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May 03, 2022

AEP Employee Honors Colleague's Father with Trip to D.C.

As Scott Smith and Don Wolford got off the bus at the World War II memorial, a woman walked by and thanked them for their service.

Smith and Wolford toured war memorials on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

The army veterans were wearing “Honor Flight” polos, which made them easily recognizable as veterans. Honor Flight is a non-profit organization dedicated to recognizing American veterans from World War II through the Vietnam War with trips to Washington, D.C. to visit service and war memorials.

“For a guy like me that spent time in the military, being chosen to go on this flight was quite an experience,” said Wolford. “I’ve got the names of a few people who didn’t make it back from their service. They’re the people that made this country.”

Smith and Wolford met a few weeks before the trip, but they’d had a common link for years. Wolford’s daughter, Keena Briggs, works in Transmission Field Services where Smith is a senior vice president.

Briggs didn’t expect anything when she emailed Smith and Craig Mason, financial controls business analyst senior, on Veterans’ Day last year to thank them for their service. Mason is active in several veterans’ services organizations.

“Craig asked me how my family was and asked me to thank my dad for his service too. I said I would and mentioned that I was trying to get dad on an Honor Flight. I didn’t know it at the time, but after that, Craig contacted Scott, who he knew was very involved with Honor Flight in Columbus,” Briggs said. “A few weeks later, I got an email from Scott saying dad was going to be on the flight and that he was going to serve as his guardian.”

That email led to Smith and Wolford standing together on the National Mall, taking in memorials to past wars. Each veteran receives a guardian who is responsible for making sure they’re taken care of and that they have a great time on the trip. Briggs wasn’t sure what to expect when Smith volunteered to serve as her father’s guardian for the trip, but she soon figured out her dad was in good hands.

"Just meet and talk to Scott for five minutes and you’ll soon realize what a great person he is,” Briggs said. “Having served in the military himself and being a big supporter of veterans, he was just doing something for my dad that he has done for many other veterans as their guardian on Honor Flights in the past.”

“Keena’s a very good employee and I just thought it would be important to take care of her dad,” Smith said, “Don’s one of those people that I call an all-American guy. He’s humble, very patriotic. You can just tell that he loves his country and his family.”

As Smith and Wolford moved from the World War II Memorial to the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials, both agreed it’s hard to understand how serving in the military changes someone unless you’ve experienced it. It’s one of the reasons many veterans, especially in Wolford’s generation, don’t talk much about their service.

“Well, in the 50s, you didn’t have much of a choice. You were either drafted or you volunteered, so I enlisted in the reserves to have some choice about what my service would be. It was what everybody was up against at the time,” Wolford said. “It wasn’t scary. You knew what you were headed into, and you talked it over with the guys that had been drafted or who had been enlisted and had served.”

“Some of this is a healing experience for not just the veterans but also some of the guardians,” Smith said. “The veterans are so grateful for what we’re doing, and they open up to their guardians. Some of these people have never talked about their service to anyone else before the trip.”

During the trip, the veterans take a chartered flight to Washington, D.C. then crisscross the city visiting memorials before taking a chartered flight home. The veterans arrive for the trip around 6:30 a.m. and get back a little before 10:00 p.m. Where they get the welcome home many of them never received.

“When you get back to the airport, there’s a reception line that’s almost two football fields long of the veterans’ friends and families, people waving flags, TV stations, bands and people just coming in from around the terminal,” Smith said. “You get to see them shake everybody’s hand and people are thanking them for their service. They’re finally getting the honor and respect that they deserve.”

“When I got off the plane and saw all those people and the band and the sheriff’s department at the airport, I kind of teared up,” Wolford said. “It was really an honor to go on that trip and I really appreciated it.”

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