Wednesday, July 09, 2008

News Article regarding the Military Courtesy Room in Syracuse....

UPDATE: I am extremely pleased to announce that shortly following the local press release( the below Post Standard article by Sean Kirst), that we were inundated with queries regarding where to send donations and what kind of items do we need. The truth is we were literally overwhelmed by the volume of the response.

The news article spoke of how, at a later date, we would like to give the troops "ditty bags" containing various personal toiletries. Upon my return home yesterday afternoon, I received a generous offer from the American Red Cross, Onondag-Oswego chapter, offering to supply us with these "Comfort Kits". Wonderful, simply wonderful. Thank You so very much.

Later that evening, Loren Davies was interviewed by one of our local radio stations, WSYR 570AM, regarding our project and even more questions and offers poured in.

Now Sir, Mary Ann Reitano, who's cousin the Courtesy Room is named after, and our PR person, has set up a another website which can be viewed at , as well as an E-mail address of ;

Leaving a comment on this new site is a little difficult, so it suggested that it would be more expedient to use the E-mail address (which is also on the new website) to contact and she will answer all your queries.

Airport to offer soldiers a haven
Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Christopher Kartous had some time on his hands at Hancock Airport. He is a 17-year-old private in the U.S. Army who recently finished basic training in Georgia. Kartous returned to his South Carolina home for a few days, before flying into Syracuse on Tuesday on his way to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum.

His plane touched down in the afternoon, leaving him with at least three hours before his ride showed up. Like a few other soldiers seated around him, Kartous found ways of handling the wait, mainly by using his cell phone to get on the Internet.

To Loren Davies, commandant of the Chittenango detachment of the Marine Corps League, Kartous deserved something beyond a seat on a couch. Davies, a Marine veteran, worked for years at Hancock. He was employed by the Transportation Security Administration, whose employees attempt to guarantee airport safety. He eventually retired from a job with a private company, double-checking the documents of travelers.

At the airport, it was impossible for Davies to forget that our nation is at war, since the grief, joy and fear were spread in front of him. Each day, he saw "the happy and the sad." He watched as jubilant families greeted young service men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And he witnessed the lingering hugs as frightened, tearful families said goodbye.

What troubled him most was the way countless soldiers, Marines and sailors were forced to sleep on the floor, backpacks serving as pillows for their heads. They'd be stuck in the airport for long hours while awaiting flights or rides to military destinations.

At night, Davies said, time would become an especially tedious crawl. The restaurants and newsstands shut down. There were few comfortable places to sprawl out. Many airport employees, including city police, often volunteered to run out for coffee and doughnuts for the soldiers. But Davies felt there ought to be a permanent, reliable service.

"Here's these guys going back overseas to put their lives on the line, and there's absolutely nothing for them to do," said Davies, 66. The situation bothered him even more after he learned the USO, or United Service Organization, had toured the building with Aviation Commissioner Anthony Mancuso, and decided against providing a hospitality room at Hancock.

Davies wasn't the only one seeking something better for weary men and women in uniform. His old friend Leroy Bowen, 49, an Army veteran who is now a lead officer for TSA, felt the same way. So did Gene Leimer, 63, a former city policeman and "an old submariner" from the Navy who writes a blog - "The Cookshack Gab & Grub" at thecookshack. - that is read by many veterans and their families.

The three men teamed up to achieve a simple goal. They wanted to see a room at Hancock dedicated around the clock to soldiers, sailors and Marines. It would not be anything fancy, just a place where tired men and women could escape from the crowd, a place where they could get a cold drink or some coffee.

The idea took off. Leimer wrote a piece on his blog detailing the campaign. Readers around the nation linked to the piece, and the cause began generating individual donations of as much "as a couple of hundred dollars," Leimer said. Local businesses - most significantly Wegmans, the Oneida Indian Nation and the Syracuse Research Corp. - also made contributions, Davies said.

The plan was embraced by Mancuso. Once Mayor Matt Driscoll gave his OK, Mancuso offered the use of an empty baggage storage room. Work crews painted the walls and cleaned the carpet. The proposal cleared the final hurdle Monday, when it was approved by the Syracuse Common Council.

"It's just something small, something we can do for someone waiting for a flight out or for a ride to Drum," said Mancuso, a veteran of the Navy Reserve.

The "Gregory J. Harris Military Courtesy Room" - named in honor of a Marine from Fulton who is listed as missing in action in Vietnam - is expected to open July 29. Davies said it made sense to name the room after Harris, whose cousin, Mary Ann Reitano, has volunteered her help in the effort to get it opened.

The name above the door, Davies said, will be a constant reminder of the men and women who fought in other wars and never came back.

The hospitality room won't be anything fancy. Volunteers will keep the coffee perking. There'll be some comfortable furniture. Free snacks, bottled water and soft drinks will be provided for the service men and women. Eventually, Davies said, he'd like to hand out razors, shaving cream and toothbrushes that would provide travelers with a way to freshen up.

"We just want it to be a place where they can get away from everybody and relax without worrying about dragging their bags around the airport," Leimer said.

Tuesday, dressed in his fatigues as he sat in the airport lobby, Kartous listened intently to a description of plans for the new room.

"That'd be nice," he said softly, as he waited for his ride.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard. His columns appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Call him at 470-6015, e-mail him at, visit his blog and forum at or write to him in care of The Post-Standard at Clinton Square, Syracuse 13221.