It all started with a ring, or was it with a ring-a-DING? Anyway, I heard the sound of a small bell go off in my department that signifies we all need to go to our department lobby for some breaking news. Anyone who was in the department at that time showed up to receive the news. Much to my surprise, I heard that I had been nominated and selected to fly to Seattle and receive our 500th aircraft from Boeing. How cool was that?
Why me? Well, Southwest Airlines had decided to do to commemorate the 36th year in business and the delivery of our 500th aircraft by asking for our Employees to nominate any U.S. Veteran or Active reserve. My sneaky Manager knew that I had served in the U.S. Navy during Desert Storm, so she called my wife to get some details on my service. Little did I know that when my wife asked me about my service that she was not collecting info for a student's book report. Ohhh no, she was in on the secret and passing this information on to my Manager, who in turn submitted it to Southwest. Once SWA had collected all of the nominations, they selected 36 folks who had or still are serving our country by being a part of our great military.
Wow, what an honor to first be selected to accept one of our 737's, and to exponentially add to that honor, I get to go with a group of 35 other folks that have served this country so bravely.
What about the trip?
My wife and I departed Dallas to Seattle (with only one stop...WAHOOO) on Tuesday morning, and already found new friends along the way with some other winners and their guests. We didn't have anything on the agenda when we arrived, so my wife and I decided to do the tourist thing and went to the Pike Place Market. This is the oldest continual food market in the country. They also are the home of the Pike Place Fish Market. If you ever do a class on Team Building, you may see their "Fish Video" which shows that even some really hard jobs can be successful if you try to have fun doing it. Once we were done with that, we went to the hotel restaurant and bar. There, we met some more of the "36" and had some great laughs. I must say though that, while we were having some great times, we would periodically pause silently for a moment as someone would remember a Comrade that made the ultimate sacrifice for us and this country.
We all loaded up in buses and headed out to the Boeing plant. What else can I say but "amazing". To see the assembly lines in these huge rooms and all the workers busy on their own individual roles on assembling these great aircraft. I did note that there were other airline paint schemes out there; I thought SWA had the copyright on 737s. Ha-ha! After we completed the tour of the Plant we had the afternoon to ourselves so we again transformed into tourists and went out to see Seattle.
Another couple and my wife and I went to a seafood restaurant called Elliott's, and I highly recommend it. Afterwards, we went to the Seattle Aquarium; it was an excellent aquarium, so if you're into that I would check it out. Once we wore out the soles of our shoes we went back to the hotel to prepare for our dinner cruise that Boeing graciously sponsored for all of us.
That evening, we loaded up the buses again and journeyed to the boat dock for our dinner cruise aboard the vintage 1922 Virginia V, the last wooden-hull, steam-powered passenger vessel of the famed Puget Sound "Mosquito Fleet." A great surprise for us was that, when we boarded, we were greeted by none other than "Admiral" Herb Kelleher. The food was awesome the, the drinks were flowing, and the karaoke was loud. By the way, if you should happen to see any video or pictures of someone that looks a lot like me dancing a country jig, or singing, it really wasn't me....really. After the cruise, some of us stayed out, and others went to get ready and packed for the signing and delivery of our 500th.
Here it was the last day of the trip, and we all loaded up our bags on the buses, and went to Boeing field to collect our plane. Wow, this was exciting! A couple of folks got selected to sign for the plane along with Herb, and the CEO of Boeing. We all received a plaque symbolizing the delivery of this 500th aircraft from Boeing to us. Many of the 36 had on their Uniforms from past and present, while others had garb on clarifying what branch of the service they belonged to. Once the signing was done, we loaded up on the plane in one giant "A" boarding group. The flight was great, just imagine a nonstop flight from Seattle to Dallas. Add to that, some great boxed lunches (these were the good ones, they even had shrimp cocktails), plenty of beer and a Champagne toast to kick it all off. The Flight Attendant announcements were quite humorous, since they had no demo equipment, so they added the word "imaginary" to everything. (For example in the seatback pocket in front of you will see an imaginary emergency card...etc.)
When we touched down, you could see all the folks waiting for us to land waving to us as we passed them. As we taxied to where the party was set up, we could see the scope of how many Employees and families had shown up, and it was very moving. Once we deplaned each of the 36 was announced to the huge crowd with a brief bio by Gary Kelly, and we each received a warm hug and kiss from Colleen, as well as the legendary welcome and thanks from Herb.
I think this will be one of my most favored memories of being here at SWA, and it moved me in many ways. The fact that a Company would go so far to honor us and our commitment we made to the country, just increased my deep love and appreciation for this Company. Another thing that really struck me and brought tears to my eyes was when I was told that a few of the Vietnam Veterans had told our folks that they finally got the welcome home they never received coming home from Vietnam. In truth, I'm still just a little overwhelmed about this whole thing from the surprise at the beginning to the magnitude of military pride we have here at Southwest Airlines. I thank the great Employee Communications Team at Southwest that made this possible, and the folks that serve us near or far and wide in the United States Armed Forces who make it possible for all of us to do the things we do. I'll never forget these few days that I was in the presence of heroes.