Strength in Battle: Courageous Veteran Shares Her Story - United Hub
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Strength in battle: Courageous veteran shares her story

By Matt Adams, November 12, 2018

The day she took off her fatigues for the last time and packed them away was the day the world stopped making sense for Operations and Military Recruiting Manager Michelle Saunders.

It hadn't taken her long after enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1996 to realize she had found her place in this world. Michelle loved the military, loved the sense of belonging and the sense of contributing to a greater good. It gave her an identity that she craved and she excelled, moving up the ranks to that of a non-commissioned officer in a short time. She was a soldier, through and through. Until, one day, she wasn't. On May 1, 2004, everything changed.

Six months into a deployment to Iraq, Michelle and her unit were patrolling the countryside west of Baghdad when they came under enemy fire, forcing them into a battle that raged through the night, costing them numerous casualties and 11 of the 22 vehicles in their convoy. When dawn broke, the shooting stopped but the unit was forced to take a more dangerous route back to base.

A few miles down the road, explosions once again lit up the sky. Gunfire rang out all around them, and a moment later, the vehicle in which Michelle was riding was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, peppering her with shrapnel. When the smoke cleared, she scrambled for cover, pulling a critically wounded soldier with her and rupturing two discs in her back in the process.

Doctors told her she might never walk again, but over the course of 22 months of physical therapy at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, Michelle proved them wrong. Still, her injuries left her no longer fit for military service.

Suddenly thrust into civilian life, Michelle was overcome with loss, feeling she lacked a purpose and value. She closed herself off from her family and struggled in every way, particularly when it came to finding work. Unable to make ends meet, she soon found herself homeless and couch surfing.

One day, a friend she had made at Walter Reed invited her to a town hall on veterans' issues in Washington, D.C. Michelle hadn't planned on it, but she felt compelled to speak, articulating the plight of veterans after they returned home from combat.

When she finished, a representative from the U.S. Department of Labor approached her and offered her a job leading military outreach. In the years that followed, Michelle became active in public policy discourse, advocating for veterans' rights. By 2008, she was testifying before Congress, helping secure millions of dollars in funding for a veterans' housing and rehabilitation center in her native Massachusetts.

"It was the most surreal and confusing time of my life," she said. "I should have died on May 1, 2004, but I began to understand why I survived."

In June 2017, Michelle landed her current role at United, heading up our Talent Acquisition team's military recruitment efforts. Meeting with prospective veteran employees, she helps them navigate the difficulties of transitioning to a civilian career. But it's not about hiring veterans for the sake of hiring veterans. The work Michelle does benefits the job seeker, but it's also tremendously valuable to our company.

"Investing in military recruiting makes business sense," she said, listing off the qualities that many veterans possess, things like a fully developed concept of teamwork, adaptability and leadership. Those attributes, as Michelle will attest, are particularly well suited to the airline industry.

Today, she has found new meaning leading soldiers in a different kind of fight, one that can feel just as daunting as combat for many. Michelle learned her way through trial and error; by hitting rock bottom, dusting herself off, and getting back up. Through her tireless efforts on behalf of United, she's making sure other veterans don't have to go through what she did, and she's making us a stronger airline for it.

You can send military veteran referrals to Michelle and her team by emailing them at VeteranRecruiting@united.com.


United Cargo operates more than 11,000 cargo-only flights in one year

By The Hub team, March 19, 2021

On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).

A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.

10 tips for spring travel

By The Hub team, February 24, 2021

Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:

1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more

Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.

Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.

United joins UNICEF COVAX initiative

By The Hub team, February 19, 2021

This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.

"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.

We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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