Ride Report Posted by Lutz

About three weeks ago I (Lutz) received a phone call from one SFC Chestnut who told me of four National Guard units returning from Afghanistan, and would Warriors’ Watch provide a Welcome Home celebration/escort? The units were due to arrive on December 18, landing in Philadelphia and from there to be transported to Fort Dix, where they would begin demobilization.

I love these types of welcomes. The massive DC10 held all of those troops and their equipment – enough troops to require eight busses and two 18-wheelers to get them to Dix.

The details of the planning and logistics are not important, except to say that there are individuals involved whose work – hard work – is absolutely essential to the successful completion of a mission of this size. The first such is the Pennsylvania WWR Single Poing of Contact for Law Enforcement (WWR SPOC LEO for us military types who like acronyms.) In this case that was Bobcat and Dennis.

The most important aspect of this part of the planning is how to meet a chargered airliner that is NOT landing at the normal terminals at the International Airport. The nuts and bolts of that will remain classified, we will say only that the Airport Police are indespensible partners in welcoming our troops in this way.

The other person involved is Maria Hyland of A Hero’s Welcome. Her contacts intersect with those of the WWR but do not necessarily duplicate those. The media contacts are also her doing, and in this case we were even able to get a channel 6 newsman in with us by assuring the authorites that “he’s with us!”

This was a case were just about everything went off on schedule and as planned. The plane, due in at noon, was actually 15 minutes early.  We had about 50 WWR and AHW present, about 30 motorcycles and several other assorted vehicles. We had just enough time, upon our escorted arrival at the landing place, to form up a looooong flag line that would be easily visible to the taxiing airplane, and even from the air from that same plane.

We were given word that the plane was on final approach, and we looked up and sure enough there was this massive freedom flight coming in like a graceful gliding fowl, touching down smoothly on the runway righ there ahead of us. We then watched as the plane taxied around and finally came to a stop RIGHT AT OUR FEET.


When a flight comes in this way the first people to board the plane are a gaggle of customs officials. They go in and take care of their business, and then the troops begin to emerge. As we were wating for this to happen, the long horizontal flag line was divided in two and brought in to form a red-white and blue corridor through which our warriors would pass as they de-planed.

Again, the details of the mechanics of this are not as important as the meaning and emotion involved. If you have never shook 350 hands, slapped 350 backs, and spoken a strong, eye-t0-eye “welcome home” 350 times, you need to keep looking for an opportunity to do so.

The first 30 troops to come out were diverted at the bottom of the steps to another direction, as they had “volunteered” (ha! If you’ve ever been in the Army you know what that means.) to offload the equipment into the waiting trucks.


The rest of the troops made their way through our gauntled of leather-clad patriots, and to judge by the smiles on their faces, it was a welcome arrival to home turf.

One of the soldiers told one of our riders that they could see us as they landed and the sight – all that flying color and gleaming chrom – was “awesome.” I was told by a unit NCO in an after-action report that this NCO was at the top of the steps and the expressions of happiness and unexpected pleasure as they emerged and saw all of us was universal.

Happy, tired but happy, troops? Mission accomplished!

One final aside – as I was waiting at the bottom of the steps with the official greeters (the unit commander, a bird colonel, and a few other officers and noncoms) I was talking to a Warrant Officer, the helicopter pilot who had just flown the Colonel in for this meeting.

This pilot told me that the c0lonel had at first wanted to be taken to Fort Dix to meet the units there (he was coming from New York), but this Warrant pilot, a man closer to the earth than a high-ranking officer, told him that being there when the plane landed in Philadelphia would make more of an impresson on the troops than if it were at Dix.

That Warrant was wiser than wise. He knew what we know. He knew that treating these troops like the returning heroes that they are is a matter of making the right impression on them. It’s a matter of treating them like they deserve of a right to be treated – like rock stars, like sports heroes, like celebrities. When your home team wins the World Series away from home, where to the fans go to meet them? They go to the airport, because taking the “trouble” to be there on the ground at the moment they arrive is what it is all about.

We love our troops, we rejoice when they return home safely, and we let them know it.

Photos by Heather Salazaar and Maria Hyland