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AFSC volunteer ships recruits off with a touch of fatherly love

A few weeks ago, Jerry Connolly coached a military recruit to "hold the handrail" as he rode an escalator for the first time in his life. A week later, after another recruit left his billfold and ID on the bus ride to MSP Airport, he arranged to have it returned within a half hour so he could proceed to basic training.

For more than a decade, Connolly has been welcoming military recruits – most fresh out of high school and away from home for the first time – at MSP Airport to escort them through the many steps it takes to board a plane.

Connolly is part problem solver, part tour guide and part father figure. "It's just a genuine privilege to be around these kids who give so much for our country," said Connolly, a U.S. Army veteran himself who is 79.

Last Thursday (March 11), Connolly was honored for his devotion to helping recruits make the transition to life in the military. Connolly was awarded a "certificate of appreciation" by Army Lt. Col. Martin J. Cheman (pictured, on left), commander of the Minneapolis Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), and Senior Master Sgt. Ivon L. Johnson of the U.S. Air Force.

Connolly is the first to concede that he's just "a little cog" among the more than a hundred Armed Forces Service Center (AFSC) volunteers – including Jim Nelson and Dave Himmer – who deserve credit for helping the recruits and other members of the military.

Going above and beyond
But he was singled out for going above and beyond during the recent February cold snap that disrupted air service in Texas and many other regions of the U.S. that left a couple of Navy recruits stranded in Minneapolis for two days.

Connolly stuck by the recruits, made sure they got safely to their hotel, gave them his personal cell phone number and a little spending money, and greeted them again when they later returned to MSP to continue their journey to basic training.

"Your dedication, professionalism and generosity while serving our U.S. Navy shippers during extreme weather delays are greatly appreciated by a grateful U.S. Navy Recruiting team and the Minneapolis MEPS staff," read his commendation.

Connolly, a retired mechanic who worked at a Dodge dealership in Inver Grove Heights for many years, currently volunteers about four hours a day four times a week at the AFSC, which has once again been named a finalist for a Citizen Honors Award by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for its work serving members of the military and their families for more than 50 years.

"We want them to feel like we are their family when they are away from their families," said Debra Cain, the AFSC's executive director.

Like generations of fathers, Connolly is always concerned about traveling in bad weather – specifically Monday's snowstorm. "I was really worried about them, but they all got off in good shape," he said.

"We're the Mr. Rodgers-like good guys before they see their drill sergeant. I'd be a poor drill sergeant because I'd be too nice to these kids."

Related information
So Minnesota: Armed Forces Service Center at MSP International Airport -- KSTP-TV