Maine Troop Greeters: A Short History
It all began on a winter morning in 1991, after a large and spirited group of citizens drove to Bangor International Airport to welcome home plane loads of returning Troops from Operation Desert Storm. On that first of many days to follow, Kevin Tillman, an Army Sergeant with the 82nd Airborne Division, borrowed a John Bapst Memorial High School student’s saxophone during a refueling stop and delivered a spine-tingling rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
By nightfall on March 8, 1991 Tillman’s performance had been broadcast around the globe, thrusting Bangor, Maine and the volunteers later known as the Maine Troop Greeters into the limelight.
Another war and almost a million Troops later, the airport greetings continue. No matter the hour, members of all branches of the U.S. military and our allies are assured of a handshake, use of a free cell phone and a cookie as they pass through the city’s airport. Many are headed to and from Iraq, as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as other hot spots around the globe.
The Maine Troop Greeters were officially incorporated as a registered non-profit organization in 2008. The group agreed on this guiding principle: “The mission of the Maine Troop Greeters is to express the Nation’s (and our) gratitude and appreciation to the Troops, for those going overseas for a safe return and for those returning for a joyful homecoming and to make their (hopefully brief) stay in Bangor as comfortable and pleasant as possible.”
The Bangor Troop greetings can be divided into four sections:
- Operation Desert Storm: March 8, 1991 through August, 1991. Troop welcomes grew throughout the spring and summer, at one time topping 1,500 persons to meet a single flight. The Bangor Chamber of Commerce and Bangor International Airport publicized flight arrival times and along with the Bangor chapter of the American Red Cross organized volunteer food tables and answered service members’ families concerns. VFW and American Legion posts along with the City of Bangor’s leadership, met the more than 200 flights. Area High School Bands met many of the flights and area businesses and civilians alike provided food and items for the Troops along with their greetings. This major outpouring of affection and thanks for our Troops was commemorated in two published novels by local authors.
- Post Operation Desert Storm: August 1991 through to the summer of 1992. In an effort to provide closure to an intense five months of Troop greetings, airport administration ended the official Troop Welcomes with a public ceremony in August 1991. However, the airport agreed to extend the welcomes into the summer of 1992 in response to greeters’ concerns that many military flights were not being met.
- Interim Greetings: 1992-1996. This is the bridge between Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom. Keeping the flame alive at Bangor International Airport were four dedicated troop greeters, led by Korean War veteran Everett Steele. During the lull between the two Gulf Wars, the foursome met nearly every military flight that passed through Bangor. After 1996, the group disbanded but the surviving members reunited in 2003 during the second Gulf War greetings.
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: December 12, 2002 through the present. As a show of support for the nation’s Troops, flag-waving citizens, both former and future Maine Troop Greeters, rallied along Hogan Road in Bangor, Maine in December of 2002. On April 19, 2003 the second Gulf War began and at 2:00PM on May 3, 2003 the first official greeting of Iraqi Freedom Troop flights at Bangor International Airport began as Troops went into rotation from the Persian Gulf.
Just as with the Desert Storm welcomes a decade earlier, the greeters included veterans’ groups and ordinary citizens alike, who were alerted to Troop flight arrivals through a volunteer telephone tree. Interest built in the troop greeter network throughout the summer of 2003 due to the increase in the almost daily Troop flights. The local Unicel company began donating cell phones and free minutes for use by the Troops and the local U.S. Cellular company followed suit in 2004. The local Sam’s Club continues to donate thousands of cookies to the greeters for our Troops and our local Wal-Mart, Hannaford, Shaw’s and the American Legion have also provided food and items such as “Build-A-Bears” for new moms and dads.
History written by Richard Shaw
Seniors in America
The population of the United States, like those of other industrialized nations, has been aging steadily in recent decades. This is largely due to demographic shifts and improvements in life expectancy — many members of the Baby Boomer generation are on the verge of retirement, and improvements in health care during the 20th century have extended the average lifespan significantly. At the same time, the fertility rate has fallen. Population projections suggest that the proportion of seniors in the American population will rise to about 20 percent by 2030, from about 12 percent in 2000. Some research indicates that in 10 years, 50 million Americans will be over the age of 65, and for the first time in our history the elderly will outnumber children under the age of five. There are concerns about a possible rise in social isolation among seniors, given that roughly a third of seniors currently live alone.
» Public Health and Aging: Trends in Aging † United States and Worldwide. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. February 14, 2003. Centers for Disease Control.
Volunteerism and Benefits of Volunteering
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering has held steady despite the current economic crisis, with 26.2 percent of Americans volunteering in 2007 and 26.4 percent in 2008. Neighborhood involvement has risen dramatically since 2007, with a 31 percent increase in the number of people working to fix community problems. This consistent response of volunteers to local and national needs highlights the positive benefits of service.
In recent decades, studies have suggested that community service not only produces social benefits, but can also improve the health of those who volunteer. This manifests in lower mortality rates, improved ability to function in daily life and lower levels of depression in later life. Some research indicates that volunteering can help seniors maintain a higher activity level and slow the pace of degenerative health conditions. For example, an increased amount of social engagement appears to offer mental health benefits. Researchers have also found that the health impact of volunteerism appears to increase with the amount of time devoted to volunteering. In his first year in office, President Obama has called for expanding the size of government-sponsored programs to encourage public service, as well as expanding the resources provided by government to match individuals with volunteer opportunities.
» “Volunteering in Middle and Later Life: Is Health a Benefit, Barrier or Both?” Yunqing Li, Kenneth F. Ferraro. Social Forces. Sept. 2006.
» Volunteering and Service for Depression. Depression Treatment Works.
» The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research (PDF). Corporation for National and Community Service. April 2007.
“Obama Signs Volunteer Bill With Nod to Kennedy Era.” Peter Baker. The New York Times. April 21, 2009.
» Volunteering in America. Corporation for National and Community Service. July 2009.
National Service Initiatives
One of the earliest pieces of American service legislation, passed in 1961, was Congressional authorization of the Peace Corps, a project proposed by President John F. Kennedy. A few years later, in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson started the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program and other similar projects as part of the war on poverty. In more recent years several presidents, Republican and Democrat, have worked to preserve the national spirit of service and volunteerism. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the National and Community Service Act, which authorized grants to schools to support service-based learning through a program now called Learn and Serve America. During President Bill Clinton’s term, the National and Community Service Trust Act gave birth to AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
As the largest grant maker supporting service and volunteering, the Corporation for National and Community Service was established in 1993 to manage three main programs: Senior Corps, AmeriCorps and Learn and Serve America. However, the Corporation is also actively involved in legislation affecting civic participation in the United States and works to connect people to service opportunities that will improve lives and strengthen communities.
The Obama administration passed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law on April 21, 2009. The legislation resulted from the joint efforts of Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican senator from Utah with a history of missionary service, and Edward “Ted” Kennedy, who served as senator from Massachusetts for 46 years. (His brother John F. Kennedy had held the position before him.) The senators began work on this legislation in 2008 and, per Hatch’s request, in March 2009 the bill was renamed for Kennedy, who was gravely ill at the time and would soon pass away, in honor of his dedication to social justice and his efforts to confront issues that benefit the American people.
The bill itself works to provide more opportunities for citizen engagement in service through the expansion of AmeriCorps, the organization created in 1993 by then-president Clinton to consolidate federal volunteer programs, and to increase the number of volunteer positions from 75,000 to 250,000 over eight years. The bill also raises the amounts of money reserved for education stipends and creates educational awards that student volunteers can use to pay for college. The legislation includes a social innovation fund that reaffirms the work of the Corporation for National and Community Service. This fund allows nonprofit foundations and private sector stakeholders to work alongside the government in a joint effort to face pressing issues such as “clean energy, energy efficiency, health care, education, economic opportunity, veterans and military families.” Ultimately, the initiatives under the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act work toward the larger goals identified by the Obama administration of increasing the opportunity for service and creating a culture of service in the United States.
» Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Official Website.
» Highlights of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. Corporation for National & Community Service. March 30, 2009.
» “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.” The Democratic Party Website. April 21, 2009.
» “Senate Moves to Expand National Service Programs.” David M. Herszenhorn.The New York Times. March 26, 2009.
» Public Policy: National Service and Volunteerism. Independent Sector.
» Corporation for National and Community Service