|By DONNA HUNT/Herald Democrat
Saturday was a special day for the Hunt family and at least 150
other families across the country. A military plane brought 151
soldiers into Dallas-Fort Worth Airport on their way home for a
15-day leave from their duties in Iraq.
On hand to welcome E-3 (soon to be E-4) Casey Hunt home
was his mom, Vicky Weaver, sister, Nicole Hunt and nephew, Dakota,
all of Durant, and of course this writer, his grandmother of
Excitement began building more than an hour before the
plane arrived from Atlanta, GA, by way of Munich, Germany and by the
time the plane arrived, the USO’s greeting room was filled with
family members, VetDogs and their trainers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts,
and others who find pleasure in saying “Welcome Home” to their
A call to the USO Saturday morning told us that the
plane was expected at 10:45 a.m. We had earlier been told it was to
arrive at 11:50 a.m. It was about 8 a.m. when we learned of the
arrival time change and the rest of his family was still in Durant.
As we all ran out the door to face the grueling Highway 121 traffic
to D-FW, we decided to meet on Highway 75 to drive to together. By
then it was 9 a.m. and frankly, I was worried we wouldn’t get there
Then the cell phone rang and Casey said that they still
were in Atlanta. We breathed a sigh of relief and driving became a
lot easier. When we arrived at the airport we were told they were
expected about 11:40 a.m., but it was after 12 o’clock before the
plane touched down. By then the room was filled.
Posters made by youngsters and adults in the Dallas-Fort
Worth area lined the large room and balloons printed with “Our
Heroes,” “Welcome Home,” and lots of other wonderful messages
decorated the room. Baskets of cookies were provided by the USO and
everyone was anxious for the announcement that the plane had
When we first arrived we spoke with four Dallas ladies
dressed in red, white and blue and holding American flags. These
ladies didn’t know anyone on the flight, but are members of the
William Bennett Fan Club. Bennett, former Education director, has a
radio program that the women listen to regularly. They get together
once a month and go somewhere and one decided that greeting the
returning military was the place to go this month.
Next we sat next to the Mike Copelands of Colbert, whose
son, Chris, was coming home on leave too. Chris Copeland, a medic,
is stationed with Casey at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasar in Southern
Iraq in what is supposed to be a “Green Zone.” Both are with the
Oklahoma National Guard as part of the 180th Infantry Brigade, 45th
Chris’ parents represented his family since Chris’ wife,
Larissa was busy receiving her degree at Southeastern Oklahoma State
University in Durant.
Casey, an MP (Military Police) is helping guard Camp
Bucca where hundreds of Iraqi prisoners are detained in a compound.
He went to Iraq earlier this year and had been housed in a huge tent
until last week when he and others moved into barracks with four to
a room when others rotated home as their deployment ended. Life got
a lot better with that move.
The surprise on the returning men’s and women’s faces as
they turned the corner into the USO welcome center was something to
see. Family members were given preference in the welcoming line so
that they could greet their returning soldiers as they entered the
Standing next to us were a set of parents, a very
pregnant wife and a son who looked to be about two years old. When
“daddy” rounded the corner and the family screamed, the baby began
reaching for his daddy, who also had tears in his eyes. The baby
grabbed him around the neck and wouldn’t let got.
Standing on the other side was a young woman from San
Antonio, who started driving at 3 p.m. to get to Dallas rather than
wait for her husband to catch another flight to go to San Antonio.
She said they were married the Saturday before he left on Thursday
and that was nine months ago. Needless to say she was excited.
With camera poised, I waited to see our familiar face
round the corner and when he did I hardly recognized the young man
who was more like an older boy when he left. His mother saw him
first, and grabbed him around the neck for what seemed like minutes
before she turned loose for the rest of us to welcome him home.
A tunnel was formed by the crowd as soldiers and
families walked through the room to the sound of military marching
music to head back to their homes. All along the way hands were held
out to touch the soldiers and kind words were issued and flags were
waving. It was an awesome sight that I wish everyone would have an
opportunity to witness and participate in. There were very few dry
Before the plane arrived there were four black
four-legged welcomers on hand that drew the attention of the crowd
and posed for photographers, including this one.
The guys were Labrador Retrievers wearing jackets noting
that they were guidedogs in training. Each also had on a red, white
and blue bandana. Holding their leashes were men and women wearing
t-shirts designating them members of America’s VetDogs, Veteran’s
One who drew special attention was a three months old
pup who had been in training for only two weeks, but acted far
beyond his age and training period.. His trainer said that she would
have him about a year before he is placed with a veteran needing his
I ask another young trainer with one of the beautiful
dogs if it was hard to give them up at the end of their training. He
said “Liberty” was the fifth dog that he has trained and “yes, it
was really hard to see them go.” Knowing where they are going and
what they will be doing makes the pain go away though.
No doubt the animals are taken to the USO’s Welcome Home
Center to help get them accustomed to crowds and noise. There was
plenty of both in Dallas Saturday, but the dogs were part of the
crowd and wagged their tails to offer their own welcomes.
The VetDogs project is a new program from the Guide Dog Foundation
for the Blind. I found lots of information about the project and how
to become a part of it or how to receive a guide dog on the Internet
by simply calling up VetDogs. You also can find the information at
Yes, Saturday was an exciting day for many soldiers’ families. There
is only one day that will be more exciting and that’s when the
heroes return home to stay.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in
Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com.