Retirees Are Servicemembers

Bos’un, over at The Bos’un Locker, had an interesting experience recently when he was on travel. His trip led him through the airport at Minneapolis St. Paul. He had a short layover and decided to rent a locker for his belonging and then gout out of the secure area to visit the Armed Forces Service Center for a cup of coffee. In his past travels he stopped there and was welcomed. This time, he was allowed to get a cup of coffee and then told he could not stay there to drink it. The volunteer informed him that the service center was for Active Duty personnel only. Despite the fact that there were few people there, and therefore plenty of seats, he had to leave.

Bos’un is retired from the US military with many years of honorable service that did not include protesting wars or throwing medals (his or someone else’s) over a fence. He felt that the snub was a slap in the face to those who served and by the grace of God, were able to retire. His feeling is one that the Big Dog shares. Bos’un wrote a few letters to find out why retirees were not allowed in a place called Armed Forces Service Center since we retirees are part of the armed forces. We are subject to recall yet do not get the respect due our years of service.

One of the volunteers wrote back to him. This person is a retired LTC and chided Bos’un for his desire to take away from the men and women on active duty. This officer is in a position that could look into the request for an answer to the issue. yet, he decided to question Bos’un patriotism and called him a disgrace to his uniform. The real issue should be why the center is not named Active Duty Service Center. If they do not want to accommodate retirees, who are willing to throw some money in the coffee fund, then why do they have a name indicating that all Service Members are welcome?

All Bos’un really wanted was a cup of coffee and a place to enjoy it. He could have spent some time talking with the younger troops and given them some insight from his many years of experience. Instead, he was treated like a beggar at the Ritz Carleton. It is a shame that this happened but more of a shame that the officer who wrote back chose to attack him rather than address the issue. I am sure that there was a better way for a retired officer to handle the situation. Unfortunately, he chose to attack the person not the issue.

I would be willing to bet if Bos’un, or any other retiree, walked in and said I am a retiree and I want to donate a thousand dollars to this organization, they would have taken his money. He would have had worth as a retiree at that time, but when he wanted a cup of coffee and a place to drink it he was yesterday’s news.

The Armed Forces Service Center is privately funded through donations, many of which come from veteran’s organizations. Perhaps the AFSC could explain why it is so willing to take money from such organizations when their membership is overwhelmingly a population of retirees.

This is an unfortunate incident. I have traveled quite a bit in my job and have run into a great number of military. I have always thanked them for what they do and sometimes sit with the young folks and discuss what they are doing and how they are managing things. I have given up first class accommodations for service members and was with a group of people who volunteered our seats to service members on they way to leave after we learned the flight was over booked.

The military is about the only job in the world where a person trains someone else to take his job. You don’t find that in the private sector because people do not want others to advance over them. It truly is the Dog eat Dog world. In the service, a person trains someone to take his place because he is being trained to take his supervisor’s place. This is what allows a new private to take charge in the absence of his leaders and is what makes our military the strongest in the world and the envy of others. Allowing a retiree a cup of coffee and some face time with young service members seems, to me, to be an extension of that process. I can’t think of a better way for an old sage to have an impact on the troops, an impact that will help them grow as representatives of the greatest nation on Earth.

Quite frankly, I worry that the interaction those troops at the MSP AFSC have with retirees is confined to people like the LTC volunteer. I wonder how they can appreciate the sacrifices retired veterans have made with closed minded folks like this guy forming their impressions.

If the AFSC has rules about who may use their facilities then fine. Perhaps they should post that at the airport and make sure the veteran’s organizations who support them know these rules as well.

As it turns out, Bos’un was delayed so his inhospitable night got longer before it got better.

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5 Responses to “Retirees Are Servicemembers”

  1. Holly Aho says:

    I’ve been to the AFSC a few times, and even volunteered there once, so I’m somewhat familiar with the operation. I can’t exactly say why a retired LTC replied to his letter, that’s a little odd. I would think Debra, who manages the AFSC would have replied, so I’m gonna call her about that. In any case, the AFSC rules about active duty members are posted on a big huge sign at the door. I do know, from my volunteer time there, that there is good reason for this rule. As I’m sure you know, the AFSC is not a USO. As you mentioned it is entirely funded by donations and run by volunteers. There are always 2 volunteers on duty at all times, so that one can always be at the front desk where luggage is stored and can be guarded.

    Because of the many rules surrounding notification of incoming planes with service members, the AFSC only gets an hour’s notice of incoming service members. It’s not uncommon for 20 service members or more to come in on one flight, several times a day. So often, the AFSC is very busy helping these service members, guarding their belongings, cooking them meals and all the other things they do. Every single military person must show ID when they arrive, and this is because you wouldn’t believe the amount of attempted thefts and everything else. Because of the many attempted thefts, the business of the center and the fact that it’s volunteer run and funded, it is not possible to also let non-active duty military persons in the center and verify they will not be a safety issue.

    While your friend is, I’m sure, an upstanding citizen and retired veteran, that is not always the case, and from tragic experience the AFSC has been forced to create these rules for the safety of our active duty members, who due to circumstances are and should be a priority. Would you be willing to vouch for every older gentleman that came through the doors claiming to be a veteran? Would you stake the safety of the 18 year old girl’s life down the hall on it? The 18 year old sleeping Marine? And could you even keep track of that older gentleman just in case….with 20 soldiers just in, all hungry, tired and busy?

    And, unfortunately, not all retirees just want a cup of coffee and a place to sit. Many think they need a meal, a bed to sleep in and so on. I’ve been there when food is running low and donations are needed but just not there. Most people, even the active duty members, mistakenly believe the AFSC is a USO, so they don’t realize everything is donated. When retirees walk in, believing it to be a USO, they don’t feel bad asking for a meal or a bed, believing it to be on the government’s dime. There just isn’t the time or resources to feed and house every member of the military, past and present, that comes in that door, and without any security whatsoever, except for volunteers, it is a danger.

    I’m sure you’re starting to get the picture…..

  2. Big Dog says:

    I certainly understand the financial and security elements and so does Bosun. All retirees are issued a retired ID card. According to him, I was not there, the rules are not posted, just a sign that says not to block the door.

    We are well aware that some people want to mooch and any old soldier would never take food from an AD troop. The contention is that if this is an Armed Forces Service Center then it is open to the Armed Forces and retirees are part of the Armed Forces. We are officially retired to the reserves and can be called to serve again.

    And more recent information tells me that the charter is set up for AD and dependants and that is fine. I would think that either the name could change to Active Duty Service Center or the charter could be amended to allow retirees (with appropriate ID) on a space available basis. There could be a provision that if food or coffee are in supply that retirees are welcome with a donation to the center.

    I know of no retiree who would shun paying a donation to help the troops. I can’t tell you how many times I have paid for a meal (anonymously) for troops. If the rules clearly stated that the center was for AD only then I would not even go in but this appears not to be the case.

    I am informed the staff was courteous and polite but Bosun felt that he was shunned because he no longer serves. He is not denigrating the service of the organization, he just questions the appropriateness of the name and the impression.

    I am aware these are hard times and I praise any volunteer who gives up time to serve our men and women in harm’s way. Bosun expressed that in his letters. He was attacked when he asked why things were so and could they be changed. Evidently, the LTC is a member of one of the service organizations in a position to make decisions and is also a volunteer.

  3. Holly Aho says:

    You don’t happen to have a copy of that letter from the LTC do ya? I know that Debra will be angry to hear of his thoughtless response and will want to know exactly what it says so she can do something specific about it. I’d like to give her the specifics so she can take action.

  4. Big Dog says:

    I will contact Bosun and get him in touch with you. Since the letter was not to me I don’t think I should send it out but will get him to discuss it with you.

  5. The Bosun says:

    Big Dog, thanks for mentioning this issue. It is good to step back and take an objective look. And, Holly Aho thank you for your concern. You brought up some interesting and objective points, too. It is appropriate to to cautious with retirees and people in general.

    not all retirees just want a cup of coffee and a place to sit. Many think they need a meal, a bed to sleep in and so on. I’ve been there when food is running low and donations are needed but just not there. Most people, even the active duty members, mistakenly believe the AFSC is a USO, so they don’t realize everything is donated. (USO have donations to. At Baltimore International, Pentagon Federal Credit Union sponsors the USO there.) When retirees walk in, believing it to be a USO, they don’t feel bad asking for a meal or a bed, believing it to be on the government’s dime. There just isn’t the time or resources to feed and house every member of the military, past and present, that comes in that door, and without any security whatsoever, except for volunteers, it is a danger.

    I would gladly drop money in a donation can anytime to help our military. The Armed Forces Service Center in Miami (no afflillation to MSP) requires ID an plane ticket for those using their center. USOs many times have time restraints and frequency restraints in place to prevent abuse. I think that an adequate checks and balance system could be put in place to prevent abuse and to protect and safeguard all who use the center.

    This ordeal has been bitter sweet for me because on one had, I understand the outstanding service that the Armed Forces Service Center does for our active duty personnel and their families. Throught this rocky road I have been traveling on the issue, I learned that the center was founded in 1970. At the time, it was the consensus that active duty had the greatest need. I agree that active duty personnel are the most important and have the greatest need to this day. The center has provided an outstanding service for so many personne in the past 35 + years. There are may fine individuals who volunteer their time to staff this center 24 – 7. I had no intention to besmirch the reputation of the center or the volunteers who serve there.

    The president of their association just emailed me and indicated that there are several reasons that the center serves only active duty personnel. Besides being a “space” issue, insurance and their 501c3 tax status stipulates only active duty personnel.

    I was just informed by the president of that assocation that “to underscore our appreciation for all those who have served, the AFSC offers veterans a cup of coffee, pastry and seating in front of the Center.” Unfortunately the night I dropped in that option was not conveyed to me. There was a sign outside that said not to block the enterance way. And, I did not want to get in trouble for lingering.

    As for the LTC who wrote me that scathing email. I was not as kind and gentle in my orginal weblog, as perhaps I should have been.. I did write him a cordial email asking for his help. His response was not so pleasant. The LTC is entitled to his own opinion. I told him that I disagreed with his position. I reflected on what he said and edited my weblog to take out the emotions of the moment.

    Big Dog and Holly Aho you have also brought some common sense rationalism to this bitter sweet topic.

    Charters can be amended and agreements modified. Other service organizations have overcome insureance and tax exempt status problems to allow retirees use of their faciliities. Perhaps it is time for the center to extend the welcome mat to retirees on a space available basis.

    I agree that priority assistance and care should go to the active duty personnel and thier immediate families members. However, during slack times, such as the evening that I dropped in when there were only about four or five people in the lounge area, perhaps the center could extend the welcome mat to retirees to have a cup of coffee watch a little TV or read a book.