It sounds like a tagline from a Ford commercial:
“Welcome to America: The land of cold beer and warm women.”
In truth, it was the line of choice for a middle-aged man who spent last Thursday afternoon hanging out at DFW Airport. His name was Wolf, as near as I could tell. I say that because it was stitched onto the chest of his black Harley Davidson vest, a part of his ensemble that ceded focus only to the foot-tall Uncle Sam hat that rested on his head. Wolf was ultra-gregarious, chatting it up with everyone around him, though he wasn’t really there to make friends. He was there, at Terminal B, Gate 37, for the same reason as everyone else: to salute our men and women in uniform who were coming home from deployment for some R&R.
I’ve done six of the Things Every Dallasite Must Do, and I decided to do something for others when I crossed number seven off my list: welcome home the troops. Â By the time I made it to the gate a few minutes past 1 pm, there was already a collection of people waiting. It wasn’t a hulking crowd – maybe three dozen, by my count – but it seemed a solid turnout for the middle of a workday. Quite a few were there to greet a loved one. The rest were just there to show their gratitude. Everybody had an air of nervous energy about them.
I wandered through the lobby, studying the handmade posters from Boy Scouts and Brownies and school groups that covered the walls, each expressing their appreciation for the Armed Forces. Donna Cranston, the organizer for Welcome Home a Hero, worked the room, handing out little pins and parking validation cards to soldiers’ families.
The flight was supposed to land at a quarter after 1, but it didn’t arrive until 1:45. A TV plastered on the wall showed a live feed of the hallway the soldiers would have to trek through before they made it into the lobby, where we were waiting. Eyes were glued to that screen, looking for signs of movement.
Finally, just after 2 pm, a stream of camo-clad men and women came strolling through to the sounds of cheers and whistles and a patriotic march that blared through a little black boombox in the back of the room.
The troops made their way down a line of grateful greeters, shaking hands and nodding heads. Wolf had a quip for every soldier that walked past. He’d grasp each one by the hand, work up a big grin, and say something to make them laugh, or at least smile. The “beer and women” line was reserved for a few of the male soldiers, but he’d give others “direct orders” to have some fun during their time off, or joke that he saw something crawling around inside their duffle bags.
The stream of soldiers lasted for all of 15 minutes. They came through in little pods, three or four at a time, and after they met the last welcomer, Cranston was waiting with gate information for those who still had to catch a connecting flight home.
It was a wholly worthwhile experience, though it was sort of odd watching it go down so fast. These were the types of moments that played out in slow motion on TV, backed by patriotic guitar solos that sound like they’re booming down from mountain tops. But this wasn’t like that at all. Each soldier was in focus for maybe 20 seconds before they were whisked off to their next location, and the cheering and music faded as soon as they walked through the automatic doors en route to their next gate or ride home. A humbling sense of realism settled into my stomach watching it all transpire.
After the last troop had found his way out, I spent a few minutes chatting with a group of ladies, Donna Cranston among them. I asked her if the flights were always in the afternoon. One of the other women in the group chuckled and cocked her head to the side, as if I’d just opened a can of worms without knowing it.
Donna gave me the rundown: odd days are morning flights, which usually get in sometime around 8:30 am. Even days are early afternoon arrivals, though they often get delayed. Morning flights are in Terminal D, afternoon flights in Terminal B. And it was all subject to change in the future.
Confused? No worries. Welcome Home a Hero has a hotline (972-574-0392) that’s updated daily with flight information. Call after 8 pm, and you’ll get the gate and time for the next day’s arrival.
And if you need a little added inspiration, spend some time browsing through the countless letters and notes written to WHH by gracious soldiers and family members who were touched by the group’s dedication. Seriously, if welcoming home the troops isn’t at the top of your to-do list, it ought to be.
Check out the video to see Wolf himself in action.