Rio: A dream come true
Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.
By HOU Quality Control Aircraft Inspector Rey Sacueza
When I was a schoolboy, I wished and dreamt of visiting Rio de Janeiro. But wasn't sure it would ever happen. Though everything changes when you make a goal for yourself in life and pursue your dream. This dream finally became a reality a few days ago, and I thank United for giving us the opportunity for it to come true.
Our journey started when we flew to Rio de Janeiro from Houston, an overnight flight crossing the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, northern South America and part of Brazil. We landed late in the morning and, upon arrival, the adventure began. Everything was smooth, from the airport to our hotel, located in the center of Copacabana beach at the Avenida Atlantica. Along the way, the views were fantastic with both mountains and water in sight, which made me excited.
A few hours after arriving, I was so eager to explore and stroll the streets of Rio, which displayed different mosaic designs on sidewalks. We attended late afternoon mass at the Our Lady of Copacabana church and ate dinner at Marius Degustare, a Brazilian seafood and steakhouse located on the northern end of the beach, a few blocks from our hotel. Here, we drank local beer with our sumptuous meal and went back to the hotel with full stomachs for the night.
Over the next few days, we toured and explored the city with our first stop at the famous Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) statue, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It is located on the peak of the Corcovado Mountain, and there you can experience the amazing view of the city and surrounding area. The statue itself is unbelievable in size, and people from around the world, from all walks of life, come to see it. It is indeed one of the world wonders and an experience of a lifetime just to be there.
Next, we went to the Sugarloaf Mountain -- just hop on the cable car to reach the top. Along the way, on display at the Morro da Urca hill, you can see the cable car used in the making of the James Bond movie "Moonraker." At the top, we explored the 360-degree vista and unforgettable views of the Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer at the peak of Corcovado Mountain, Macaranã stadium and more. The view is amazing and picture perfect, it could've been a postcard.
We then headed to Macarana stadium, the venue that hosts Brazil's most popular sport, soccer, and where international, national and local games are held year round. We walked the Sambadrome, where samba parades are held during the carnival every year. Tens of thousands of people participate as either spectators or performers during this major event in the city. We also toured the cone-shaped cathedral known as the Metropolitan Cathedral, a major landmark and a masterpiece of modern art. We climbed the Escadaria Selaron, probably the most fascinating staircase in the world, where tiles from around the world were collected or donated for the project and now make up one of Rio's top attractions and touristic spots. The last place we visited on this tour was the Sao Bento Monastery, which is one of the most beautiful architectural complexes in Brazil.
Our adventures continued as we did an early morning hike through Tijuca Rainforest with our guide at the Bom Retiro trail, hiking through narrow trails, towering trees, passing by the waterfall and making our way to the "Pico da Tijuca." At 3,353 feet, it's the highest point of Rio de Janeiro. From this unparalleled vantage point, we enjoyed spectacular views of Rio, Guanabara Bay and other city sights like the Maracanã and Engenhão stadiums and surroundings. On the way down, we passed "Vista Chinesa" from where you can view the Corcovado and Two Brothers Mountains and the other part of the city.
During the evening, we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat feast at a Brazilian steakhouse and washed our food down with the famous local drink caipirinha. Afterward, we experienced the Ginga Tropical, a Brazilian samba and folklore Show, with authentic Brazilian music and dance styles including samba, bossa nova and lambada. We got to experience the vitality of Carnival with dancers, festive costumes, live drumming and rituals from various regions of Brazil.
In search for a hang gliding experience, we took a trip to São Conrado Beach. The launch point is at Tijuca Forest National Park. You glide over the lush, verdant Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Forest) and touch down on the beach of São Conrado. During the glide, you see some of Rio's most famous landmarks such as Sugarloaf Mountain, the Rocinha Favela and the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado Mountain. It's an unforgettable and amazing experience with a bird's eye view of the city.
After days of exploring and adventures, we wound down with an early walk to one of the most famous beaches in the world, Copacabana Beach. We decided to stay and relax and enjoy the beach, sights and surroundings. At the beach, be prepared to see more skin than clothes – on men and women of all ages! There were also many peddlers trying to sell things to tourists. We swam in the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean and later slept with the sound of splashing waves on the shore. What a wonderful feeling, ending this trip on such a positive tune.
The city of Rio de Janeiro has a lot to offer, and there is never enough time to experience it all, but with the time we had we created a lifetime of wonderful memories in this amazing city.
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.