BANGOR, Maine — The Maine Troop Greeters came together Saturday to celebrate their ninth year welcoming troops to Bangor International Airport and honor servicemen and servicewomen on Armed Forces Day, a recognition often forgotten.
Armed Forces Day was established in 1949 to honor all branches of military service in the United States, but it’s often forgotten, a fact that Troop Greeter Chairman Chuck Knowlen said disturbs him.
But Knowlen said the troop greeters have never forgotten the day, and recognized it again on Saturday in a ceremony that included thanks from government and airport officials for the work the troop greeters do.
“You don’t know what that handshake means,” Knowlen said.
Since 2003, the troop greeters have shaken the hands of more than 1.3 million troops stepping off about 6,500 flights — not to mention the 320 service dogs.
Maine’s First Lady Ann LePage; U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud; representatives from the offices of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins; Bangor City Councilor Nelson Durgin and others spoke at the event, thanking the troop greeters for their work during the past nine years of military conflicts.
Also attending the event were 23 Navy sailors assigned to the USS Michael Murphy, a destroyer being built at Bath Iron Works that is scheduled to take to the seas this fall. The ship was christened on May 7, 2011.
The warship is named after Medal of Honor recipient and Navy SEAL Michael Murphy, who was killed in 2005 in Afghanistan when his four-man team was attacked by well over 100 insurgents. A rescue helicopter sent to rescue the team was shot down, killing all 16 troops on board. Only one member of the team survived the firefight.
Speakers at the event lauded the troop greeters for their work and willingness to extend open hands to troops returning home from military conflicts.
“As Americans, we have a responsibility to take care of our troops. Americans do this, and, more importantly, Mainers do this,” LePage said, adding that a handshake or smile from a well-wisher can mean a lot to a soldier heading overseas or returning home.
“Any time of the day or night, volunteer troop greeters answer the call of duty, drive to the airport and offer service members Maine’s most genuine hospitality,” she said.
Michaud said the troop greeters have played a vital role in making military personnel feel appreciated.
“Having been to Iraq and Afghanistan several times, when I mention I’m from Maine they put a big smile on their faces,” Michaud said, adding that Maine and Bangor have strong reputations among servicemen and servicewomen in large part because of the welcome they receive at the airport. “In fact, a couple of them, they’re a little teary-eyed.”
The troop greeters say they will continue showing up at the airport for as long as there are troops to greet.
“We’ll be here for as long as they come,” Knowlen said.