting LGBTQ youth in crisis from every state across the country takes significant travel resources, and we're grateful to United Airlines for contributing to our mission in such a valuable way," said Muneer Panjwani, Head of Corporate Development for The Trevor Project. "Their commitment to our mission of ending suicide among LGBTQ youth makes them a valued partner throughout the year, helping us save young LGBTQ lives every day."

Be sure to look out for United throughout the month of June as we'll be participating in Pride events across the globe including Pride parades in Washington, D.C. on 6/8, LA on 6/9, Denver on 6/16, Houston on 6/22, San Jose (Costa Rica) on 6/23, Mexico City on 6/29, Bogota on 6/30, San Francisco on 6/30, Chicago on 6/30, World Pride in New York City on 6/30 and then on 7/6 in London and 10/19 in Honolulu.

A friendship proving age is just a number

By The Hub team

It seemed to be just another day at work for Newark-based Flight Attendant Francesco Samarelli, working a flight from Newark International Airport (EWR) to Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP). He was going about his regular duties asking for drink choices while serving customers, when he got to an elderly woman whose response took him by surprise.

"I would like a bottle of wine, please," she said with a friendly smirk.

Recognizing her sense of humor, Francesco kindly replied asking the woman to provide an ID for age verification.

"Do you know how old I am?" the woman asked.

"Anywhere between 1 and 90," Francesco replied.

She smiled and said, "Close! I am 99 years old and turning 100 in a few months."

Francesco, Rosie and her life partner Mary Ann.

That was March of 2012 and, unbeknownst to Francesco then, it was also the beginning of a very special friendship between him and Rosalia "Rosie" Zona.

After taking care of the customers on board, Francesco returned to Rosie, who was traveling with her friend and life partner Mary Ann, to strike up a conversation. Rosie shared with him stories about her life, family history and even invited him to her 100th birthday party. Unfortunately, due to his move to Europe, Francesco missed the birthday party that summer.

Exactly one year after their first encounter, Francesco had just finished the safety presentation on the EWR to MXP flight, when he heard someone yell: "You didn't come to my birthday party!"

Lo and behold, he looked up to see Rosie smiling at him. It was at that moment that Francesco realized she was meant to be part of his life. Around that same time, Francesco had started studying positive psychology and its power to make life more meaningful and fulfilling, and seeing Rosie again that day reaffirmed that he was on the right path.

Since their re-encounter, Francesco has stayed in regular contact with Rosie and Mary Ann, even attending Rosie's 106th birthday party in New York last summer, where Rosie surprised her guests by playing piano and singing songs.

Francesco at Rosie's 106th birthday party.

Through stories and life updates they've shared throughout the years, he learned that Rosie was a model as a young woman, but also that Rosie's life wasn't always rosy. In her early thirties she met her husband while ice skating at Rockefeller Center. Unfortunately, after five children together, the couple began to have marital problems, which ultimately led to divorce.

"Despite all that she's been through, she's one of the brightest and most inspirational people I've ever met," said Francesco. "Her positivity is contagious. When she speaks, she looks into your eyes; when she holds your hand, she holds it tight. She makes every single moment count."

They say age is just a number and, in this case, the age gap between the two friends is just that – an irrelevant number. Francesco is not only grateful for Rosie's friendship, but also for instilling in him the significance of having a positive attitude, no matter what life may throw in our way.

"This life is a dance, and I've never seen a better dancer than Rosie Zona," he said.

Seeing the world one race at a time

By The Hub team

By: Jennifer Canale, United MileagePlus® Premier® 1K® member

I grew up in the Midwest with horrible asthma due to pollen allergies. In school, I was always the last one picked for teams in gym class because I couldn't run without wheezing. I was in the hospital weekly between Memorial Day and Labor Day because my asthma would get so bad.

Thus, I never knew the joys of running.

Twenty years later, I'm living in San Francisco, working trade shows and events, including booths for various sponsors at the San Francisco and San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Marathon expos. One year at the United Airlines Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon San Francisco expo, I heard one of the staff members ask a woman, "What races are you doing this year?" Her answer: "All of them."

That woman was Sherry Ricker.

I thought to myself, "How cool is that? People travel around the country running races! I wish I could. But I have asthma, and I can't run."

A year later, I was managing another race event when my staff said, "You walk at least 15 miles a day managing this expo. You can do 13!"

Jen at the Rock N Roll Marathon in Liverpool


Six months later, in October 2014, I finished my first half marathon.

I travel for work, flying about 100,000 miles a year, mostly across the country. United was the airline I chose for my commute, as they have a hub in San Francisco. I quickly discovered the benefits of being a United MileagePlus Premier 1K member, and for the past few years have enjoyed the perks they offer.

I was working in Washington, D.C. in 2016 and noticed that the Rock 'n' Roll Washington D.C. race was a few days after my show ended. I called United, changed my flight and signed up for the race. People at the expo told me that if I bought a "Tour Pass," I could sign up for any races I wanted all over the country and Europe. Well, why not combine travel for work with races? A bond was created between Rock 'n' Roll and me.

I completed the Rock 'n' Roll Washington D.C Half Marathon, and through a twist of fate, met a group of runners who jump on planes to run races all over the world nearly every weekend. Oh, those are my kind of people! I thought to myself, "Runners are fast, they are young, they are skinny and healthy. I won't fit in."

Nothing could be further from the truth with this group. Every demographic was represented here, from young to old, fast to slow and all body types. Most of them were running at least 15 races with Rock 'n' Roll, going after this "Hall of Fame" medal that was introduced the year before. I thought to myself, "I can do this, too."

I should have known Sherry was a member of this group.

Jen and Sherry at the Rock N Roll Half Marathon in San Francisco Jennifer and Sherry

The rest, I guess, is history. I just completed my 50th half marathon at the United Airlines Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon San Francisco and have finished an additional eight full marathons, including a few in Europe. Not bad for an asthmatic, right? I don't run fast, many times I walk, and I always carry my inhaler. But I've finished EVERY race I've started.

This is what I love about the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series. They embrace every type of participant. It doesn't matter how fast you are, it just matters that you get off the couch and try. There is just as much support for the "back of the pack" runners as the people who finish first. It's common to be on the course and come across a person in their 70s, cruising along, listening to music and enjoying the race — and then get a high five from a Boston Marathon winner when crossing the finish line. It's a party, and everyone is invited.

Rock 'n' Roll loves to release specialty medals, encouraging participants to travel and complete various challenges. This year, they have released a limited-edition medal in combination with United Airlines to "run the world" by running at least two of United's five hub city races.

I was looking at my work and running schedule, and when the five hub cities came up, a friend asked me, "Which United hub city races are you going to do this year?" My answer: "All of them."

And Sherry and I are going to do them together.

United female pilot inspiring women in Japan workforce

By The Hub team

B-787 captain Debra McCaw's leadership has taken her to great heights—including being featured on Japan's NHK TV "Ohayo Nippon" to discuss inclusive workforces.

Although the number of women in managerial roles in Japanese companies continue to grow, it is far from the government's goal of 30%. This is also true in aviation industry in Japan where there are very few female captains. Meanwhile, the United States is leading the industry with over 1,000 active female captains.

At San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Captain Debra McCaw has been at United Airlines for 34 years. At the time she started, almost all the pilots were men.

As a mother of two, she steadily built up her experience while balancing motherhood and household in partnership with her pilot husband. She learned "the importance of calmness, friendliness, confidence and good communication with each other." All of these are also necessary skills to be a captain, especially when taking care of hundreds of passengers as she does flying Dreamliners.

She says it is most important that a leader is a good listener, to not create a situation where subordinates are scared to ask questions and leaders are not afraid to trust their subordinates. Leaders should be able to create an environment in which colleagues can freely communicate with each other.

As leaders, pilots must also be quick thinking. During a flight, there are times when their determination is put to the test. When a passenger falls sick mid-flight, McCaw must work closely with airport teams and make decisions quickly, as well as communicate effectively. In these situations, she says that she keeps the passenger in mind when making cabin announcements. "I imagine that my family and friends are on board. I share what I would want to know and give information honestly."

McCaw is making herself known for enthusiastically sharing her story and wisdom. In 2018, she spoke at a symposium in Japan on careers for women. She told the young students to be confident and to "do what you love and love what you do." With so many of the students inspired by her words, we won't be surprised to see at least of few of them flying in the skies soon.

Featured

DAV Winter Sports Clinic empowers disabled veterans

By Ryan Hood

Heath Calhoun was severely wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee while serving in Iraq, resulting in the amputation of both of his legs above the knee.

Jon Lujan was also injured while serving in Iraq, and the subsequent surgery damaged his spinal cord, causing permanent nerve damage and paralysis in his lower legs that restricts his movement and left him with no feeling below his knees.

Both Calhoun and Lujan overcame their disabilities to become Team USA Paralympic skiers. Their post-injury athletic careers began at the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colorado. The clinic, which began in 1987, hosts veterans with traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic amputations, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions and other disabilities for a week of training and rehabilitation. The clinic empowers these American heroes to defy the perceived limitations by participating in adaptive sports that improve their overall health and outlook.

Every year, United flies hundreds of veterans, along with their family members and coaches, to Aspen for the week-long clinic. This year, Calhoun and Lujan returned to Aspen for the first time in years, back to where the rest of their lives originally began.

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