United's Paco Sulmers joins Bill Norwood in OBAP Hall of Fame - United Hub
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Paco Sulmers joins Bill Norwood in OBAP Hall of Fame

By Matt Adams , August 12, 2016

When Captains Bill Norwood and Georges “Paco" Sulmers were starting out as pilots in the 1950s and 60s, they were acutely aware of the fact that doors weren't always open to them as African-Americans. “I was always told 'You have to work twice as hard to get half as far,'" said Bill. Paco echoed that sentiment, describing his search for role models in aviation during that era. “As a youngster, when I watched TV, I would look for pilots with black faces, but there were none."

Bill and Paco hold the designation of being two of the pioneers of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), which marks its 40th anniversary this year. To celebrate that milestone, six early contributors to OBAP, including Paco, were inducted into the OBAP hall of fame at this year's annual convention.

Captain Bill Norwood Captain Bill Norwood

Bill said he owes his interest in aviation to his elementary school principal in Centralia, Illinois, William Harold Walker, who had been a member of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. Paco, who emigrated with his family from Haiti in 1957, grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, watching planes coming and going in and out of nearby LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, treasuring the 115 model airplanes he kept at home.

After high school, Bill went on to attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where he got his first opportunity to fly as part of an Air Force reserve officer training program. Upon graduating in 1959, he spent six years in the Air Force and flew B-52 bombers. Paco attended Brooklyn's vocational Aviation High School, earning his pilot's license in 1965. When Bill left the service, flying opportunities for African-Americans were limited, but, in May 1965, Bill joined United. By the time Paco earned his commercial license in 1968, he found a job with Northeast Airlines, and that's when he first began thinking about creating a group to help further the cause of black aviators.

“At that time, there were maybe 25 black airline pilots in the country," Paco said. “We knew that we needed to find a way to help our cause." In the early-1970s Paco joined Eastern Airlines and met fellow pilot Benjamin Thomas. He and Ben soon began talking about the idea of what would soon be known as OBAP.

In 1976 Ben Thomas approached Bill and asked for his help. Sitting in Bill and his wife Molly's kitchen in suburban Chicago, the three wrote the constitution and by-laws for what would become the Organization of Black Airline Pilots (the name was changed to include aerospace professionals in the early 2000s). “The original goal of OBAP was to mentor young African-Americans and get them into the cockpits," said Bill. “We wanted to help them get in the door of the big airlines." Bill, Paco, Ben and their colleagues vetted young pilots, making sure that each whom they recommended for hire to a major airline was going to represent what OBAP stood for. Paco said, “We wanted to attract the best and be the best."

Captain Paco Sulmers induction into the OBAP Hall of FameCaptain Georges "Paco" Sulmers induction into the OBAP Hall of Fame

The first OBAP convention was held at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in 1976. “In those early years, Tuskegee Airmen veterans wrote letters to all the airlines on our behalf, imploring them to come to the conventions," Paco said. Senior airline management started showing up to recruit talent, and United was one of the first to sponsor an OBAP scholarship for pilots interested in pursuing new type ratings for commercial flying.

After all these years, both Bill and Paco can look back and see progress. Paco said, “We've conquered the cockpit; now we're encouraging people to move on to other horizons, show them that they can become chief pilots, things like that."

Bill is still active when it comes to opening doors for African-American youngsters who are interested in flying, volunteering at ACE Academies around the country, an organization started by OBAP to give teens the opportunity to experience aviation careers. He published his memoir, Cleared for Takeoff: A Story of Challenges and Triumph, to share his story of inspiration. Paco is still involved with OBAP mentorship and attended this year's convention, which had a record number of attendees. “When I go to these conventions, I just think, 'This is great — it used to be just a few of us, the same guys from the beginning. Now, I don't recognize everyone because there are so many new faces.'"

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.

Humbly,

Oscar

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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