Holiday Well-Wishers Greet Redeploying Servicemembers
(December 25, 2010)
|BALTIMORE, Dec. 23, 2010 – Christmas came early last night
as more than 300 servicemembers arrived here on special
flights from deployments to get them home in time for the
Joshua Chadwick, 7, and his brother, Colby, 5,
could hardly contain themselves as they waited
beneath a giant Christmas tree at
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood
Marshall Airport for what they called the best
gift of all.
Disa Chadwick had told her sons she was taking
them out to dinner. But as miles stretched out
from their home at Dover Air Force Base, Del.,
her precocious, freckle-faced boys knew
something was up. Only at the airport terminal
did Disa break the news she had learned just
that morning: Air Force Staff Sgt. Scott
Chadwick was to arrive last night from his
six-month deployment to Iraq.
Operation Welcome Home volunteers
and eager family members greet U.S. military members at the
Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall
Airport, Md., Dec. 22, 2010. The troops returned to the
United States for the holidays after months of service
abroad. DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
“I'm excited to have him home for Christmas!” exclaimed
Joshua. “I can't wait to see him. I'm going to jump all over
Like many military children, Joshua knows how it feels not
to have Daddy around for the holidays. Chadwick has served
six combat deployments, several at Christmastime.
That made last night's arrival of two specially scheduled
Air Mobility Command “Patriot Express” charter flights, with
more slated over the next couple days, the ultimate holiday
gift for hundreds of military families.
About 200 well-wishers -- families, friends and volunteers
for the “Operation Welcome Home” project – reflected that
holiday spirit as they assembled just outside the airport's
Customs area to greet the arriving troops. Many had donned
festive sweaters and Santa's hats. John Poisal, a retired
National Security Agency employee, went all out in full
Santa Claus regalia and a long, white beard he challenged
people to tug on to prove it was real.
As word spread that the first inbound flight was on the
ground, Gary Woods, an Operation Welcome Home team leader,
added an extra dose of patriotism to the mix as he called on
the well-wishers to turn to the American flag and
collectively recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Then, almost as if on cue, the terminal doors slid open and
the well-wishers erupted with hoots, cheers and
hand-clapping as 261 servicemembers, most of them airmen,
entered the terminal, one by one.
Many looked bleary-eyed after traveling from Afghanistan,
Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and countless other
locations throughout the combat theater. But their faces
quickly lit up with ear-to-ear smiles as they took in the
throng of people assembled to greet them.
Santa Claus, a.k.a. Poisal, positioned himself at the
terminal door to deliver the first official “Welcome Home!”
Junior Army R.O.T.C. students from nearby Patapsco High
School helped carry bags for the arriving troops. The
well-wishers formed a gauntlet, shaking hands and offering
goody bags and appreciation to the new arrivals.
Woods is a regular volunteer for Operation Welcome Home and
has personally welcomed 120 of about 200 AMC flights the
group has brought home so far this year. Every arriving
flight feels special, he said. But he called the opportunity
to welcome servicemembers home just before Christmas the
icing on the cake.
“There's nothing I'd rather do than be here,” he said.
“These troops do so much, and they all deserve anything we
can do for them. Getting to shake their hand and say ‘thank
you and welcome home' makes it all worthwhile.”
At the AMC passenger counter, Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony
Martinez said he, too, gets an extra boost knowing that the
additional flights he and his fellow airmen are supporting
mean more servicemembers will get to spend Christmas with
their loved ones. “It definitely makes it special,” he said.
“We take pride in what we do every day, getting them home
safely. But it means even more when you know they're coming
home for the holidays.”
Last night's arriving servicemembers said they felt
overwhelmed by their hero's welcome.
Operation Welcome Home
volunteers greet a U.S. airman upon his arrival
at the Baltimore-Washington International
Thurgood Marshall Airport, Md., Dec. 22, 2010.
DOD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J.
“Wow. It's amazing,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Omar Zermeno-Rubio,
as he pushed a cart laden with duffle bags that had
sustained him during his six-month deployment to Balad Air
Base, Iraq. “I never expected this. But it feels good being
appreciated. It really means a lot, especially at
“It feels really good, really welcoming,” echoed Army Sgt.
1st Class Bruce Wallace. After a year in Iraq with the 33rd
Armored Cavalry Regiment, he was looking forward to a good
night's sleep at a local hotel, then a connecting flight
tomorrow to join his family at Fort Hood, Texas.
Air Force Special Agent Aron Nikula called last night's
homecoming celebration the perfect beginning to what he
hopes is a great holiday in New York with his girlfriend and
her family. “This is a real surprise. I wasn't expecting it
at all,” he said as he surveyed the crowd. “Having something
fun like this is a really good start to my coming home.”
Surrounded by his family, Air Force Staff Sgt. Gursimran
Shergill said the best part of the BWI celebration after his
seven-month deployment was seeing patches of snow rather
than sand. “It's awesome to be home for the holidays and to
get to go home and spend time with my family,” he said. “I
guess you could say, ‘It's party time.'”|
Meanwhile, Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Morris and his wife,
Julia, were already off snuggling in a corner, getting a
head start on their own private party.
“It feels so amazing to be home. It's not even real,” said
Morris, who spent seven months at Bagram Air Base,
Afghanistan, with the Fort Meade, Md.-based 22nd
Intelligence Squadron. “Right here, I've got myself the best
Christmas present in the world.”
“I asked Santa and got exactly what I asked for,” agreed
Julia. Looking into her husband's eyes, she said, “I've got
the only Christmas present I could ever want.”
By Donna Miles|
American Forces Press Service
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