Monday, February 8, 2010
Good Night, 'Army George'
Many times I have mentioned what an honor it is to welcome home our troops at BWI.I've been a volunteer with Operation Welcome Home for about two years. Every single time I attend an event, my heart pounds harder at the sight of the first soldier coming through the security doors. Welcoming home our soldiers is such an emotional experience...knowing these brave men and women placed themselves in harm's way for me, for us!
As awesome as it is to shake the hands of our soldiers and thank each of them for their service...it has also been a thrill to meet the other volunteers. We work together to fill 'goodie' bags which are given to each Service Member. We stand around sometimes for hours, when a plane is delayed...talking, sharing what brings us to meet our returning soldiers, learning of each other's family and military service. We all love our country, we love our soldiers.
Sadly, one of our most animated volunteers passed away on January 23rd. Please take a few moments to read the story which the OWH homepage posted:
George Miskavage, affectionately known to many of us as “Army George” met his Supreme Commander on January 23, 2010. The Operation Welcome Home (MD) team sends its prayers and thoughts to his family and friends during this time of grief. He was a dedicated volunteer who came to many OWHMD events, a true patriot and veteran who served in both the Korean and Vietnam War.
With a genuine smile on his face, and “fist-bumps”, he personally thanked each Soldier, Marine, Airmen and Sailor who passed him by, with a warm and enthusiastic “Welcome home”. A service will be held on Saturday Jan. 30, 2010 at 10am at Saint Mary of the Mills Church, 114 Saint Marys Place, Laurel, MD 20707-4098.
The Warrior Watch Riders have planned to escort him to his final resting place in Pennsyvania. ExploreHoward.com published a wonderful article about George’s support to OWHMD last November.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For Laurel resident George Miskavage, it's not about the flashbulbs, cameras, microphones and general hoopla that greets military men and women as they arrive at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
For Miskavage, who volunteers with Operation Welcome Home Maryland, it's about the hugs from proud parents, kisses from wives and husbands and smiles from children who've missed their parents.
Miskavage, 79, is one of dozens of volunteers who show up at BWI to welcome troops as they arrive back in the United States from overseas assignments.
For three years now, volunteers with the program have staked out a spot at the international arrivals gate at BWI -- sometimes twice a week, sometimes upwards of five times -- to await the British Airways flights carrying troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Italy, Greece and Germany.
The returning soldiers walk through the gates to the sights and sounds of 30 to 40 people, including volunteers and family, applauding, holding signs and giving out goodie bags filled with bottled water, cookies, pretzels and sweets.
"This is the land of the free because of the brave," Miskavage said as a serviceman awaiting his wife's arrival walked by. "We can never and should never forget that, and I think we need to let these guys know that we know that."
Miskavage first heard about Operation Welcome Home from a fellow parishioner at St. Mary of the Mills Catholic Church.
Carol Silvoy said she had talked with Miskavage about his own service in the Army. Then, last year, she encouraged him to come out to help with an Operation Welcome Home event.
"I just thought it would be something nice for him to take part in," she said. "Something he could appreciate as a veteran."
"I went out there the first time, and it brought me back for a second time. And that brought me back the third time and fourth time and next thing you know, it's been a year," Miskavage said.
Miskavage said he quickly threw himself into it after seeing the dedication of the volunteers at the airport.
Silvoy, a former employee for Northwest Airlines who used to help coordinate flights for soldiers at Fort Meade, said that much of that dedication is rooted in a sense of gratitude that everyone with Operation Welcome Home feels toward the soldiers.
"It's just our opportunity to say, 'Thank you,' to these people that give it all. That opportunity is everything," she said.
More important to Miskavage, though, is seeing the looks on the faces of the soldiers as they walk through the doors, and the smiles on their families' faces.
"They see each other and smile and it just makes your day," he said. "We talk about the soldiers, but the mothers and fathers and spouses and children -- they're the warriors."
Jane Helveick, who also volunteers with Miskavage, said she is driven by the hope that she makes the soldiers truly feel as though they're at home, even if they still have to hop on another flight to reach their final destination in the U.S.
"They don't always have a smile on their face when they get off the plane," she said. "Then they see all the people and hear the applause and they get a big smile, even if it's just for a minute."
Miskavage said that's a major reason why he threw himself fully into Operation Welcome Home.
A veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, Miskavage said he remembers how he and his fellow troops were greeted -- or not -- when he returned from Vietnam in 1969.
He holds no bitterness toward the protesters that often awaited returning veterans, but it engendered in him a desire to make sure that soldiers coming home now would feel welcomed.
"It's payback time," he said. "It's time to make sure someone is there to say, 'You're doing a great job.' "
Miskavage doesn't make it out for every flight -- he still keeps Sundays for himself -- but he did make it out for every flight the week of Veterans Day this month.
While more than 300 people, including press, showed up to greet soldiers on Veterans Day, Miskavage said he preferred the experience of a Nov. 13 flight, which was greeted only by Welcome Home volunteers and families of soldiers.
On his volunteer days, Miskavage arrives at the airport about two hours before a flight lands, to allow time to talk with some of the families awaiting loved ones, put up signs and posters and put together goodie bags.
Sometimes he finds soldiers checking in for their return flight overseas.
"I like to talk to them and let them know that I know how they feel," he said. "You look over the rail and see a guy hug his wife while you're checking your bags to go where he just came from. Those are the guys we can't forget. They're serving this country, too."
One of the families Miskavage spoke with on Nov. 13 was from Elkton. "It's a nice feeling to be able to welcome her home like this," said Terri Ward, whose sister-in-law serves in Baghdad with the Navy.
Ward's son, Jeffrey, agreed. "I haven't seen Aunt Margaret a lot, so it's a very good feeling to know she'll get this kind of welcome."
On Nov. 13, a Welcome Home organizer asks Miskavage to help personally welcome every service member as they come through the doors. And so, one-by-one, he tells 200-plus men and women "welcome back" as they share a fist-bump for a handshake.
Only uninjured soldiers fly through BWI and are greeted by Operation Welcome Home; those soldiers that are returning for medical care most likely return via Andrews Air Force Base.
After about an hour, as families embraced and other soldiers milled about the airport USO facility, Miskavage reflected on his one-on-one moment with each trooper.
"This is the best. I never let myself cry in front of them, but seeing families reunited -- it just gets me," Miskavage said. "I'm just glad to be here to see this, and not at Andrews."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
'Army George'...go rest high on that mountain. Your work on earth is done.
May God Bless this true patriot!