Malinda's Room: A place where traveling troops can call home

By HADLEY BARNDOLLAR | Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald | Published: March 20, 2019

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (Tribune News Service) — It was a single voicemail left 13 years ago for a Marine departing for Iraq.

In mid-2006, a Capt. Smith, who had married recently, borrowed a cellphone from Dane Kirkwood, a Pease Greeter, while awaiting deployment at Portsmouth International Airport at Pease. He left parting words in a voice message to his wife, Malinda, in California. Attempting later to call her husband back, Malinda left a voicemail on the loaned phone, though his flight already had taken off. Her words, described as “inspirational, magnificent and heartfelt,” were the impetus for Malinda’s Room.

On Tuesday, the Pease Greeters and Service Credit Union hosted a ribbon-cutting for the newly refurbished Malinda’s Room in the airport terminal, a center where troops traveling to or from Portsmouth can call anywhere in the world for free.

Malinda’s Room was created officially after an executive was invited to listen to Malinda Smith’s phone call while touring Pease.

“He was overwhelmed, literally to tears,” said Pease Greeters Chairman Frank Lasorsa. “When he heard that a handful of greeters were giving up their cellphones for unlimited use, he immediately decided to improve that situation and within 24 hours, he had installed, at corporate expense, on a permanent basis, a bank of 18 phones to use voice over internet protocol to allow calls anywhere, free of charge.”

The all-volunteer Pease Greeters organization, founded in 2005, has welcomed or sent off more than 1,500 flights carrying troops.

“Even though we all are in the age of relying on cellphones and we don’t really need land lines anymore, the soldiers usually do,” said Judy Santin, a 10-year greeter. Santin said troops arriving from overseas likely have had their phones shut off for the entirety of their deployments, or those who have international calling have little to no battery life.

“I always say, ‘Go over and dial 1-800-Mom,’ ” Santin said, adding first calls for those returning, and last calls for those departing, are almost always to moms, dads and spouses.

“A lot of them call back to Afghanistan and say, “Ha-ha, I’m here and you’re not,” laughed Pease Greeter Richard DellaPaolera. He said a flight of international generals once arrived at Pease, all of them using the land lines to call back to their native countries, in various languages. “I thought it was the United Nations,” he said.

The phone room now sports five land lines, a new counter, wall outlets and charging stations, large military appreciation banners and flowers. Lasorsa called it “nicely dressed.”

A financial gift by Service Credit Union allowed for the renovation of Malinda’s Room. SCU also regularly provides water donations to the Pease Greeters for flights.

“To see what we’ve done here for the troops, I think it’s fantastic,” said SCU CEO David Araujo, who credited SCU’s Michele Saccoccia with the heavy lifting in making the project come to life.

“To see what the (greeters) here do, at 3 in the morning, at 3 in the afternoon, on Christmas, on Thanksgiving,” said Airport Director Paul Brean, adding he had tears in his eyes when he experienced his first Pease Greeters flight years ago.

“I think the final product is great,” Brean said of the new Malinda’s Room.

Lasorsa said the refurbishment of Malinda’s Room is another way to carry out the greeters’ mission that veterans will not be forgotten.

“After (the troops) hit the bathrooms, they jump on the phones,” Lasorsa laughed. “(They) always have their priorities straight.” He said the new phone room allows the greeters to “have some permanence.”

©2019 Portsmouth Herald, N.H.
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