Troops get top service at Metro Airport

Troops get top service at Metro Airport


NEAL RUBIN

There was a soldier pecking at a laptop and a sailor talking on the phone and a young woman doing both while also eating a cookie.
Since she was traveling in civilian clothes, her branch of service was uncertain. But she was multitasking in the DTW Holiday Military Lounge at Metro Airport, so it was a given that she’d recently been on guard someplace on our behalf.
Downstairs at the McNamara Terminal a few mornings ago, the line at the little Starbucks next to the Burger King spilled out into the concourse. There was congestion and hurrying and everything else that makes flying over the holidays such an untrammeled joy. Upstairs in the lounge, there was tranquility, and also an assortment of muffins.
Unlike 92 other places in the United States and Guam, Detroit does not have a USO center to comfort and assist wandering service members. What it does have, fortunately, is a bunch of Delta Air Lines employees and other volunteers devoting their time to tell service men and women how much they are valued.
The volunteers aren’t putting it exactly that way. What they’re saying is, “Take a seat. Take a nap. Take a sandwich.” But everyone involved knows what they mean.

A joint effort
The lounge is a joint effort of the airport, the airline and more other contributors than anyone really has a handle on. Since Dec. 17, well more than a thousand active and retired service members, National Guard members, families of same and even cadets have stopped in.
They have a place to call their own because a Delta manager came back from Atlanta last year with an idea, and because, as Ken Pratt puts it, “All you have to tell people is that we’re doing this for the troops. Nobody says no.”
Pratt, 61, grew up in Traverse City, lives in St. Louis, Mo., and flies 757s and 767s out of Detroit. He spent 28 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard, and though he denies it, everyone else involved in the lounge will tell you that he’s the one who mostly got it off the ground.
The inspiration was a spillover room Delta operates during the holidays at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International, where there’s so much military traffic the USO gets overwhelmed. A Delta team at Detroit Metro basically cleared a conference room and set out some brownies last December, and it was so well-received that this season, the troops got an upgrade.

A first-class lounge
The airport opened the doors to the old Lufthansa first-class lounge, just past the security screening area. The Westin contributed the furniture, including the sofas and recliners in a softly lit quiet room where a family of six caught some sleep last week on the way from Okinawa to a stateside Christmas. Delta came up with 10 laptops, the tank command in Warren sent over a 4-by-4-foot pallet of books, and some of the 500-plus volunteers handled the decorating.
The lounge will remain open through Jan. 7, theoretically from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. When 10 travelers were left stranded on the first Saturday, they stayed the night — and Pratt stayed with them.
The budget for the project, he notes, is zero, which is also the grand total of expenses. They’re not set up to take donations, and they have to be careful about outside goods, but National Coney Island keeps sending up trays of sandwiches and the manager of an Einstein Bros. outlet drops off bagels, 120 at a time. “If that’s not enough,” he says, “call me.”
Christmas cookies have arrived with Delta employees from Denver, and volunteers have come from central Illinois, driving to Chicago to catch a flight. Airport security workers are heavily involved, as are veterans’ groups, sounding a bugle call with their e-mail lists.
Civilian chaplain Christine Rinn, 56, of Utica worked the check-in desk the other day, finding time to sooth a sailor from Waterford on her way to her first assignment. Ford retiree John Anklam, 63, of Sterling Heights walked the concourse, handing fliers to anyone who looked like they might be military.
“They have a certain cut,” he says, and he doesn’t just mean hair.
All it takes to get through the door is a military ID. Guests sign in with their name and destination. Cincinnati, West Palm Beach, Anchorage. Grand Rapids, Chicago, Hong Kong, Afghanistan.
“We are putting our guests,” Pratt says, “on the level of being premium passengers” — which, of course, they are.

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