Col. Jaskolski, a veteran of the Iraq war, is commander of the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade of the Arkansas Army National Guard. For three weeks earlier this summer, the 142nd had been conducting an emergency deployment readiness exercise in Wyoming, training and sleeping outdoors, subsisting on field rations. Now it was time for the 700 soldiers to return to their base.
A charter bus company had been hired for the 18-hour drive back to Arkansas. The Army had budgeted for a stop to get snacks. The bus company determined that the soldiers would reach North Platte, in western Nebraska, around the time they would likely be hungry. The company placed a call to the visitors’ bureau: Was there anywhere in town that could handle a succession of 21 buses, and get 700 soldiers in and out for a quick snack?
North Platte said yes. North Platte has always said yes.During World War II the troop trains would stop for water in North Platte, and the town would feed them. A couple million of them over the course of the war. People remembered.
This story made me think of the troop greeters in Bangor Maine near where I grew up:
BANGOR, Me. — Shortly before 11 on a recent Monday night, Cathy Czarnecki made sure the macadamia nut cookies were on the table of treats in a room at Bangor International Airport. The commercial passengers had all left, but 260 soldiers would soon arrive to a welcome that few of them expected.
“Here they come!” someone shouted, and a dozen or so volunteers went out into the hallway and applauded as a line of soldiers in desert camouflage and tan boots poured into the small terminal.
“Thank you for your service,” one man said to a soldier while shaking his hand. “Welcome to Maine,” another greeter said.The tarmac at the airport there was built for Dow Air Force Base, which hosted B-52s. It's the most eastern major runway in the United States, and so flights returning troops from the Middle East would land there to refuel. Or planes on their way out.
The plane on that Monday night brought troops from bases in California, Nevada, Utah and Washington, and was headed to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and then to the Middle East. It was the 1,774th flight greeted since May 2003, with 335,195 men and women and 35 military dogs having passed through the airport.
“Use a cellphone, call home,” Mr. Knight said as he doled them out. “Have something,” he added, motioning to the food.
Lt. Col. Eric Shalita, 43, did both, helping himself to a powdered donut after calling his wife and two daughters at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. “It was amazing,” Colonel Shalita said. “We were completely not expecting this.”The troop greeters are there at all hours of the day or night, and in all weather. PBS did a show about them ten years ago or so. It may have been the last time I watched PBS, because Dad called me and told me it was on.