BANGOR, Maine — The city’s renowned troop greeters gathered at Bangor International Airport on Sunday to celebrate their sixth year of supporting military members deployed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
About three dozen greeters attended the open house in the upstairs terminal, where they have lined up faithfully at all hours of the day and night to welcome more than 800,000 troops to the Queen City.
The greeters have been active a lot longer than the post-Sept. 11 global war on terror.
Marion Rudnicki of Bangor, an Army veteran who was stationed in Germany during the Korean War, has been meeting troop flights in Bangor since 1990, the start of the Desert Shield conflict in Kuwait.
“Back then, [the troop greeters] filled this place,” he recalled, looking around the terminal.
Paul Lucey, who recently moved with his wife to Bangor from San Francisco in order to be nearer to the couple’s daughter, said a friend got him involved with the troop greeters.
“It’s very heartwarming,” Lucey said. “There was nothing like this during World War II or Korea.”
Lucey, a former Marine aviator, served in both those wars.
“I try to walk in [the troops’] shoes,” he said. “It’s really so important to welcome them home. I find it a very gratifying experience. I hope to stay with it for a long time.”
Joan Gaudet of Hampden was among the greeters enjoying the camaraderie of the celebration, which was fitted out with a cake provided by the Brewer High School Class of 2011.
Gaudet was featured in “The Way We Get By,” a recent film about the Maine Troop Greeters directed by her son Aron Gaudet.
The film has aired at independent film festivals across the nation and garnered critical acclaim and several awards.
Joan Gaudet said that meeting troop flights has enriched her life and that the film’s success has been remarkable.
“People say ‘There goes the movie star,’ but I’m still just me,” she said. “I don’t feel any different.”
Tom Kohl, a Vietnam War veteran and chairman of the Maine Troop Greeters, said trying to organize the group can be “like herding cats.”
Still, he said, every troop flight coming into Bangor, regardless of the time of day, is met by a significant number of greeters.
“We put the call out, and we always get enough,” he said. The greeters applaud the deplaning troops, hand them cell phones and snacks and welcome them to the Queen City, whether they’re headed off to a war zone or headed home to family and friends.
Kohl said being a troop greeter can be “an emotional roller coaster.” While some returning troops phoning home from the Bangor terminal may be met with unwelcome news such as the breakup of a romance, others have more positive experiences. One soldier, he recalled, phoned his wife and found himself coaching her through active labor and the birth of their first child.
“You can get very low and very, very high,” Kohl said.
The greeters were due to meet their next troop flight around 10 p.m. Sunday.
On the Web: www.themainetroopgreeters.com