MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Upon entering the room, customers are greeted with smiles and laughter. The volunteer veterans are there to help; their age embodies their experience, and their love for their country apparent in their continued service. The stories they share provide a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to those who hear them.
For the 16 volunteer veterans at the passenger terminal, the time they give is a way to continue serving after closing the final chapter on their military careers.
“It’s a way to give back and volunteer,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Col Richard Gorka, a volunteer at the pax terminal. “It helps me reconnect with the base and other service members.”
Each day, two to three volunteers can be found manning the front desk of the pax terminal. They answer phones, assist customers and provide valuable information on regulations, guidelines and upcoming flights.
When needed, they are also available to help their active duty teammates.
“A few weeks ago, we had a mission going out with a lot of passengers,” said Airman 1st Class Douglas Boehm, a passenger service representative assigned to the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron. “We had to sign in every passenger individually, so the volunteers helped weigh and move the baggage.”
In addition to being a fundamental part of the pax terminal’s mission, all 16 veterans act as mentors as well.
“We get to take in some of their knowledge and experiences,” explained Boehm. “They tell their ‘war stories’ which are interesting because there’s so much history we can learn from.”
The veterans also give the Airmen someone they can look up to.
“For a young Airman like me, they are people I look up to as role models,” said Bohem.
In addition, these volunteers connect with those like themselves, veterans.
Each volunteer has their own story and experience. Some served as reservists or guardsmen, while others were active duty. Some were soldiers, while others were Airmen, Sailors or Marines. Some served in World War II, and others in Vietnam or more recent campaigns.
Although they all represent different backgrounds, they share one similarity - their service.
“We spend some time conversing, sharing ‘war stories,’” said Gorka. “It’s a great way to reconnect with fellow service members who have served their country. There is a bond and commonality that we share.”
These veterans not only help to fuel MacDill’s aerial refueling mission, they also provide insight to those who currently serve. The time they have selflessly given, and still give, impacts not only MacDill, but the military and the nation as a whole.