Every morning at 7:30 soldiers land at DFW airport, heading home for two weeks of rest and recuperation.
About 60 H-E-B employees lined up Thursday morning at Terminal D Gate 22 to give them a proper welcome as part of the Meet and Greet the Troops program sponsored by the USO.
Employees from 10 stores - Waxahachie, three in Waco, Killeen, Cleburne, Copperas Cove, Ennis, Corsicana and Temple - took time out of their schedule and got up early to see the troops.
For one employee it was a very special experience.
Colleen Elderfield of the Cleburne store served in the Air Force in Britain, has a son in the Air Force’s 101st Airborne and was one of the people responsible for getting H-E-B to visit the soldiers.
“I thought it would be an interesting thing for people to see,” said Elderfield, who worked in military intelligence during her service. “We live in our nice, little secure bubble here and we forget what it’s like for these soldiers. There were some kids that were blown away this morning.”
Linda Waisath of the Waxahachie store also helped get people involved in this project.
“This started as an effort of the Cleburne and Waxahachie stores,” Waisath said. “Once we opened it up to the region, people from other stores and Central Market wanted to come.”
Waisath described the effort as “a wonderful experience” for everyone involved.
“It was very rewarding and really emotional,” Waisath said. “We had two rows of people, shaking hands, taking pictures, one of the soldiers even gave my daughter a patch.”
She also said this was an opportunity she has never had before.
“I wouldn’t normally get an opportunity to personally greet soldiers,” Waisath said. “It was gratifying to shake their hand and see the joy in their eyes because they are back on U.S. soil.”
Elderfield said the experience was different than the way it was when she was in the military.
“I was in the Air Force at the end of the Vietnam War era,” Elderfield said. “I worked with a lot of guys who couldn’t go home in their uniform and were never welcomed home.”
Now she said she knows some veterans who swear to never let that happen again to another soldier.
“There is a veteran that drives 30 miles each way to be there at 7:30 every morning,” the 52-year old veteran said. “For us, it was a one-day thing, there are veterans that go several times a week.”
Elderfield said the simple things are just as good as going to the airport early in the morning.
“We all see the guy with the Vietnam veteran hat,” Elderfield said. “Walk up to them and say ‘thanks.’ Some have never been welcomed home. They may be little things, but they can mean an awful lot to a lot of people.”
Waisath this effort is one of several H-E-B does to better the community.
“We raise money for juvenile diabetes, we do Relay for Life, we will be at Waxahachie National Night Out on the square and give away ice cream,” Waisath said. “We get involved in Helping Heroes to honor the firefighters after 9-11. We wanted to do this as a labor of love and to help the troops. H-E-B is all about giving back to the community and doing good things.”
For more information on the Meet and Greet the Troops program, call (972) 574-0392 or e-mail Linda.firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-mail Billy at email@example.com