Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Airlines and Snowballs
I flew to Colorado Springs today. Yes, I live in Denver. Yes, it is a 15-minute flight wheels up to down. But, if your work requires you to travel at all, you know the value of achieving frequent flier status with your airline of choice. A kind lady from Denver-based Frontier Airlines called me last month just to let me know that I was going to be one leg short of reaching their top-tier flier status for 2012. Not one round trip short; just one leg, which she wasn’t pulling. So I came to Colorado Springs to have lunch and to knock out some of the email debris that piles up in my inbox. No meetings; just lunch at the airport before flying right back home.
Last night I lay awake thinking about the numerous trips this year that afforded me elite flying status on two airlines: Frontier and American. Madrid, London, Budapest, San Antonio (many times over), Spokane, Los Angeles, Portland, and Dallas, to name a few. I’ve long held a belief that achieving frequent flier status with an airline, in truth, may look like success on the road, but feels like failure at home. It means I’ve been away from my family a lot this year. A sacrifice that I have to question each time I consider another trip. Days away from the normal rhythms of family life - missed events, soccer games, church together. Sacrifice.
Then my Colorado Springs airport lunch took an interesting turn. Military veterans began arriving at the gate across from where I sat. Some in uniforms, most sporting veterans patches on their leather coats or hats. All carrying American flags. Since this city is home to the Air Force Academy, I assumed that this was a “welcome home” party for returning soldiers. I had to take a closer look.
Next thing I know I was holding one of those flags and my new friend, Jack “St. Thunder” Casey, was standing beside me. Along with many others, we formed a tunnel of flags from the exit of the jet-bridge into the terminal. Ladies held gift bags ready to hand out to those who were about to come up the ramp. Then word began to spread that the Snowball Express had arrived.
The Snowball Express? That didn’t sound like a troop transport plane. So I turned to Jack and asked, “Are these soldiers coming home?” He replied, “No, the soldiers died. This chartered American Airlines flight is bringing their families home. We sent them to Dallas for a weekend of recovery. They’ve been to Six Flags, Cowboy Stadium, and lots of other fun things.” As it turns out, every year, Patriot Guard units around the country round up these families and offer them a blessing in light of their sacrifice.
Sacrifice. That word surfaced again. On my trips, I’m gone several days, with the occasional two-weeker overseas. For these families, their soldier left knowing they would be gone for over a year. At the end of my trips, I come home to a family that welcomes me back. Their soldier didn’t return to their hugs.
I crawl into bed. They attended a funeral.
Yes, I travel a lot. Too much. But as I watched those kids and moms coming off the flight to a chorus of flag-holders saying, “Welcome home!” I’m reminded that some families won’t get to offer the homecoming greetings they waited to give. The gifts they received today can’t begin to compare to the loss they’ve experienced. Now that's sacrifice.
And the chance to give them a hero’s welcome today was worth that one extra leg on Frontier.
Now it’s time to go home.
For more information about the Snowball Express, click here.
For more information about the Colorado Patriot Guard, click here.
For other Patriot Guard units, click here.