Sunday, August 29, 2021
An Expression of Gratitude
As you know, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program is in full swing, evacuating thousands from Afghanistan daily. As with most CRAF operations, the trips were met with unforeseen challenges. I am not writing to talk about all of the problems. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude and pride in our workforce.
I will start with the crew. I would like to share a clip from a member of the crew, with permission.
“Hi Sharon, we are doing our best but we are exhausted, we have spent the entire day cleaning vomit off the walls, fecal matter off the floors to keep the lavatories open, we have done I don’t know how many services, we just did a pizza service- the pilots ordered pizza, juice, water, soft drinks because we had nothing left onboard, the passengers are very confused because they don’t know why AA is holding them here [on the ground] for 6 hours, might be another couple of hours- in a few minutes, it will be 6 hours since landing…”
Members of our Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) were waiting for the crew with food, water, and to offer assistance, and he replied:
“They should go home- I don’t think there is anything they can do for us- we appreciate they are waiting to help us, but we are doing ok so far- in 31 years I don’t think I ever worked this hard seriously, but we wanted to bring these people safely and to know the conditions they experienced in Germany was heartbreaking. That’s why we did our best- We did a lunch service, then two hours later, we did chocolates and cookies, water service, had coloring books for children, then a coffee and tea service. At 1:30 before landing, we did the follow-on snack service. We passed out blankets, amenity kits, slippers, pajamas and water. We just finished the pizza, soft drinks, and water [on the ground]. As you can imagine, we are exhausted!”
I share this to show through all of this and the extended 12-hour delay on the ground, the crew continued to care for the well-being of others, intermittently going into the bathroom to shed a few tears. Their resilience and kindness are an inspiration to us all. Those that step up to work these missions represent some of the best in our industry.
Next, I would like to thank DCA-based APFA CIRT Peer Support Volunteers Charlotte Lewis, Gaby Jimenez and PHL-based Peer Support Volunteer Jabari Black. They, too, went above and beyond assisting our crews.
Jabari and Charlotte showed up at IAD at 5PM to meet the inaugural trip.Their devotion to their task never wavered. After I spoke with National President Julie Hedrick at 1:00 am, we both thought it best that they leave, feeling we still had hours to wait. I communicated this to them and Jabari said, “ this is what I signed up to do, we are staying”. They waited until 7:00 am. At that point, Charlotte drove home and Jabari accompanied the crew to the hotel. At the hotel, he got their keys and ensured they were all situated.
Their story doesn’t end here. Both Jabari and Charlotte showed up at IAD at 7PM to meet the next crew. Gaby Jimenez joined them. Due to strong leadership, things went smoothly last night. A replacement crew seamlessly switched out to be with the passengers on the ground as they waited for processing, and the original crew deplaned at 10:15 PM. When I checked in with my CIRT crew on the ground, I learned they were trying to wait for the replacement crew to deplane. Their commitment brought me to tears. I had to strongly command them to go home! While writing this email, I learned Jabari continued to follow up with the replacement crew via text. He provided a list of follow up things for me to do.
These volunteers represent a selfless group of Peer Support Volunteers willing to support our members 24/7. I am proud to be a part of this team.
I feel a special debt of gratitude to National President Julie Hedrick and the APFA Leadership. Julie has had my back throughout my brief tenure as Interim EAP Department Chair. My activist heart gives her a lot for which to advocate. She stayed up throughout the night with us working on solutions for these lengthy delays being experienced upon landing in the United States. Due to her skilled intervention, we now have replacement crews on standby to relieve all incoming CRAF trips. We can all imagine how difficult that was in dealing with customs, but we got it done as a team.
Since the crew involved was based in NYC, my NY team, base President, Christian Santana and CIRT Team Base Coordinator (TBC) Sonia Rodriguez stayed in constant communication with different members of the crew throughout the night. Sonia and I have partnered together for years along with our founder of CIRT, Susie Wallace. There is no better team in the system.
I would also like to extend a message of thanks to Virendy Coates, Shelley Benjamin-Smith and the DCA Flight Service Managers that stayed the course to get things done.
CRAF is challenging but rewarding flying, and it seems the only constant is change. Our crews have shown great flexibility and compassion for our passengers, some who left their country with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I think we can all say that we are beyond grateful for the work these individuals are doing during this CRAF activation.
APFA EAP Representative