OPERATION WELCOME HOME MARYLAND
Patriotism in Action
By Joanne R. Alloway
If you haven’t experienced the joy of greeting, welcoming and thanking returning service members back to American soil after deployments, you are missing out on something very patriotic. Recently my friend Elizabeth and I went to Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to experience this firsthand. We were easily caught up in wonderful, heartwarming reunions and the exuberance of 150 troops and family members. These service members had no idea that there would be a host of Baltimore-based volunteers clapping, cheering, shaking their hands and thanking them for their service. The smiles on their faces will be etched in my heart and mind forever.
Kathy Thorp, founder of Operation Welcome Home in Maryland (OWHM), started the organization in 2007 when she became aware of the returning troops coming through BWI. Most caught connecting flights back to their home states. To avoid having these service members return without a warm welcome – as was the case with our Vietnam War veterans – Kathy began looking for volunteers to help give today’s returning military a hero’s welcome. Before long, she had those volunteers, and today has 24 dedicated team leaders who organize each event, and a core of other volunteers.
The team leaders and volunteers arrive an hour before the troops clear customs, decorate the area with patriotic posters and flags, fill snack bags for service members with water, prepackaged granola bars, chips, cookies, crackers, bite-sized candy and a handmade thank-you card. Then everyone cheers and welcomes the servicemen and women. It’s a well-run organization, not associated with the USO. It is all community based, but help is always needed.
Volunteers can assist in a variety of ways. Welcomings are scheduled most days of the week. This makes a wonderful family or inter-generational activity, encouraging patriotism and American values. If you have time and want to volunteer with OWHMD on any day, call their event line at 410. 630.1555 after 9 a.m. to see what time volunteers are needed. Then go to the lower level of BWI’s International Terminal near the light rail. It will be the most inspirational volunteer time you’ll ever spend!
Besides attending an event, there are other ways you and your organization can help. Here are a few ideas:
** Organize collection drives for prepackaged food items or bottled water used for snack bags, or raise funds for gift cards to Sam’s or Costco.
** Make thank-you cards, which is a great opportunity for schools, scouts, retirement communities or church groups. About 8,000 cards are needed monthly.
** Musicians and singers can be used to sing the national anthem or entertain the troops and families. If your group is interested, check the event calendar for a date that works and then email the team leaders.
** Donations in any amount are appreciated and all of them go toward snack bag supplies. Email email@example.com for details on sending donations or
www.operationwelcomehomemd.org for all details.
According to Thorp, Baltimore receives the highest number of returning troops per year. Since 2007, more than 500,000 military personnel have returned from overseas through BWI. In 2013, OWHMD greeted 91,136 troops. An estimated 10,331 service members returned just in October 2013. Some welcomings have brought in surprise visits from the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City cheerleaders and U.S. Sen. John McCain. BWI has also been the site of more than three dozen marriage proposals at these events.
At the event we attended, two Maryland servicewomen returned: Brooke Wilson of Anne Arundel County, an Air Force supply sergeant returning from four years in Germany, and Lacy Anderson, (whose family is from Carroll County), an Army staff sergeant returning after one year in Kuwait. Both families enjoyed joyous reunions.
The volunteers are amazing and energetic. A volunteer I spoke with said she keeps coming because she not only enjoys it, she has a son overseas and prays that one day he will come through the doors at BWI. Some volunteers are Vietnam veterans who know how important it is to be thanked for sacrificing for our country, even though they weren’t. “History should not repeat itself,” another volunteer reminded us.
OWHMD is a completely all-volunteer effort. If you are working and can’t get to an event, you can still help by donating money or supplies, or finding community resources to aid this ongoing effort.
Joanne is the author of two nonfiction books. Her latest, “A Quiet Strength,” is available online. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org