Southwest, PGA take support for Hawaii’s military to new highs
Southwest Airlines and Hawaii have something in common: Both have a strong military presence.
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KAPALUA, Maui >> Southwest Airlines and Hawaii have something in common: Both have a strong military presence.
More than 8,100 of Southwest’s employees, or about 13% of its workforce, have a military background, and the company has about 1,400 military spouses in its ranks. That’s part of the reason the airline decided to ramp up its role as military sponsor at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which took place Jan. 1-5 in Kapalua, beyond providing free event tickets for all retired, active, reserve, veterans and National Guard military members and their registered dependents.
The carrier, which entered the Hawaii market March 17 and added flights to Maui on April 28, is known for supporting causes that are important to the communities where it flies. But it was a PGA first when Southwest also flew 20 of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Oahu-based military members and their guests on a complimentary day trip Jan. 3 to the Sentry Tournament where airline officials wined and dined the group, handed out swag and worked with the PGA to provide access to golfing greats such as Gary Woodland, winner of the 2019 U.S. Open.
The PGA’s Justin Johns said the golf association offers free admission to military at more than 40 tournaments but had never had a sponsor reward military members by flying them in and providing a day trip to the event.
“Military has always been a big part of the tour, but this was a new way to show those that serve and their families that they are appreciated,” Johns said.
Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, who greeted the military honorees at the Kapalua course, said he was glad Southwest helped Maui to recognize the military, “who put their lives on the line every day.”
Alex Urban, executive director of the Sentry Tournament of Champions, said it was fitting that Southwest provided an opportunity for military members and their families to see the best players in the world play the refurbished Plantation Course since the “military is part of the fabric of the community here on Maui and in Hawaii.”
Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s executive vice president and newly named chief commercial officer — a U.S. military veteran himself — made a point to accompany the military members on their day trip to Maui. Patterson, who left the Army as a specialist after a four-year intelligence stint in Panama, told the group that as a veteran he understood their need for rest and relaxation on the home front.
“I know when I was overseas that it gets very lonely, and when you are with family, having special events is very meaningful,” he said.
Watterson’s words resonated with Staff Sgt. Andrew Jones, who was selected for the day trip in recognition of his seven overseas deployments, which have accounted for 78 months of his 18-year military career. Jones returned to Hawaii in May from a nine-month deployment in Kuwait and was enjoying the Maui day trip with his fiancee, Michelle Santos.
“With the way that the world has turned, I feel that some people look down on the military. Feeling appreciated means a lot. I was super excited when I found out that I’d been selected for this event. I can’t thank Southwest enough for giving me the chance to see two of the golfers that I follow, DJ (Dustin Johnson) and Rickie (Fowler),” Jones said.
In addition to Southwest’s military sponsorships of the PGA Sentry Tournament of Champions, the carrier has 10 national partnerships with nonprofit organizations that help veterans transition out of the military and find meaningful employment.