It has been more than four decades since Bill Spencer retired from the Marines, but the Richmond Hill native can still rattle off lyrics to songs he sang in the military —and, within minutes of recalling his service, he smiled, looked over at a fellow veteran, and said, “Semper fi.”
“Yes, semper fi, semper fi,” Joe Peters, a Brooklyn resident who served in the Marines from 1998 to 2003, said and nodded, repeating the Marine slogan that is short for the Latin phrase semper fidelis —always faithful.
It is, Spencer and Peters said, a term that has bled into their everyday lives since they first entered the military, including after they left. And while they are no longer on the battlefield, the two said the axiom is the reason they decided to be a part of a new program aiming to help stressed out travelers at JFK International Airport.
“In the Marine Corps, it was all gung-ho camaraderie —that could be implemented here, that camaraderie,” Spencer, who served around the globe and now works as a supervisor for Delta at JFK, said of the program that launched at the airport this week.
The program, titled “NICE Corps,” standing for Neutralize Irritations Customers Experience, kicked off in the airport’s Terminal 4 on Tuesday with training for about 30 veterans. The former military men and women have volunteered to report to airport personnel when they notice colleagues being especially helpful with travelers —who flood JFK in even greater numbers during the summer.
The initiative is being offered by the Human Resiliency Institute at Fordham University, as part of the school’s “Edge 4 Vets” leadership training program. As a number of participants explained, whilethe program may seem beneficial but not ground-shaking, they emphasized it’s about more than helping passengers about to go off the deep end thanks to endless layovers or lost luggage —it’s about veterans getting to use the skills they honed in the military, and be recognized for it.
“I’ll be able to use what I experienced in the Army, like leadership skills, for this, and that’s meaningful,” said Raj Bacchus, a Kew Gardens resident who served in Iraq in 2002 and Afghanistan in 2003. He now works as an airport coordination agent for Delta.
Dawn Jolly, a Navy veteran who works at the Human Resiliency Institute, stressed that those from a military background are “mission oriented and detail oriented,” which she said meshes well with having to observe such things as employees’ body language with frazzled travelers, or even slight changes in someone’s tone of voice.
The program, the first of its kind at JFK, will run through the summer, during which time area businesses will donate various awards for workers recognized for helping travelers. At the end of the summer, two of the veterans will be flown to a fishing resort in Alaska, and there will be a culminating event at which everyone will be recognized.
“In addition to solving passenger problems themselves and highlighting the efforts of top-performing airport employees, the training also give veterans a chance to promote a positive, proactive image for veterans and contributes to the building of a sense of community for vets at the airport,” said Tom Murphy, director of the Human Resiliency Institute.