Memories of a Son on Memorial Day - United Hub
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Memories of a son as U.S. observes Memorial Day

By The Hub team , May 26, 2017

San Francisco Sheet Metal Technician Tom Ballard shared this story, "What Memorial Day means to me," about his son, 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004.

My only child, Kenneth Michael Ballard was born at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York, on July 21, 1977, in the fourth year of my 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force. His family lineage has been one full of military service to our nation. His great grandfather served in WWI, and both his grandfathers, his grandmother, father, uncles and cousins all served in the military, totaling some 117 years of service.


Lt. Ken Ballard serving in Iraq

Ken joined the U.S. Army after graduating high school in 1995. Pvt. Ken Ballard's first assignment was with the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment, 1st Armored Division, (General Patton's WWII unit "Old Ironsides") out of Friedberg, Germany. He was an Abrams tank ammunition loader, soon to be serving with our NATO forces in Bosnia and Macedonia.

His superiors saw he was a true leader. He was placed into a program called "From Green to Gold," a program that moved an individual from the enlisted ranks to become an officer.

In 1998, Ken took leave from active duty in Germany to attend Middle Tennessee State University. In 2002, Ken earned his degree in international relations. At Ken's commissioning ceremony, his mother and I pinned on his 2nd Lt. bars. (Bars I had made of pure gold.)

Returning to active duty, Ken started training to be an Abrams tank commander.

His first assignment was back to Friedberg, Germany, back with the 1st Armored. Within the year, their unit was given their orders to deploy. On the May 22, 2003, their unit crossed the border into Iraq – the start of their first-year tour of combat.

Three hundred sixty-five days later, the 1st Armored was ready to head home. They felt very blessed to have served their year in-country without having lost a single soldier. They had packed their personal gear and were ready to go. Time to pass the command over to the new incoming troops. "WE MADE IT. WE ARE GOING HOME!!!!!" All this was about to change.

Orders had been cut – the 1st Armored was placed on an involuntary extension. Insurgents were launching large-scale attacks into the twin cities of Al-Kufa and Al-Najaf, an area considered to be very sacred, holy land to the people of Iraq. Headquarters felt it would be wiser to send seasoned rather than inexperienced troops into an extremely hot combat zone.

On Memorial Day, May 30, 2004, eight days into their extension, the 1st Armored lost their first soldier. Pfc. Nicholas E. Zimmer, age 20, of Columbus, Ohio. His vehicle came under attack by rocket-propelled grenades. Eight hours later, while I was attending a gathering with friends at home, we raised our glasses in a toast, thanking those that have given their lives protecting freedom around the world. At precisely that time, halfway around the world, my son was lost.

Ken Ballard's gravestone surronded by flowers and American flags

Twelve hours later, I was back at work in central control at SFO Air Train. My brother in Denver called me. He asked where I was. I told him and asked why? He told me that two old military buddies were passing through the airport and knew that I worked there. They wanted to stop by and say hello. I told him where I was and hung up.

A few hours had passed. I forgot about my brother's call. I noticed our safety officer on the first floor CCTV monitor. He was holding the door open looking left and right as if he was looking for someone. I got distracted, and when I looked back he was gone.

A short while later, the safety officer entered central control and asked me to accompany him to his office.

As I opened his office door, I saw two sharply dressed men in their formal military uniforms. Nothing needed to be said. My life as I knew it had been changed. No more birthdays. No grandchildren.

The Ballards' unscathed military history of 117 years of service had changed overnight.

Ken's unit returned to the U.S. on the Fourth of July 2004.

Two months after my son died, a much respected friend who we all work with at UAL was notified his nephew, Spc. Anthony J. Dixon, was killed in Samarra, Iraq.

Tom Ballard saluting at his son's funeral.

You may be surprised at the number of people you work with on a daily basis. Many have served defending our freedoms. Some silently carry the pain of the loss of a loved one – a loved one that stood in front of you, defending your freedoms.

Memorial Day has always held a very special place in my heart. Now more than ever.

Remember why we commemorate this day. MEMORIAL DAY.

Think about it, when we are all given the day off. Who has made this day possible?

Take the time this weekend to think of those that gave their lives so you can live yours with freedom.

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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