Greeters note 300,000th ‘welcome home’

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BANGOR (AP) – Troop greeters at Bangor International Airport who turn out at all hours of the day or night to welcome home service members from Iraq and Afghanistan have marked a major milestone.

Army Spc. Carlos Smith of Alamo, Ga., got a surprise Thursday when he was designated the 300,000th member of the military to be welcomed at the airport since greeters began keeping count in 2003.

Smith, 28, was pulled from the line of troops from the 269th Signal Company from Fort Huachuca, Ariz., as they filed out of the international terminal.

He was presented with a bag of Maine-made products, including honey, canned blueberries, a candle, and a stuffed lobster and moose for his two children, Jamilah, 8, and Ethan, 3.

“I saw all the people out here clapping, and I just started smiling,” Smith said after being welcomed by the nearly 50 troop greeters and bystanders. “It’s so nice to see people who appreciate what you’re doing.”

Smith, who spent six months in Kuwait and was on his second overseas tour, said he will make it back to Georgia in time for his son’s 4th birthday on June 24.

The troop greeters, a contingent of local residents and veterans who gather as a show of support for U.S. troops on military flights that stop in Bangor for refueling, began their work during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.

Since the program began, greeters have shown up to welcome all service members, even in the middle of the night. A few dedicated greeters have been present for nearly all the military flights that pass through the airport.

After welcoming Smith’s unit home, the greeters also offered free cell phone calls and cake with red, white and blue frosting to a unit from Fort Hood, Texas, that was headed to Kuwait.

“I just wish they were all coming home,” said Cathy Czarnecki, a troop greeter from Hermon.

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