Life is full of surprises. Some surprises bring delight, others bring devastation. For Kevin Sterner, Maintenance Supervisor, Cincinnati, the morning of April 29, 2010, offered one of the latter. After a long week of overnights in the maintenance hangar, Sterner was looking forward to a quiet weekend. He had sent the kids off to school, his wife Lisa was on her way to the office, and his plans included cleaning up around the house and enjoying the solitude of a few hours alone in an empty home. Through the quiet, the doorbell rang, and with it came a surprise that would change his life forever.
Senior Airman Richard Allan Gallelli, Jr., was mature beyond his years. Growing up, he was a quiet young man, a gifted scholar, quick to make a friend, and do the right thing to take care of others. At 16 years old, while working a late night shift at a fast food restaurant, a coworker was confronted by an armed male in the parking lot. Gallelli shoved the gun away and pulled his colleague to safety before the situation escalated. Bravery and service to others were attributes that made Gallelli a highly sought after recruit by the U.S. Air Force.
While serving overseas in Italy, Gallelli quickly rose through the ranks and earned nearly every honor a young airman could earn. His leaders admired and respected him, and his trajectory led to Air Force leadership fighting over Gallelli’s services. Despite his local leaders’ insistence on him staying in Italy, he was transferred to Minot Air Force base to continue to his ascension through the Weapons Maintenance Program.
While working on a training exercise that helped airmen like Gallelli learn how to install ordinates on a B-52 bomber, a training missile was misaligned and left unsecured. According to reports from the Air Force Material Command, the missile fell from the aircraft and knocked Gallelli to the floor, fatally striking him in the head.
Kevin Sterner walked up to the door and looked out the window on the afternoon of April 29, 2010. He saw a military vehicle in his driveway; at the door, uniformed representatives from the U.S. Air Force.
“I remember thinking, ‘This could be really good news, or it could be really bad’,” Sterner said. “As I opened the door, I knew instantly it was bad.”
The officers shared news of Richard’s accident. Kevin called Lisa and told her to come home immediately.
“He wouldn’t tell me what was going on, just that I needed to come home,” Lisa recalled. “I don’t like being told what to do, so I kept asking him to tell me who was there and what was going on. When he said it was the Air Force…”
Her words stopped and the emotions boiled over. A mother’s grief of losing a child never ends, and for Kevin and Lisa, the surprise of Richard’s passing was too much to bear.
As they prepared to honor the life of their son, Kevin and Lisa made a decision to request that any in-kind donations in Richard’s name be made to the United Services Organization (USO). Seven years later, the wound still aches and the tears still surface, but as a military family, access to USO facilities allow the Sterners to find comfort in a place that brought Richard so much joy.
“Richard loved passing through the USO whenever he traveled,” Lisa noted.
“He would always call us and check in with us from the USO wherever he was in the world,” Kevin added. “He found comfort in those spaces, and always knew he could find a snack and a phone to call us from.”
At the Cincinnati airport, there are two USO rooms. Annually, the CVG USO welcomes more than 27,000 service members and veterans through their doors. A military family can escape the hustle and bustle of the airport experience, enjoy a snack, comfortable chair, and even grab a cup of coffee.
While talking with Sterner, Richard Myers, CVG Maintenance Base Manager, heard Gallelli’s story for the first time. Needless to say, Myers was speechless and inspired. Myers went home that night thinking about his conversation with Kevin and thought it might be nice for Endeavor to do something for the USO room at CVG as a way to honor the Sterner’s son. That next morning, Myers approached the USO volunteers and asked how Endeavor could help.
As it turned out, the USO’s coffee machine was on the fritz. The current set up wasn’t conducive or convenient for USO guests, and the group asked Myers if his team could help with a new coffee machine. Myers knew the company was encouraging local bases to get involved in their communities through Endeavor’s Spring into Action Campaign, so he brewed up a plan to encourage his employees to raise enough funds to cover a new Keurig coffee machine, as well as enough supplies to keep military guests caffeinated for a long time.
“Our team rallied around the idea of honoring Kevin’s family with the donation of the coffee machine,” Myers said. “We raised more than $400 here at the base to cover those costs, and we also had enough to make a plaque that would honor Richard and mark the efforts of what we did for him.”
On a rainy Thursday morning, Myers and his team worked with airport officials to get the coffee machine installed, water lines run, and two large boxes filled with various coffee options delivered to the USO room on the B Concourse. Kevin and Lisa arrived to see the new machine, as well as help hang the plaque that Myers and his team presented to the USO.
“This was absolutely shocking, we’re truly honored,” Kevin added after letting the moment sink in. “I’m just so impressed with the closeness of this group for doing this for us, it feels like a family. The way they pooled together to do this, knowing Richard will always be here with us in this USO, it’s humbling.”
“It was such a surprise,” Lisa concluded. “This really talks about the type of people that work at Endeavor. I just want to say thank you for honoring Richard, and honoring our family.”
The final surprise of this story? The Sterners met an active duty soldier traveling through the USO and insisted he have the first cup of coffee from the new machine. A freshly brewed French Vanilla cappuccino helped perk up the day of the soldier as he headed out for his flight, and gave the Sterners a chance to share the story of their son. A story that will be told with pride over countless cups of coffee for years to come.