Tribute to the Military

Saturday, February 04, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS - ST. PAUL ARMED FORCES SERVICE CENTER

My fellow Americans, Service Members and Military Retires:

I have been wrong about a many things in my life. After much reflection, I am correcting my weblog originally written on 02/04/2006.


I was graciously turned away from the Armed Forces Service Center because it is their policy not to allow military retirees use of their facility.

I was flying from Washington DC to Seattle with what I thought was a two hour plane change and layover. I was looking forward to a relaxing time at Minneapolis - St. Paul because I had been through the airport about four years ago and had used the Armed Forces Service Center before. After inquiring where it was located from the airport information traveler aide counter, I purchased baggage locker space inside the security section of the airport to leave my computers and carry-on baggage. As we all know, it is a hassle to go through the security checkpoint with two laptops, cell phone, keys, change, etc. Had I known that retirees were not allowed to use the Armed Forces Service Center, I would have purchased a cup of coffee at Starbucks and not have left the concourse.

When I went into the center, volunteer hosts were on duty. They politely explained to me that retirees were not allowed to use the facility. They explained, "Our scope of service at Minneapolis - St. Paul Airport is narrow. We are privately funded and cannot support servicing retirees."

Well, after finding out the name of the Armed Forces Service Center Director's name, I asked the hosts if I could at least get a cup of coffee. They said it was "ok to look around a little and get a cup of coffee." I got a cup of coffee and sat down on the sofa to drink it. One of the hosts, a man of middle age, came up to me and said. "we really have a very strict narrow scope of operation here, you have to leave." So, I left.

Needless to say, several emails have gone back and forth to Minneapolis - St. Paul since. I would like to share an email that I received from the President of the Board of Directors of the Armed Forces Service Center:

"Let me begin by saying that I am a 21-year Air Force retiree, know the importance of those of us who have "gone before" and realize the support given to active duty troops by the retired force.

There are several reasons the center is opened only to "active duty." When the center was founded in November of 1970, local veterans’ organizations were approached to assist with the funding and volunteers - to insure the center would be open 24/7. The consensus among the veteran organizations was, the center should be available to active duty military and their dependents, since they have the greatest need for our services during their travels. Therefore, under the founding charter of the Armed Forces Service Center, we are charged with supporting "active duty" military personnel and have done so for 35+ years with an all-volunteer force. Further, our insurance coverage and 501c3 status (IRS-designated, non-profit organization) is directly tied to that charter. Finally there is the space issue. Since September 11, 2001 and the resulting "War on Terrorism," there have been many days when the center was packed to capacity.

We take great pride in having a one-of-a-kind center, it is unlike the USO's throughout the U.S. (i.e.some USO's charge our veterans to use the facilities and accept donations. The Armed Forces Service Center provides EVERYTHING free of charge to our active duty guests and their dependents; Many USO's are open limited hours - we are opened 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and have proudly never had our doors closed in 35 years; USO's are funded by the government, our funds come from veteran/military organizations, their auxiliaries and private donations). I have used many of the USO's, and it is an excellent organization and provide outstanding facilities.

I can positively assure you that all organizations donating funds know fully the extent of our operations. As a veteran, I find it disheartening that you disparage the center in a blog without first finding out what its all about. You bad-mouth an organization that has served over 700,000 active duty veterans, many returning as disabled veterans, by providing a place for them to relax between flights. Also, the executive director, Debra Cain, is not responsible for the establishment of the rules - she is charged with carrying out the day-to-day operations of the center.

A couple of "tidbits":

Many of our all-volunteer staff are retired military and served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf - from Staff Sergeant to Admiral.

Many members of the Board of Directors are also retired military personnel.

Many organizations comprised of retired veterans support us with volunteers, funding and make up members on our board of directors, including the Submarine Veterans of WWII, the Military Officers of America Association and the Reserve Officers Association.

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.

There must have been some confusion that evening as the hosts did not point out that I could have taken a seat outside the center to drink my coffee. The subsquent chain of events have not been pleasant and I have been reminded by two individuals that my weblog and correspondence have not been appropriate.

I know that USOs and other service organizations have extended the welcome mat to retirees. I am sure that they to have insurance, tax exempt status, and other regulations that they have had to comply with.

I find it disheartening is that an individual with 100% service connected disability would be placed under the same restrictions as a regular retiree. We have a lot of fallen heroes who need much help from the rest of us fortunate citizens. That in itself may be reason enough for you to explore extending the welcome mat to retirees or at least those with service connected disabilities.

I regrete that I have uttered hurtful words and should have been more responsible in my weblog. I had no intention to besmirch the reputation the Armed Forces Service Center. This has been a bitter sweet topic for me because I understand full well hardships active duty personnel and their families encounter and a kind hand extended makes the world of difference. I commend the Armed Forces Service Center for serving active duty personnel and their families over 30 years, and on a volunteer basis.

However, I am not sure about the resistance to change regarding thier retiree policy. Perhaps it is time for them to extend the welcome mat to retirees on a space available basis. We retirees are still part of the family, although should provide the most assistance and care to the active duty personnel and thier immediate families members.

Respectfully,
Bosun

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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I work at a USO at a major airport. I just wanted to correct one item in that letter you recieved.

The USO is NOT funded by the government. It is a private non profit agency. We are funded entirely by private donors.

While the USO is chartered by congress and the president is the honorary chairman (as all president's are) we are not part of the government and not funded by them.

While SOME USO locations charge for food and services that is usually becaue o funding restrictions. As far as I know none of the airport USO's charge.

The USO's that I do know that charge are located on bases and they charge minimal amounts (25 cents for a pop) in order to hold down costs and waste.

Bosun said...

Anonymous.. I know that myself. The fellow from Armed Forces Service Center, Minneapolis St. Paul wrote me an email with that in it. It was his quotes in that portion of the text.

I was denied to use the AFSC, Minneapolis St Paul because I was a retiree. Something I found not right. I sure hope that the folk at Minneapolis St. Paul airport change their policies.

Thank you for your service to both Military and military retirees.

Respectfully,
Bosun

Anonymous said...

I too, was turned away from the Armed Forces Service Center (AFSC) at Minneapolis St. Paul Airport on 1 Jun 07 @ 11pm. I was leaving the next morning at 6:00am for Denver IAP. My layover caused me and my wife to decide to sleep in the airport or rush to find a hotel for 5hrs then back to the airport. I must say the rep. at the AFSC politely offered their amenities and to hang out there for a while, but after seeing my blue ID card. I was graciously offered a soda and sandwich and told the policy. Then informed I was allowed to use the airport benches just outside the AFSC area to sleep. The most appalling thing to me was not the kick in the stomach I felt when I was refused service from an organization that’s titled Armed Forces Service Center & receives funding from Veterans organizations. It was the fact that there were 3 leather couches and no one using them. However, there was an Army & Navy gentlemen being helped by the rep. As far as I could tell the rest of the place was empty. My wife and I would of gladly left if the AFSC had suddenly become full but this was not the case. Even if it was I'm 100% positive the GIs would want my wife to stay because she has a comforting way with people and superior conflict management abilities and would help out anyone in need which, she has done while stationed in Germany and Frt. Carson. Bottom Line.... I sure hope the policies of the AFSC change and add retirees and their dependents on a space available basis. Because, I would hate to have this happen again to a Military member who served their country.

Mr. Patrick
Retired USAF (22.5 yrs)

Bosun said...

Patrick,

I suggest that you start a letter writing campaign. This is a repeat of what happened to me and brings back a flood of emotions.

30 years active duty Navy and your 22.5 years of service and they would rather treat us like bums. At least they offered a park bench outside for you. That was added after I bitched about the shabby treatment.

And you picked up on the "contributions" from unsuspecting organizations. If only they were aware of the "John Kerry - Jack Murthaites" of MSP.

Thank you for you service, lest anyone forget you contributions.

Respectfully,
Bosun

~W~ said...

Today I spent 3 hours in this very service center as I waited to send someone that I love so much back to Korea for another year. I cherish the time that I was able to spend somewhere that was comfortable where I could say goodbye and tell him how proud of him and how I was going to be strong for him. I will never forget being able to send him off in comfort and the kindness that was extended to us.

Bos'un said...

W,

I am glad that you had a good stay at the MSP Armed Forces Service Center. It has always been very hospitable toward active duty personnel, their dependents and guests. However, when I first posted the story, the MSP AFSC had changed its policy toward military retirees and was unfriendly toward retired military personnel and those in the disabled temporary retirement list. After several complaints, the MSP AFSC changed their policies regarding retires and from what I understand now treat retirees much better. I spent 30 years in the military and had many memorable experiences at the old MSP Armed Forces Service Center as an active duty and retired member. I was shocked at how I was treated in February 2006. From what I understand the board held a special meeting after I and several others complained and now treat retirees with some respect.

I am glad that you were served with honor and dignity and that MSP Armed Forces Service Center is providing excellent service for military personnel, their dependents and guest and can only hope that military retirees are treated well now.

I hope more retirees will comment on the treatment that they get at MSP.

Respectfully,
Bosun

Anonymous said...

I was also turned away by the minneapolis USO because I'm in the Reserves; however I wasn't traveling on active duty orders at the time. I had never been turned away by a USO before as most USO centers welcome reserve members. They offered me a cup of coffee on the way out the door and I tried not to laugh as I turned it down. I would rather pay $4 for a cup of coffee then accept a free cup somewhere I wasn't even welcome to sit down. I was traveling for a job interview because I came home to unemployment as a result of my deployment. In the reserves it's normal to return to second class citizenship the moment your orders are up.

Anonymous said...

I don't think the people that that make that decision about retirees not coming into the MSP Armed Forces Service Center really get it concerning serving your country. I too am a 20 year active duty retiree from the Navy, 1986-2006. I frequented the Armed Forces Service center often whenever I flew in and out of Minneapolis mostly for leave purposes. And thru those years the Service Center changed locations within MSP, from a very promenient location on the main level of the SE corner to the more obscured upper level of the SW corner. I was always greeted warmly and offered a sandwich, drink or snack. I was so impressed with the way the service center was run, I said to myself when I retire from the Navy, I would offer to volunteer at the MSP Armed Forces Service Center. In 2007 when I applied I received a message to come to an orientation meeting which I attended. I was very dismayed by the facilitator when she told the group that military retirees were not allowed within the Service Center. She said if a retiree shows up with ID, tell them politely then can get something to drink, and eat but they have to sit just outside the service center. I found this completely appalling that someone who serves their country for 20 or more years is told to wait outside and have their coffee. So with that said I couldn't see myself having to tell the retirees that may show up to have their beverage outside the Serviceman's Center. I do recall at least before 9/11, that I saw retirees and their spouse in the Serviceman's Center. As long as one had some type of military ID or orders you were allowed in. I think the current Director has never served in the military from reading her bio

Greg Tamlin, Kenny (5) Layna (3) said...

Reservists and National Guard have been able to stay at the AFSC for about 1 1/2 years as far as I know. Do you honestly think their policies are set up to be demeaning or discriminatory to retirees and veterans? Do you honestly think that the volunteers like turning people away? I respectfully advise you to think again. I believe that it's an issue of lack of money, like a lot of things are everywhere.

I'm active duty and me and my 2 kids were treated great at the AFSC 3 times. Once the place was packed to the rafters--including guys sitting in the outer hallway. The next 2 times there was maybe 10-12 people in there for varying spans of time. If you remember, being lower in the ranks as I am isn't a high paying job. Having a place that offered so much for free was a blessing to my family.

One time as we were leaving I stopped at the office and thanked Debra Cain for the hospitality. She's a stand-up individual.

FYI to the poster that said Ms. Cain didn't serve in the military. She didn't. But one of the volunteers told me that she paid her dues "in spades". Her Dad was career active duty Army and his family went with him all over the world until he was KIA. Does that qualify her to be respected by anybody reading or posting on this blog?

Carl Madsen said...

New! Retirees and their families, including Purple Heart and MOH recipients are allowed access to the center!

http://www.mnafsc.org/new-entrance-criteria/

I'm a past president of the board of directors/long time volunteer, and we worked hard on making this center more available. We understand the frustration of being denied access, but we are a small organization who does not receive USO funding.

The new seating is awesome, leather chairs and recliners, new bunkbeds and the wifi is improving!