When one Air Force servicemember deplaned at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport in Baltimore on November 12, she was too exhausted to share her name with the 30 UMUC alumni, staff, family, and friends who had assembled to welcome 250 servicemembers returning from overseas.
"When you are there, it's just a job. But when you see this, you realize it's more than just a job," she said.
The 30 greeters cheered loudly, applauded—and some even hugged the returning servicemembers as part of Operation Welcome Home Maryland. That organization, which was founded in 2007, averages about four events a week according to its website, which bears the slogan "Giving our troops the welcome home they deserve."
The UMUC delegation handed each servicemember exiting the arrival gate a snack bag to enjoy while they waited for their connecting flights.
"It's an honor. It's the right thing to do. I'm a military mom," said Barbara Flanagan of Operation Welcome Home Maryland.
Sherrie Harris '99 brought her sons, whose school had hosted activities for Veterans Day. "I wanted them to experience this for themselves. I wanted them to see [the servicemembers'] faces, to feel the emotion of seeing them come home," she said. "They do this for us."
Attendee Kathy Massie '82 & '05 commented on the event from the perspective of a military wife who previously accompanied her husband on his trip home.
"When we came through that door, it was quite a surprise," she said. "After a long flight, you are tired, but then the doors open and you have this amazing feeling."
Several weeks earlier, the Alumni Association hosted two other events honoring military servicemembers. Again through Operation Welcome Home Maryland, alumni and staff assembled 300 snack bags for returning troops. Participants included 15 alumni as well as colleagues from the UPS Chesapeake District, the latter working in an assembly line.
The group also made welcome home posters and signed thank-you cards. By the event's conclusion, more than 500 cards were signed, including 100 from students at North Forestville Elementary School in Maryland.
And in October, the Alumni Association organized a group of volunteers assigned to different locations to support a variety of activities at the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon.
At the Kids Run event on October 24, which drew nearly 3,600 children ages 5 to 12, Barbara Tamaklo '14 volunteered at the Sodexo tent, where the food services company was advocating for hydration, healthy eating, and fitness. Her daughter Jessica also volunteered as the official counter at a jumping jacks competition.
"We had a blast and look forward to participating next year," Tamaklo said.
Although Lena Presmont '00 & '05 was volunteering for the second time at the marathon, she says the experience this year was so different from the previous time that she felt like a rookie all over again.
This time around, Presmont volunteered for the magazine Runner's World, which offered a VIP program for runners. For an additional fee, runners gained access to a recovery zone, a buffet dinner with their families, and other benefits before and during the race. When Presmont had been an avid runner, the magazine was a favorite. She said she had forgotten how useful its tips and advice are for runners, but volunteering at the marathon brought her right back.
"I signed runners up for the recovery zone, which consisted of stretching them out, a massage, and other therapeutic post long-distance racing necessities," she said. "Watching the runners enter the recovery zone and then exiting was excitement in itself."