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South Carolina Airport Director Gets Innovative to Help USO

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

By Joseph Andrew Lee  

Dann Mann – once a young Air Force officer on his first accompanied overseas tour with a wife and two kids in diapers – remembers his first USO experience well.

“It was a long trip, but when we finally got to Guam, the USO was right there,” he said. “It was the perfect place to bring my family to get some food and some privacy. I fell in love with the USO that day because of the comfort they gave my family, right when we needed it.” 

Today, Mann is the executive director of the Columbia (S.C.) Metropolitan Airport and is returning the favor by helping the USO there provide unique solutions to better serve the 7,000-plus troops who pass through his terminal each month. 

“He is our go-to-guy,” said Katie Kennedy, USO South Carolina programs manager. “He raises thousands of dollars for USO South Carolina each month, both on his own as a marathon runner and with his innovative ideas here in the terminal.”

Mann started raising money for the USO independently in 2010 as a Team USO runner, and also began organizing a 5K fundraiser for the USO each year on the runway of his own airport. In 2012, USO South Carolina became the official charity partner of the 5K Runway Run.

“The Runway 5K is a great event because most people don’t get be out on an airfield – so just to be out there is a great experience,” Mann said. “But then to run a race down a runway – which is long and flat – even if you are a middle-of-the-pack runner you can see the guy who’s winning the race because you have a visual on him the whole time. It’s flat. It’s fast. And we have a lot of fun.”

According to Mann, middle-of-the-packers need a chance to win, too, so he donates airline tickets to random finishers in addition to the overall first-place male and female runners.

An Ohio native, Mann joined the Ohio Air National Guard at 17 to help pay for college at Bowling Green State University. He reached the rank of staff sergeant before finishing his degree and attending officer’s school to become a B-52 bomber navigator.

After Operation Desert Storm, the B-52 reached its service limitations and so did Mann. When he left the service as a captain, his first job in Dubuque, Iowa, exposed him to a broad range of airport experience, including emergency rescue, refueling, customer service and eventually management. He managed airports in New York, Wyoming and Iowa before settling down in Columbia.

With about 20 percent of the Columbia airport’s business being military, Mann recognized right away that the USO was a great asset, taking care of a large segment of his customers.

“The USO makes their experience better which in turn makes the experience for all our customers better,” said Mann.

Mann also came up with a way to raise $12,000 per year by simply placing a change tray at the TSA divestiture area, just before security.

“I look in there on any given day and there’s $1 bills, $5 bills, $20 bills,” he said. “Of course you’ve got your loose change that people just put in there, but because it’s the USO, people are proud to give more. It’s one of those great things that airports everywhere can do to help our military members and families and it’s very, very simple.”

There are many ways to give back to the USO, but there are very few Dan Mann hasn’t explored.

“We military guys, we signed up for this stuff,” Mann said. “Our wives and children didn’t. When they can get the help – the peace and quiet – the atmosphere that the USO provides … that to me is what it’s all about. That, to me, is a program worth supporting.”

Photo caption: Dan Mann, executive director of the Columbia (S.C.) Metropolitan Airport, will host another 5K Runway Run to benefit the USO in November.  

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