I wanted to share an experience I had yesterday that I would have missed had I "kept my nose to the grindstone" and gone to my office, met with clients or shown property. You know, the things we do for a living.
Instead, yesterday I joined the ranks of Veterans, Boy Scouts, families with pets, and supporters of all nationalities - over three hundred strong - to welcome Flight 398 carrying 206 members of India Company, 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Division from California as they returned home from Afghanistan. Departing from Germany eight hours earlier, Portsmouth International Airport at Pease AFB in Portsmouth, NH was a brief fueling stop before the final leg of their journey home to California.
A tradition beginning in 2005, the Pease Greeters have been welcoming returning troops and sending troops off for overseas duty and have logged their support for 399 flights to date. Regardless of the time of day or night and unpredictable changes in flight schedules, the Pease Greeters have never missed a flight.
Political party lines dissolve. Supporters of the wars blend with the opponents. The purpose of a Pease Greeter is remarkably steady and clear - to provide unwavering support and show gratitude to the men and women who proudly serve our country.
During their stop at Pease, the soldiers are treated to cheers and hearty handshakes from hoards of well-wishers, hot coffee, doughnuts and other treats, stuffed toys and are given access to a bank of phones where they may make calls anywhere in the country. All goods and services are provided by donation and volunteers. During a brief ceremony before departing, as a symbol of support, the Commanding Officer of the troop is presented a sweatshirt hand signed by each attendant Pease Greeter. A similar sweatshirt was presented to George W. Bush when a delegation of Pease Greeters was honored during a ceremony at the White House on March 10, 2008. New Hampshire's Governor John Lynch also received a sweatshirt when he presented an award to the Pease Greeters praising them for their service at a ceremony on July 28, 2010 at the National Guard Armory in Manchester, NH.
So the stage is set...the awaiting multitude has just been told, "The eagle has landed" and we hold our breath in unison and wait in silence for the doors from Customs to open and begin the stream of returning soldiers. They have been told nothing about a Pease Greeter welcome. We watch their faces instantly transform from travel weary soldiers to proud heroes amid thunderous applause as they make their way through the gauntlet of well-wishers lining the terminal corridors and pass through the "Heroes Walk", a photograph lined ramp memorializing each flight that has passed through Pease with troops.
After we have honored our troops headed home to California and they have boarded, we take our places again to wait for Flight 399 scheduled to arrive about an hour or so later. This flight is bringing US soldiers overseas to a destination we Greeters do not know yet. Some of the previous Greeters have gone home, some new faces have arrived and replaced those who left for more pressing matters.
We wait patiently until we are told Flight 399 has landed, but due to time constraints and take-off schedule, the soldiers are not permitted to leave the plane and enter the terminal. Upon hearing the news, the Greeters exchange glances, but do not turn and leave right away, still hoping something may change and the soldiers may come in. Although disappointed at the turn of events, NO ONE is heard muttering, "...and we waited all this time for NOTHING", because each Greeter knows in his heart, this was an opportunity to wait for SOMETHING. Something that matters.
In the chilly darkness, as we make our way back to our cars, I am once again reminded by the words of Lee Greenwood, that I am proud to be an American.