Central Missouri Honor Flight: A Day in the Life

October 03, 2018

I've had the opportunity to ride along with Central Missouri a few times. Rain or shine, it's been a picture perfect experience. I have gotten to know the regular volunteers and have found that Honor Flight forms deep friendships.  

IMG_1036Greeting Central MissouriOn this particular morning David Benbennick and Christine Boltz from DCA were on the line greeting veterans while 100 travelers cheered the veterans on.  IMG_1024The fellows on the outside came looking for a vet from Miller County and found two

Steve and Sharon Paulsell are the Director and Vice-President. Mary Paulsell, Steve's sister is the President so it's a family affair. They've in turn enlisted their neighbors and co-workers and so it is really one big happy family. Each hub has its own rhythm and Central Missouri's is relaxed, low-key and personalized. 

20180923-IMG_1207Veterans and guardians at the WWII Memorial.

20180923-IMG_1305Sharon and Steve Paulsell IMG_1141Angela Barnes Bennett and IMG_1090Miller County residents wanted! IMG_1168Kevin MontFormer police officer and now driver, Kevin's experience with police caravans comes in handy. i see him everywhere as he is very popular with the hubs.

Speaking of rain or shine, I managed this photograph on a rainy Fall Day last year and we ducked into the downtown Air and Space Museum for an hour to wait it out.  

IMG_3194-2Constitution Avenue on a rainy day.

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That personalization worked out when I was able to make this photograph in Arlington Cemetery last Fall. We stopped the bus on the side of the road in Arlington Cemetery and just the veterans from Centralia, Missouri  gathered for a small and very moving ceremony for their classmate Rodney Griffin.

20170522-IMG_0175_(1)20170522-IMG_0175_(1)National WWII MEMORIAL FROM JEWEL OF THE MALL
Central Missouri also brings their own photographers: the witty and talented Angela Barnes Bennett and a contemporary and fellow White House News Photographer, Bill Greenblatt, who works for UPI out of St. Louis. They are on every flight and it's nice to have such great company! 
20180923-IMG_1209Angela Barnes Barnett and William GreenblattMy photographic colleagues!  

Angela Barnes Barnett wrote a little piece after the last trip and you can tell that she was giddily tired when she wrote it.  It summarizes the the spirit of Central Missouri...with or without the deodorant.

"To the Honor Flight #55 crew,

Once again, men and women were brought together from every walk of life for the mission at hand. Boy did we laugh and oh how we cried. Ok, maybe I cried but whatever. From the ups and the downs of the unknown to the wonders of the powers of something bigger than all of us, it came together like a dream. Ok, a sweaty dream, but whatever, just go with this!

Upon my arrival at the hotel WITHOUT my camera I knew the day was going to be a treat! We departed Columbia and arrived in STL with a little rain to rid us of our beauty. We landed in DC with a jolt, like a jolt out of our seats upon our very swift landing. We weathered, LITERALLY, the DC climate like storm troopers taking on…. well, something really HOT! There were changes and ups and downs, figuratively and literally speaking, and the team persevered like troopers taking on the HOT! (Don’t try to figure out the HOT unless you didn’t wear your deodorant like suggested).

To the #55 team, it was amazing to watch each and every one of you make the day happen. I don’t think I have ever seen a group more attentive and happy, and FUNNY! There was not a guardian, new or experienced who did not have a smile on their faces or a gentle hand to lend to their veterans. 

Stephanie Roberson, I believe you get the award for the most amazing, tolerant, gentle, kind, compassionate, guardian of the day. I loved you before today but watching you in action confirmed that you are the real deal.  Lynn Nichols and Kathryn Wilkerson, watching the two of you offer assistance with no reservation to the task at hand with the most genuine sincerity anyone could offer showed your hearts and souls and dedication to the mission. Dr. Tom, you stepped in ready to take on whatever came your way with kindness and compassion that was not lost on the crew. Your nursing skills were excellent and again, above and beyond. 

Suzie Ray Naeger, although you were the most boring seat mate on the plane, you showed me what amazing listening skills one could have! You “talked” your way through the day with the best attitude one could have ever had under the circumstances. Mike Cox, from my brief, weird “white bus” coo coo chanting trader ride to Iwo Jima, you and Anicka Oyen were the team players of the day, especially after Anika and I got to watch the flag raising at Iwo Jima. 

Dave Williams, I am not sure how I roped you into the T-shirt change job but you handled it like a king. And even though I had a horror nightmare high school drama dream about you, Stephanie Williams your dedication to the veterans is visibly amazing. I am always taken aback by your compassion. The two of you make a great team!

Traci Putnam, thank you for holding the crazy blue bus together. Trash bags and tooth brushes and accountability for Gary Blackmore and his peeps is what holds us together! Speaking of GB, your heart and soul and dedication is a piece of the puzzle that makes everything work. Your dedication feeds into all of us. AND, thank goodness Angie Regan was there for some hand holding and positive reinforcement when it was needed the most, even though she stole Kirby’s seat on the plane! AND, speaking of Kirby Baumert, are there words for the best wheelchair captain ever? 

Carol Grant Kyd, there has never been a time that your cheers for our Mid-Missouri veterans are not heard. Your passion is felt by all and I love it. Alice, it was beautiful watching your first Honor Flight experience sink into your soul. 

To my girl Amy Hill, watching you take your #1 and #2 was a treat. You were so lucky to have had such a great veteran protecting you from my wrath!! I love you dearly and am so glad you finally got to check the CMHF off your bucket list. Hope you get to add a few more checks in the future!

David Wallingford, I sit back in awe of your selfless efforts to lend a hand and a strong back to the veterans on the “trip." The way you “fall” all over yourself to get things done melts my heart. You are truly a gift to the mission.

Eric Farr, my seat mate for the bus who politely juggles all of my gear, listens to me sing, talk and talk some more, you are a delight. Thank you for your ever lasting patience. Jeff Voss who is always across the isle on the bus, thank you for holding literally everything I throw in your lap, and for remembering my camera, and my bag and whatever else I left behind every time we moved. You are the best team player.

Sharon Paulsell, my goodness! You roll through each and every trip with a smile and the most hilarious stories, comments and commands like “don’t fall asleep so read your folders or something!” Trip after trip you keep our little blue crew (as well as the entire crew) on task, well informed and in line like no other. The humor you add to the day is what makes the blue bus the best bus! 

And to Steve Paulsell, our captain, king cheese, red shirt wearing leader, you did it again! First, I appreciate you looking out for me because you must think I am only 4’ tall and can’t reach the overhead compartment. That was awesome! Not only do you expect each of us to maintain a high standard, you show us through example how we should be. Your dedication and love for the veterans is felt through each one of us and with you it is literally "all about the veterans.” Thank you for dedicating your soul to this project. It would not be the same without your guidance. 

Once again, my heart is full. Super lucky to be a part of the team."

Honor Flight


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