Last weekend we were fortunate to welcome home my cousin Shane from Afghanistan. He was serving in the very dangerous mountainous region of Afghanistan. For his entire tour the family has prayed and worried and longer for the day that he would be home. The day before Valentine's Day I got the e-mail from his sister that he was out of Afghanistan!
Not that long after we were invited to attend his arrival home. This was no ordinary welcome home. It was a formal Heroes Welcome. This is a "service" provided by the VA to welcome home soldiers coming home from a war zone. (You can read about this amazing organization called A Heroes Welcome here). I had heard it was pretty cool and we had seen the tail end of one of these rallies in our neighborhood. That being said we weren't sure what to expect.
We arrived at the airport early since his flight had been a little delayed. We waited and no one else was there. Finally the calvary arrived. Lots of members of my family, friends and plenty of people I had never met before. There were flags and banners. The best part was it was a surprise!
We got word that he was on his way and we lined up right outside of the doors. A Philadelphia news camera man was there filming (see below). When we saw him walk through the doors it was outstanding. There was cheering and yelling and flags waving. There were a few tears. ;D He looked wonderful and healthy and happy. There were hugs all around and after a few minutes we made our way downstairs. This is where the amazing part hit.
As we rounded the corner to the escalator the entire length of the escalator was lined with veterans holding flags. Every single veteran shook his hand and welcomed him home (as well as the other two soldiers arriving home). After he retrieved his bag we went outside and they had the car waiting. He loaded up with my aunt and uncle and cousins and they send off was so cool I can't even tell you (I wish I video taped it!).
Once he came outside the 30 or 40 motorcycles revved their engines, the police cars blew their sirens, people cheered and yelled. He was given a police and motorcycle escort all the way back to his house. They were met there with a second rally of people but we were able to make that part (his plane came in after 10).
It was unbelieveable. So emotional. The fact that he was home was enough. But the fact that this organization welcomes home our soldiers like this astounds me. In the wake of the Vietnam war era I think most veterans know that no soldier should arrive home to an empty airport.
Here is the link to the short video clip that aired on ABC News the next morning.