I've wanted to join the The Maine Troop Greeters for nearly a year and this week, I did it. On Wednesday I was there, at Gate #5, psyched to welcome my first group of servicemen and woman home from the war.
I fly through the Bangor International Airport a lot (remember it from the Stephen King movie, The Langoliers?) and I've seen the Troop Greeters there at all hours of the day, clapping, shaking hands, giving hugs, offering free cell phones and despite a recent controversy, giving out cookies to all those in uniform. I've heard them cheering from across the terminal when I've taken the 5:45am flight to New York. I've seen them handing out their cookies when I've landed late at night. And yesterday, they were there at 4:15pm to greet a flight from Dresden (a pit stop between the Middle East and the U.S.). One hundred and twenty-five airmen were coming home on that plane after 2 months away and this time I was standing in the greeter line too, ready to offer a warm welcome home.
"Two months is nothing," I heard one greeter say about this particular group's tour of duty and I didn't doubt him. I learned that many of the greeters had served in the military themselves and as a non-profit group they had met over 400,000 servicemen and women in this airport since May 2003. They had met people coming home from, or embarking on, all sorts of missions to the Middle East. Some were on short stints like this group's and others were away from home for 18 months or more.
From my point of view, it all seems long. As a frequent business traveler, I know that even 2 weeks away can sometimes feel like forever, especially when I can't easily talk to anyone that really knows me, when I can't get home for a family emergency or celebration, or when I'm just plain tired. When I step off the plane from a trip like that, I find myself infatuated with, and nearly intoxicated by the familiar -- faces, places, events. I just want to immerse myself in it all.
Unfortunately, there were no familiar faces meeting Wednesday's flight. Those men and women were still far from their friends and family but you'd never know it by the way they walked out of Gate #5. Their smiles were endless, their handshakes hearty (often with two hands or a half hug) and they mingled as if at a reunion. They were eating up the attention (and the cookies) and I couldn't help but wonder if their experiences in the last 2 months had been so utterly foreign, that being among a group of complete strangers was intoxicatingly familiar for them.
Whether it was that or something completely different that fueled their smiles on Wednesday afternoon, the elation was contagious. I left smiling and hoping that all 125 of those airmen get to revel in their own form of happy familiar for a long time to come.
By the way, this is one Never B4 thing that I will definitely do again. If anyone wants to join in, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org and they'll call you the next time a flight is coming in or going out of Bangor Airport.