I don't know where the patriotic gene comes from, but I sure do have it, because I love supporting the men and women of our military. I was ecstatic when Chad and I stumbled upon the group Operation Welcome Home Maryland. Through their organization we found a way to show support for our military that doesn't cost a dime - while making our hearts feel full. We often feel guilty knowing that we participate, not just for those who serve, but for ourselves. And it's not just Chad and I who feel that way. It shows on the faces of all the volunteers, even the school aged students who come to get signed off on their community service credit.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is one of about six airports where the military return to American soil from overseas. Two times a week, sometimes more, staff from Operation Welcome Home Maryland meet other volunteers like myself at the International terminal to welcome soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and Coast Guard service members who are returning from overseas. Along with the hearty welcome, troops receive goodie bags of snacks and water, and assistance, if needed, to the next gate to board a connecting flight.
Some volunteers show up dressed in red, white and blue, others wave flags or display homemade signs. Some arrive early to take part in decorating the lobby or to hand out "goodie bags". One thing is certain, when the International Arrival terminal door opens and the troops start pouring through, everyone finds themselves cheering, clapping and shouting "welcome home!" On realizing that the crowd is waiting for all of them, soldiers may appear surprised at first, but you can see the appreciation and gratitude in their eyes.
The first time Chad and I participated, we were immediately swept into handing out goodie bags, giving us an opportunity to be up front, shaking the hand of every soldier. We were hooked! Since then, we have witnessed some truly memorable moments: a soldier kissing the ground, thankful he's back on American soil after a long deployment; a father seeing his newborn son for the first time; the proud parents of a young soldier, tears streaming down their faces, thankful that their boy has made it back home; a young lady proudly holding her sign, waiting anxiously for her fiance to return home. As you can imagine, it can be pretty emotional, and yes, I've cried a time or two.
Chad and I encourage everyone to check out www.operationwelcomehomemd.org. If you can't get to the airport, there are other ways to support the troops. Operation Welcome Home Maryland accepts donations of cash, store bought pre-packaged single serving snacks such as cookies, crackers, granola bars, candy, and bottled water. You can even donate your airline miles! The website also offers many links to other groups who provide support to the military.
If you're planning a trip to the airport, be sure to call the hotline at 410-630-1555 for a recorded message on the day you'd like to attend. Some flights get delayed or cancelled, and others could pop up unexpectedly. The hotline has updated information, will tell you the best time to arrive and provides parking information.
Meet us at the airport and help give these heroes the welcome home they deserve!