Equity Diversity & Inclusion, North America, Veterans

As my children grew into their more impressionable years, we made a commitment to volunteer in our community at least once a month. Both of my boys really took to veteran causes and, as a daughter and grand-daughter of veterans, this was something that I, too, thoroughly enjoyed. We began a long relationship with our local VFW Post where I met some amazing young veterans who have committed themselves to giving back.

I had also met two World War II veterans that frequent the post and, over time, developed a bond with them. My friend had an inspiration one day in June that he wanted to take our two veterans, along with other veterans in the Houston area, to New Orleans on an all-expenses-paid vacation to visit the World War II National Museum. He asked if I would be interested in helping him raise funds to make this happen.

I reached out to Sandra Broughton, our global head of Travel, and Travis Boone, our West Region Executive, and asked if AECOM would consider donating points for the veterans who were interested to stay at the new Hilton Higgins Hotel, which is affiliated with the museum and located directly across the street. Without hesitation, both agreed to reach out to leadership and within a couple of days, I was given the okay.

With the help of a couple additional friends, we began fundraising and were able to support the 12 veterans and their families that would be traveling with us. We raised enough money to add an additional night as well as set up first class transportation on a coach bus, reserve a locally famous restaurant for their celebratory dinner and provide small excursions while we were in town. Necessary precautions were taken in making this trip happen while COVID cases were on the rise, keeping the families informed on all that we were doing to keep our heroes safe.

But despite these efforts, there were circumstances that were out of our control. Our trip was scheduled for August 27 and two days before departure, Ida began her path straight for New Orleans. We ended up traveling with seven veterans since several canceled due to the storm.  One of the veterans who decided to join us was 100 years old and laughed at the idea that he would stay home because of “a little rain.” These men are tough!

As people from the Gulf Coast, we are familiar with storm paths and monitoring the models. We spoke to locals at the museum and decided that with the forecasted Monday afternoon landfall, we would go ahead and make this weekend trip happen for our veterans. We left at six o’clock in the morning on Friday with a full police and military motorcycle escort, who ushered us the entire six-hour drive to New Orleans. As we watched the storm intensify quickly, we had to make changes. We were able to get to the museum a day earlier and get clearance to leave after just one night in The Big Easy, but it was a trip these veterans whole-heartedly appreciated. The road home took 18 hours but they were on a comfortable bus with their families, fully stocked with food and water (and a bar because they LOVE to drink) as well as a bathroom, games, pillows, music and, most importantly, memories. Not only did they not complain once, but they got off the bus and asked when the next trip was leaving.

I was blessed to have this trip supported by AECOM as well as my colleagues. My family was able to travel along with me and my sons, who are 14 and 16, told me it was an experience they will never forget. We all sat at dinner shedding happy tears, watching these great men who’ve done so much for our country, just enjoying the experience.

Originally published Sep 17, 2021

Author: Rebecca Barbier