BANGOR, Mainwe — Since they began their work during the first Iraq war, Maine Troop Greeters based at Bangor International Airport have provided comfort and kind words to more than 900,600 departing and arriving members of the United States military.
As part of their work, the greeters make cell phones and snacks available to the troops and always are ready with handshakes and hugs.
On Wednesday, the troop greeters were recognized for the efforts that have put the city and its airport in the national spotlight.
During a troop greeter appreciation event at BIA, officials from the airport and the city thanked the men and women who have been a constant presence at BIA regardless of the time of day or night.
“You make them feel at home and it’s the Bangor way,” Bangor City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer told the greeters gathered in the domestic terminal on the airport’s second floor.
The community’s thanks will come in the form of a permanent monument consisting of a pavilion and garden to be built next spring at a location at the airport to be determined later.
The structure will serve as an outdoor gathering spot for troops, greeters and others, BIA Director Rebecca Hupp said. Hupp said it also would serve as a smoking area.
While neither the city nor the airport condone smoking, the fact is people do smoke and since smoking is banned inside the airport, there currently is no place to accommodate smokers. Hupp said the pavilion and garden, which will be able to accommodate 30 to 50 people, would be one way to make troops’ stay here “a little more pleasant.”
The design for the pavilion, garden and walkways was a gift from Steve Ribble, a Bangor landscape architect who owns a company called Context by Design and who also is chairman of the city’s cultural commission.
Hupp said that Hammond Lumber has agreed to donate the bulk of the materials and to coordinate donations from other vendors.
But even in the midst of Wednesday’s event honoring them, the greeters rose from their seats en masse to do the thing that has made them famous around the nation, namely shake the hands of U.S. servicemen and -women passing through the airport.
The group passing through Bangor Wednesday was a U.S. Air Force unit from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The unit was en route to the United Arab Emirates by way of Ireland.
Tom Kohl, chairman of the troop greeters, said the monument was “quite a surprise.” He added, however, that the “troops are really what we are here for. Twenty-four hour coverage has been very demanding but it’s also very rewarding.”