December 24th, 2009 00:37 EST
Redeploying Troops Get Holiday Homecoming
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BALTIMORE, Dec. 23, 2009 " Two days before Christmas, the longest line today at the airport here wasn`t at a ticket counter, or at security checkpoints. It was at the international terminal, where hundreds of well-wishers lined up to welcome about 150 troops home from combat deployments.
Families, veterans, beauty queens, students enjoying the first day of their holiday vacations and even Santa Claus began descending on the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in the early afternoon to greet the arriving Air Mobility Command charter flight.
As they waited for the troops to clear customs, the group revved itself up, turning toward a flag just beyond a giant Christmas tree full of blue-and-white ornaments to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the national anthem.
Then, 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 Company soldier who was part of a 101st Airborne Division 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 Sustainment Brigade 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 nine months training Iraqi security forces 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 eight-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.