Did you know that Travelers Aid’s San Diego Airport Ambassador staff and volunteers work with the TSA to coordinate and organize the “Wounded Warrior” assistance program for our airport as well as many airports around the country? Because of the large military presence here in San Diego, a need was identified, and for the past four years, nearly 1200 severely injured service members have been served by our Airport Ambassadors and the TSA. The program has been replicated by several airports around the country, and here in San Diego, we work with Travelers Aid staff in those airports to arrange all the details.
“We are fortunate to have such an outstanding Travelers Aid/Airport Ambassadors program in San Diego,” said Sonja Dugan, an MSIC (Military Severely Injured Center) counselor advocate at San Diego’s Balboa Naval Medical Center.” The level of professionalism and respect the TSA staff and volunteers display toward our military service members and their families is commendable and greatly appreciated.”
These heroes are welcomed curbside, assisted with their bags and through security (oftentimes receiving private TSA security screenings), and are helped through the various checkpoints within the airport. Porter tips and parking fees are waived for these service members, and Travelers Aid Airport Ambassadors volunteer for this work separately from their regularly scheduled shifts. Thanks and accolades come in regularly to both Travelers Aid and the TSA alike from those served: both the military personnel and their grateful families.
One of the first Wounded Warriors we assisted was Sergeant John Mendez. Housed at Balboa Naval Hospital for over three years with PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, a prosthetic leg, a fused ankle on his remaining leg, and a shoulder injury, he needed help at the airport each time he traveled home to see his wife and family in Fort Wayne, IN. Travelers Aid Volunteer, Ginna James, assisted him the first time he traveled through the airport, and each time he traveled thereafter, including rides to and from the hospital. Despite his challenges, Sgt. Mendez made amazing progress in so many areas: he was the first at Balboa to receive a service dog (Lurch), and he worked diligently to set up the service dog program there-including writing the manual for the program. During the time Sgt. Mendez spent in San Diego, Ginna and her husband, Norm, formed such a close and friendly relationship with him, they often met him for breakfasts and dinners out. At Ginna’s urging, this remarkable young man applied for admission to Purdue University, and all those close to him were thrilled when he was accepted!