The bottom of the world...almost
By Compliance Senior Staff Representative John Kirchberg
I travel a lot for work, so I'm always looking to complete or add to my travel bucket list. In 2013, I had a chance to go to Cape Town, South Africa, with friends for the World Airline Road Race, which is an annual race held in a different city each year for airline industry professionals from all over the world.
Cape Town has never been on my bucket list. But I can honestly say after 10 days in Cape Town, it's now one of the top three places I've ever visited.
I was there in October, and it still was in the 90s almost every day. The path of travel was ORD to FRA (Frankfurt, Germany), and FRA to Cape Town on South African Airways. The people are friendly, the city is clean and safe, the food is good and the wine is cheap.
Now, let me tell you why you should make the journey. As with every vacation, the weather can be a game changer. We got a home run, and that was huge. If you're an active type, you'll never be bored here. Table Mountain sits right in the middle of the city, so you can easily get to it from anywhere. There are several ways to get to the top, which include a good challenging hike or a less stressful cable car ride. We decided to hike it in the morning, which took about an hour. The trails are marked by signs at the start, but once you get on your way you become Lewis and Clark making your way up 3,500 feet. The views are constantly changing as you go from heavy brush to rocky cliffs. It is a nature hike, so the paths are worn but you shouldn't get lost. From the very top, the views are breathtaking -- 360 degrees of Cape Town, the Atlantic and the bottom of the world (almost). There are more trails on top (all flat), so you can walk for another 1-2 hours and take great pictures. Definitely bring water if you hike; it gets very hot very quickly. Before we headed back down we stopped to hydrate with a cold local brew at a little café. It was a definite "life is good" moment and I would put Table Mountain as No. 1 on my "to do" list in Cape Town.
The city is small so it's not too crowded and easy to get around. Part of the history of the city is the number of countries that have laid claim to it over the years. There is a strong European influence everywhere. One of the first things I noticed was the cleanliness of the city, as well as the friendly and helpful people. Our first hotel was blocks from the city center and right across from the park and beach. Although we had a car, we spent most of our time on foot. We were near the Victoria Wharf, which is a tourist spot with shops and restaurants and is the launching point for most of the ferries and sightseeing boats. I highly recommend the German and Irish pubs at the entrance to the Wharf. From here you can catch a boat to Robben Island and tour the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. Wherever we went, the food was delicious and the prices were extremely inexpensive.
Another adventure is the Cape of Hope Reserve. It's about 60-90 minutes from downtown, but the drive is very scenic. Once in the park, you will see animals everywhere. We saw animals ranging from zebras and ostriches to tortoises and baboons. The baboons are curious about cars and will literally sit in the road to stop them. Signs all over the park warn visitors about how dangerous baboons can be and to not open car windows or feed the animals. Imagine a mini safari from your car. When you reach the Cape, there are trails to walk around the cliffs and out to the lighthouse. On one side is the calm peacefulness of False Bay and on the other is the violent Atlantic crashing on the rocky shore. Looking out over the ocean, I noticed that the next landfall would be Antarctica. I was looking out at the bottom of the world (almost)! I decided right there that Antarctica was on my bucket list as my seventh and final continent. My pictures just do not do the view justice.
On the way back to the city, you can take the inner road which will take you by Boulder Beach where you can swim with penguins. There are also places to dive with sharks. I kept thinking I was in a great big zoo without cages or boundaries.
For the second half of the week, we moved to Stellenbosch in wine country. It is about 30-40 minutes outside of Cape Town. There are vineyards everywhere. Our hotel, The Spier, conveniently had a winery connected to it. I will admit to not being the biggest wine fan, but what I heard from the group was that the wine was good and so cheap that they were sending it back home by the case. It's the Napa of South Africa.
The World Airline Road Race was just outside Stellenbosch, on the grounds of another prison where Nelson Mandela was finally set free.
It was an amazing trip to a place that was never on my radar, but I could not have been more surprised and pleased. Although I came directly home, some of the people in my group decided to take a safari in the area. Their pictures were priceless, and everyone said it was a fantastic experience. My friends and I are active people, so we enjoyed all the options that were available, but I still think there is plenty to do if you like a slower, more relaxing vacation. I know 20 hours on a plane never seems fun, but it is worth it. It's not a weekend trip, but a week-long vacation would be great there. I will definitely go back.
Wouldn't you like to see the bottom of the world… almost?
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.
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.
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.