A Maine-based nonprofit that has greeted upwards of 1.5 million servicemembers at the Bangor International Airport in the last 30 years recently resumed welcoming operations after the Chinese coronavirus stalled them.
The Maine Troop Greeters have been a fixture at the Bangor International Airport since 1991 during the Gulf War, welcoming servicemembers arriving home from overseas and ensuring those leaving for deployment receive a “proper send-off,” according to the organization’s website. The nonprofit says it has greeted over 1.5 million servicemembers and 409 military dogs departing or arriving on nearly 8,000 flights since then and subsequently founded the Maine Troop Greeters Museum in 2003. “The Maine Troop Greeters organization was officially incorporated as a registered non-profit in 2008,” its website notes.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions that followed interrupted the group’s ability to greet servicemembers, WCSH reported.
“Troops were not allowed in public areas for their safety and the safety of others because of the pandemic,” Chelcie Shappy, board chair of the nonprofit, told WCSH. She added that the organization had not missed a single flight before the pandemic, according to the outlet.
“A couple of weeks ago, we got the notification that the United States Department of Defense had lifted their restrictions,” Shappy said. “We started with a couple of small groups [to greet troops], and now we are back in full swing for all our membership base.”
Aimee Thibodeau, marketing and business development manager at Bangor International Airport, said the group is a staple at the airport. She noted that troop commanders are deciding whether the servicemembers passing through the airport can head to the public areas where the greeters, who are still donning masks, are stationed.
Dick Tinsman, who served in the U.S. Coast guard Reserves for nearly four decades and now serves on the Maine Troop Greeters Board of Directors, recently noted in a Bangor Daily News op-ed that typically 30-40 group members are present to welcome servicemembers from any given arriving flight.
We start applauding the troops as they walk through Troop Greeter Hall. The smiles on the troops’ faces turn radiant and the exhaustion they felt on arrival has evaporated. There are tears in many eyes for the appreciation (both for the troops and for the troop greeters). The emotional high in saying “thank you for your service” is incredible – often eliciting a similar response from the troops to the troop greeter. These young men and women are doing the work many of us had done 20-70 years earlier (Yes, there are still a couple of World War II veterans who greet the flights).
Debra Milner is one of 400 members of the nonprofit and has been greeting America’s warriors for nearly two decades, according to WCSH.
“It’s an honor to do this,” Milner said. “It’s heartwarming to be here regardless if they’re coming home or going [overseas]. Just know we’re here to help them to go through everything.”