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Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Archive for the tag “Welcome Center”

Dottie’s thoughts in Oklahoma City

Continuing with Dottie’s rediscovered journal of our Freedom Beat trip across America in search of America’s heartbeat (again, any errors in transcription are mine):

August 5, 2011
Today we hoped to make it to Oklahoma City and meet up with Don “Pappy” Papin, Oklahoma Captain of the Patriot Guard.

waiting . . .

Pappy's colors

He was busy with other members of the Guard, meeting a disabled veteran at the airport. Instead, we met up with Ride Captain Pam Tate. Pam came to our hotel and despite her very busy schedule and her having to get up very early the next day, we went out for a late dinner to get to know one another.
The Patriot Guard is careful who they talk to. Their whole mission is to provide service to veterans in any way that is needed. They shy away from any recognition that takes the focus away from those that serve their country and often make the ultimate sacrifice.

August 6, 2011
This morning (Saturday) we went to the YMCA-sponsored welcome center at Will Rogers Airport. We were greeted by Millie, a kind of house-mom.
The USO usually sponsors the airport Welcome Centers. Will Rogers and the Anchorage, Alaska, airports are both too small for the USO to sponsor, so the YMCA sponsors them both. It is set up as a place where the military men and women can relax in between flights and in some cases, when they first get home and can meet their family.
I was saddened to be told by Millie that thieves had broken in two times during the previous week and stole two flat-screen TV’s, one a 50″, and an Xbox with all the games and controller. There was also an amplifier for the guitars that lined up against the wall. I think to do something like that is the lowest of the low.
While sitting in the Welcome Home Center, I looked around at the people in the two large rooms. Mothers and fathers, girlfriends and wives. The center provides a place to visit with their families during flight layovers, or prior to deployment flights. One young soldier was sound asleep, laying on a couch with a blanket pulled over him. A sleep so serene, one without the worry. He was comfortable knowing he could sleep without worrying he would be killed in his sleep. Another young man stretched out with his head in a young woman’s lap. A young wife waiting for her young man to be deployed. Worried if this would be the last time they would see each other.
I got to meet with Zorro, a two-year-old registered rough collie. Zorro’s assistant and agent is Renee Leach. As a certified therapy dog, Zorro works with autistic children, visits with Alzheimers patients. He has been coming into the Welcome Center for several months to visit with the young men and women that often are missing their own loving companions. Zorro has a whole repertoire of tricks as well as being friendly and spending some quiet time with an aching heart. Renee said it is just one way to let the troops know that they are appreciated, and it is so very little to give when compared to what the troops have given. Renee and Zorro work with HALO, Humans Animal Link Oklahoma.

Day Six — Privacy? What Privacy?

Heading for Hugs

So far we’d indulged ourselves in rather nice motel rooms, mainly because they were right off the highway and we were too tired to shop around. Actually, we weren’t all that impressed by some of them. They were nice enough; I don’t mean they were bad, just nothing really impressive. So we decided to try something on a lower financial tier. Even though it was a Friday night, pretty Virginia at the desk was able to give us a room that was, on most levels, pretty close to a couple we paid twice as much for. I didn’t realize until we checked in that they didn’t have a pool, but Melissa bravely substituted long walks for therapy in the pool. In this heat, bless her heart. And we had to hunt up a wastebasket. Virginia said one had come up missing, and she’d been borrowing from one room to another. Pretty bad when you don’t have an expense account for one wastebasket. Oh, and when we moved in we discovered there’s no door on the john. So we will know each other very well by the end of this trip. Skylar is mortified, of course, at her age.
By nine o’clock Saturday morning we’d followed Pam Tate’s directions to the YMCA Military Welcome Center just outside the terminal in Will Rogers World Airport, which is a hub for other destinations for the military. She couldn’t be with us right away because the Patriot Guard Riders had been asked to help welcome a triple amputee who was coming home. It was a private family affair, so we took a hint and stayed away. When we got to the door of the center, we found it had a serious lock on it. We got someone’s attention and were welcomed in and introduced ourselves. Millie, who was womaning the front desk, explained that just the week before someone had gotten through the regular locks after hours and stolen a fifty-inch flat-screen TV, another flat-screen in the mess room, and the X-box and all the equipment that went with it. These were all donated items, folks. Donated to be used by our military, kids far from home, waiting for a flight to God knows where, or just in off a flight, tired and waiting for a bus to base. As Millie said, how do you go back to the people who donated these items and say, “Gee, ya got any more?”

Waiting. And waiting.

When a flight was due, we followed the PGR over to the proper gate and talked to some of the military kids coming and going. I say “kids” deliberately. Melissa met a seventeen-year-old who had just finished her basic training and was now going home to finish her last year of high school before being deployed. These are the things that break our hearts on this trip. As Melissa says, some kids go to summer camp. This one went to boot camp.

Then Melissa proudly did flag duty while Skylar and I took pictures of the waiting families and then the troops coming in. The PGR is strict – they do not bother anyone, they do not even offer to shake hands or in any way bring attention to themselves. They simply stand with flags at attention, applaud each service member as they pass to their waiting loved ones and say quietly, “Welcome home”. As Pam Tate says, “It’s not about us, it’s about them.”
“People join to bring the patriotism back where it needs to be,” she said. “It died with Viet Nam. And many of our members are Viet Nam vets who joined because they want to make sure what happened to them never happens again.”
After an emotionally exhausting day, we came back to the room and collapsed in front of the boob tube. And nobody cared by then about lack of privacy. It does seem trivial compared to what our kids go through to ensure our freedom to travel around in safety and comfort.

catching a nap

baby Sterling was born premature while Dad was still deployed

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