By Donna Miles
As the first soldier who had cleared customs stepped into the terminal, the crowd burst into hoots and hollers. They hoisted “Welcome Home” and “Merry Christmas” banners and American flags high. Hands extended to every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, along with expressions of welcome and thanks for their service. Troops beamed as they pushed their luggage carts through the gauntlet of well-wishers.Boy Scouts and veterans helped to carry their duffle bags as the troops worked their way through the maze of outstretched hands – some simply to shake hands, others to offer boxes of Girl Scout cookies, balloons or other goodies. “It’s overwhelming,” said Army Sgt. Larry Downs, a 372nd Transportation Co. soldier who was part of a 101st Abn Div contingent that deployed to Kuwait to ship equipment to Afghanistan for an upcoming deployment. “It’s nice to be appreciated for what we do,” he said. “A lot of us do it because we love it, but it’s also nice to get the appreciation, and know that people support what we do.” Army Pfc. Alma Aguillar, from the 101st Sust Bde at Fort Campbell, Ky., grew up in a military family, and remembers how it felt to welcome her father when he returned home from duty overseas. Now, as she returned from her first deployment, to Kuwait to prepare for a year-long deployment next month to Afghanistan, she said it felt great to be on the receiving end of the thanks.
“It’s heartwarming,” she said. “I’m just glad that after all this time, people are still out there expressing appreciation and showing they care. That means a lot.” Navy Chief Petty Officer Richard Fernandez, returning home after 9 months training ISF in Baghdad, said he bent down and kissed the ground when he took his first step onto U.S. soil. Nothing, he said, had prepared him for the patriotic outpouring of support he and his fellow servicemembers received at BWI airport. “It gives me a whole new sense of what it means being in the military, and being appreciated for what we do,” he said. “It makes you feel like a real U.S. citizen, doing something for your country.” Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Edwin McBride, returning from an 8-month deployment to Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, said he, too, was taken off-guard by the size of the crowd that amassed to welcome his flight. “I expected to see maybe a couple of Veterans of Foreign Wars guys, but I certainly didn’t expect anything like this,” he said. McBride had several hours before his connecting flight to Norfolk, Va., where he looked forward to seeing his wife and 7-year-old daughter, Emily. The homecoming was going to be especially exciting, he said, because Emily didn’t yet know that her daddy would be home for Christmas. “It’s going to be a very, very Merry Christmas,” McBride said, an ear-to-ear smile anticipating the reunion.
Army Lt. Col. Frederick O'Donnell, Cmdr of 1st Bn, 32nd Inf Regt, 3rd BCT, 10th Mtn Div, greets Hamish Gulab, the Sarkani District gov., before a ground breaking ceremony for the Ghulam Mohammad Sports Complex in the Sarkani District of Kunar prov., Dec. 12, 2009.
Spc. Frederick Tolon, center, 27, Spc. Jonathan Betancourt, left, 22, and Staff Sgt. Mike Cruz provide security outside FOB Joyce, during ground breaking ceremony.
Lt. Col. O'Donnell poses for a photo with the Sarkani local cricket team "The Knight Riders" after the ground breaking ceremony. During his speech O'Donnell said, "In the U.S. we don't agree on everything, but sports is one of the things that bring us together. I know that Afghan people love cricket, and this project is for the people."
Capt. Janet Sapata-Ellis and Warrant Officer Dominique Ward, 17th Fires Bde, join in the Christmas spirit and hang decorations on the Christmas tree in the TOC at COB Basrah, Dec. 21.