By Ron Sanders, WBZ-TV

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (CBS) — The man wearing a broad smile above his red, white and blue striped shirt announced the milestone moment, “You’re our 400th flight. So welcome to Pease.”

“Wild Blue Yonder” filled the concourse named “Heroes’ Walk.” They had a cake standing by and students from the Marshwood Middle School in Eliot, Maine had joined their ranks as the Pease Greeters met their 400th military flight, an Air Force unit deploying to a classified location in southwest Asia.

The Pease Greeters are a group of veterans and other volunteers who have been giving troops sendoffs and welcoming them home at Pease International Airport since 2005.

“It’s a nice feeling to see the expression change on their face. It goes from solemn to a smile and by the time they leave here, they have a lot of friends,” explained George Davidson, a Marine veteran from Somersworth, N.H. who has met 350 flights.

“Quite overwhelming, let me tell you,” remarked Tech. Sgt. Paul Hamrick of Lorraine, Ohio as he enjoyed a slice of cake.

“Come on guys don’t be shy,” said one of the greeters to the airmen filling the refreshment area.

The greeting may include a handshake, a hug, a cup of coffee, a donut or a surprise.

Paul and Robbin MacVittie, who live 90 minutes from Pease, got a call from their son saying he’d be passing through in 90 minutes on his third deployment as a combat pilot.

“It’s a real blessing to see them one last time before I head over,” said Capt. William MacVittie, their son.

“I’m grateful,” said his mother. “We have a lot to be grateful for,” said the captain whose father agreed. “He looks great,” said Paul MacVittie.

Capt. MacVittie, who applied Sept. 12, 2001 to the Air Force Academy from which he graduated, had been met by the Pease Greeters on an earlier deployment.

“They’re heroes to all of us. And so it’s just an honor to see them and hear them and talk to them and hear their stories. They’re the real heroes in this situation,” said the captain. His father said his son has flown 100 combat missions.

The Greeters got their start from airport management, including Bill Hopper and Alan Weston.

“It’s grown to what it is today with a minimum of 200 to 300 people a flight, any flight any time of day or night, welcoming the troops and giving them what they deserve,” said Weston.

“When you see the Pease Greeters in action, it’s actually difficult to tell who gets more out of this, them or the active duty personnel,” observed WBZ-TV’s Ron Sanders. “It must give you some sense of kinship?” Sanders asked Lt. Col. Ken Greenstreet.

“It does. Actually, it’s funny you say that because I walk down there and I saw some of the guys with their hats on and you get a tinge of what they might have gone through when they were in the service themselves,” said Lt. Col. Greenstreet.

“We get more out of it than the troops receive,” said Davidson.

“You can feel this inside of you, I imagine,” said Sanders. “I can feel it just talking to you about it right now,” replied Davidson.

As the Pease Greeters sent the Air Force unit on its way, they prepared to meet a homecoming flight at 6:45 the next morning.

Comments (7)
  1. Sean Baber says:

    I am one of the troops who was greeted on the 400th flight. They truely made our day, and we will never forget them.

  2. Laurie & Daniel Lewis says:

    My son was there! I means a lot to him and to us, his parents, that you greeted them and sent them off with such love. Thank you!

  3. Rick & Pam Nelson says:

    Our daughter, Emily, a C-17 pilot told us she was amazed at the reception and in awe of the patriotism and generosity exhibited by the fine people at Pease, NH. This reception made their 26 hour trip so much more enjoyable and will be recalled often during their extended deployment. As parents, we are very thankful for what you have done. You are awesome!

  4. Dawn Smith says:

    My Son-in-law was one of the troops that recieved your wonderful greeting. Thank-you so much for the hand of friendship you extended to my Loved One, and for the generosity you shared !!! Pease NH , you have brought honor to your town. You’ll never know how much happiness your acts of kindness brought to many people !!!

  5. Charlie & Mary Lou Pace says:

    Our son passed through Pease, NH. He said it was a wonderful experience. He was in awe of how warm and welcoming everyone was. We truly appreciate everything you do for our troops. Keep up the wonderful work.

  6. Lea O'Brien says:

    I’m a greeter and you cannot imagine how much we love our troops. It is our honor to be able to be there to welcome them. Extremley satisfying and rewarding for us.

  7. Helena Enos says:

    I am proud and honored to say that I am a Pease Greeter and how much my heart is touched with every group I meet.
    It is a very small thing that I do to honor our brave young men and women but they all thank each one of us for what we are doing.
    My husband was and always will be a proud Marine and I only wish that he could be with me each time I greet a troup but I know he is there in some way and feels much pride for these brave AMERICANS.
    Believe me, once you come you will be hooked.

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