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.