Every November, the civilian passenger jets and the din of meticulous metal-on-metal maintenance that fills Delta’s TechOps hangar gives way to a massive transformation: An annual event honoring veterans, with everything from scrappy vintage fighters to modern behemoths like the C-17 filling the space for admiring onlookers.
Delta and its employees hosted the 10th Annual Veterans Appreciation Event during the week preceding Veterans Day. The event featured dozens of active military aircraft including a C-17 Globemaster, F-16s, A-10s, a Chinook helicopter and several historic aircraft on display. A point of pride for the airline: that several of the aircraft were flown to the event by Delta pilots – who also serve in military Reserve or Guard.
While the aircraft were an attraction, Delta’s veterans themselves were the main event. “We’re gathered here today to celebrate our heroes – the people who have fought, protected and served our country so proudly,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in remarks to a gathered crowd. “This is our opportunity to thank you for what you do.”
Around 10% of Delta’s employees are veterans, with many of them continuing to serve in the Guard or Reserves. It’s a natural fit, as many veterans attest to the values gained through military service that are shared with the culture at Delta like servant leadership, resilience and community. “While we’re honoring them today, we all know that it’s a group that’s worthy of honor every single day,” said Keyra Lynn Johnson, Vice President and Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. “When I think about that energy that’s brought into the Delta team and the important dimension of diversity that we need to succeed and build back better, I’m really grateful for our veterans each and every day.”
“I’m so appreciative that Delta puts on an event like this,” said Flight Attendant Kimberly Hand, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran currently serving in the Army National Guard. “It really means a lot to people like me and all the other veterans serving that the company loves us that much to show us all of their gratitude.”
Customer Experience Specialist Bruce Hiveley, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said his family “grew leaps and bounds” when he joined Delta.
“Everyone, although they may have served in a different branch, they’re still the same family,” Bruce said. “Now, we’re part of the Delta family, which brings everyone together.”
Displays of service
Dozens of Delta people proudly contributed commemorative shadow boxes to be displayed at the event. The displays commemorate the service of a Delta veteran or a Delta person remembering the service of a veteran family member. Each box contained a curated collection of personal items – patches, medals, flags and mementos – proudly arranged to honor their service.
Susan Snow’s shadow box is among those on display. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, she proudly carries the experience from her Naval career in aviation, and now works as an Avionics AMT at Delta. Her shadow box features her photo on the cover of the June 1988 issue of All Hands, a Navy magazine. The issue featured a story on Snow and her service as a woman in the military. “It keeps me young to look at it,” she said of her shadow box. “It reminds me of how far I’ve come. It inspires me to put my work boots on and do something productive.”
For Talib Sample, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, now a Delta Flight Operations Senior Planner, his shadow box is a constant reminder of service and sacrifice. “I’m constantly reminded when I look at my shadow box that not only did I put up a sacrifice by joining the military, sometimes we don’t take the time to realize that our families had to take on the burden of us deploying, of us not coming home, of us having to deal with a change of duty stations.”
Even those who didn’t serve themselves, are proud to recognize the service of a family member. Ken Fleming, a Delta TechOps Quality Assurance General Manager, saw it fitting to commemorate his father’s WWII service with a shadow box that holds his U.S. Navy uniform. The uniform is proudly displayed in Fleming’s home, where it also serves as a daily inspiration. “I try to exemplify all the values that he taught me,” he said of his father. “Treating people with respect, being fair, being balanced and honest.”
Whether through shadow boxes or remarks on stage, the Veterans Appreciation event offered a reminder to all who attended: every time you meet a veteran, take a moment to offer more than a “thank you."
“Talk to them,” said Kurt Robinson, President of Delta’s Veterans Business Resource Group. “Listen to their story. That extra moment will carry so much more meaning for the veteran, and you.”
Delta's commitment to veterans
While the two-day Veterans Appreciation Day event is a moment to commemorate the annual holiday, Delta’s commitment to those who have served in the military happens every day of the year.
Delta employees who are veterans receive ongoing support in the form of employee assistance programs for both career development and personal well-being.
Delta has served as a principal funder of four Fisher House Foundation facilities since 2015. Fisher House Foundation offers a network of comfort homes, located on military bases or next to Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals, where families of military personnel can stay at no cost while their loved ones receive treatment.
Delta sponsors the Luke’s Wings Heroes Gala every April. Luke’s Wings provides families of military personnel with the means to travel to be with their loved ones if that servicemember is hospitalized.
In November, Delta supports veterans, active service members and their families by matching customer-donated miles to Fisher House Foundation’s Hero Miles Program and Luke’s Wings. The miles provide air travel to wounded, injured or ill service members, veterans and their families. More than 90 million miles have been donated since the program began in 2014.
Delta is a proud supporter of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation by providing funding to several of the foundation’s initiatives and offering our highest SkyMiles status, Diamond Medallion®, to Medal of Honor recipients.
Delta employees across the nation have volunteered their time and donations in support of Toys for Tots. Delta is the official airline partner for Toys for Tots and contributes more than $700,000 annually to the program.
Throughout the year, supporters of the military at Delta dedicate their time to ensure a reverent and honorable return home for fallen soldiers carried on Delta planes. The Delta Honor Guard is on standby at hubs across the country to make sure every fallen servicemember makes it to their final rest with care and honor.
Bastian accepted the Patriot of the Year award from the USO on behalf of Delta and its people in November 2021. Delta supports 12 USO chapters through sponsorship and volunteer work including assembling care packages, serving hot meals, distributing luggage tags and spending time with service members. Delta also supports the MI Freedom Center in Detroit and the Armed Forces Service Centers in Minneapolis and Miami.