It is always heartwarming to see troops in uniform, walking through an airport, who are being given the respect they deserve. Yesterday, I had the opportunity of observing this – not once but three times in three different airports – in three different states. It was really very touching! And, I will admit that I wondered how many of these troops were deploying to the Middle East? How many were going elsewhere? And how many were traveling home on R&R from a foreign duty assignment? Those I talked to were all in this last category.
While I didn’t get the chance to connect with all of the men and women I saw in the Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport (Baltimore MD), the Charlotte Douglas Airport (Charlotte NC), or the Gulfport Airport (Gulfport MS), I did talk with several in each airport. I wasn’t surprised to find that those I spoke with were soldiers on R&R from Middle East war zones. One unit was stationed in Dubai and was home for two weeks to see family and friends. Another unit was from Afghanistan and I can’t pronounce nor spell the name of their base location. The last group of men I spoke with was from different locations in the Middle East but all the men were stationed in North Carolina but lived elsewhere, including Baltimore.
Waiting for a flight can be rather boring! However while sitting at BWI, several of the men were doing a little people watching. It was interesting to listen to one of the men observe a three-month old baby. He was comparing the infant to pictures of his son whom he had not yet met due to his deployment. Jack quickly told us he was glad to be serving in the military, but he was greatly saddened by the fact that he had not been beside his wife during the delivery of Jack Jr. “Sarge” mentioned to me that Jack’s situation was a fairly common complaint throughout his company of men – so many special family moments missed.
Jonathan, a Baltimore City resident while stationed at Fort Meade, was on his way to North Carolina to see his grandmother who is reportedly dying of cancer. He was glad to hear that I was a survivor and he asked for prayers that his grandmother survivor or pass quickly. He is troubled that his current deployment will rob him of the opportunity to spend more time with her during this illness. He recounted several highlights of spending summers on the farm with her and his Pop. Jon’s stories were quite humorous!
During my layover in Charlotte, I said goodbye to Jonathan and several others before meeting a group of men and women who were flying to various destinations to spend their R&R from Afghanistan with family. While they were stationed in North Carolina, they represented Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Rhode Island. The Marylanders were happy to see someone from “home!” And I was glad to be able to discuss some home-town scenarios with them, answering several questions about recent tornadoes and the prediction for a good crop of crabs from the Chesapeake Bay this summer.
Mary Jane W. was glad to hear about the crab forecast. She admits to currently living close to Aberdeen where her National Guard unit is located; but after her first deployment to Iraq, she enlisted for a full hitch in the Army and is now stationed in North Carolina and really missed Maryland corn, tomatoes and especially our crabs. She has several relatives who are “crab pickers” for a packing house on the Eastern Shore. She cannot believe her eyes when the family gathers for a summer picnic and these ‘pickers’ fly through a bushel basket of steamed crabs so fast. Her comments were making several of us crave a really good crabcake!
My destination for the day was Gulfport Airport on my way to Biloxi, Mississippi. Once again I had a lay-over as I waited for a shuttle to my hotel. And again, a military unit could be seen deplaning and heading for the luggage claim area, or so I thought. Actually they were heading to the car rental counters or looking for other ground transportation to points throughout the surrounding area. While waiting for my luggage, I was able to talk with Paul, Troy and Joe. They were excited to be “home.” There plans included spending time with family on the beach, riding jet skis and splashing in the shallows with their young children. It sounded like a lot of fun.
Paul and Troy are both on a month’s leave from Afghanistan. They both talked about how difficult it was to be away from their young families – both men had two children under the age of 10. And they both admitted that it would be hard to say goodbye at the end of their leave. Their good news was their deployment ends in December.
Joe on the other hand, has been in the service much longer. His three children range from 15 to 8, and he is seriously concerned about their adjustment issues while he is in Afghanistan for his third tour of duty. As a medic, he knows the importance of the service he provides but he also realizes the difficulties his family is having due to his absence.
Readers, regardless of your stance on the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, take a moment to say thank you to our military troops who are serving. Like the men and women I met yesterday, they signed up for their local National Guard units – expecting to serve within the shores of the Unites States during natural disasters. Most never thought they would be activated and deployed to a war zone. Now that they have, they are happy to be of service to all of us.
So as Baltimoreans Mary Jane and Jonathan both shared with me, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a cold beer and a bushel of crabs!