North Texas folks are serious about welcoming home America's military heroes. Thousands of volunteer well-wishers have assembled at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) over the past seven years to greet U.S. troops returning from Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Every day, a hundred or more military men and women pass through DFW, on their way home from deployment for two weeks of rest and relaxation. The airport has assisted more than 1 million servicemembers in transit since the first R&R flight arrived in November 2004.
Army Lt. Col. Patrick McAfee, commander of the Army's Dallas/Fort Worth Personnel Assistance Point since 2005 and a Legionnaire, says the Welcome Home a Hero program couldn't be better situated than in the heart of Texas at one of the nation's busiest airports.
"I'm amazed every morning at the number of folks who line the pathway of returning troops," McAfee says. "They are loud and proud. They are enthusiastic and sincere in their greetings. The Welcome Home a Hero program here at DFW is nothing short of inspiring. I can't wait to get to work every morning."
Veterans, corporate executives, students, civic organizations and church youth groups all turn out to greet troops in transit.
"Elementary-school children arrive with handpainted signs," McAfee said. "Folks from The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other veterans service organizations are frequently in attendance, waving small U.S. flags and extending a hand to their active-duty counterparts. Folks run the gamut. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were here last year to welcome home surprised troops."
The program would not be possible without the support of DFW and the North Texas Commission, McAfee said.
"We are delighted to assist DFW International Airport with its greeting program for the troops returning for R&R," said Mabrie Jackson, president and CEO of the North Texas Commission. "This is truly a regional effort of patriotic citizens wanting to show their support for our troops."
The Dallas/Fort Worth airport has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars for office space for the R&R and USO programs, and waived more than $1 million in landing fees. DFW has one of only two R&R programs at airports in the United States; the other is at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
"DFW International Airport has been honored to receive the troops coming home," said Jeff Fegan, CEO of DFW. "The Welcome Home A Hero mission is second to none."
James V. Carroll is photo editor for The American Legion Magazine.