Soldiers greeted with open arms

By Ed Brock

Alexis Trigg greeted her daddy with a teddy bear and big hug.

Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Trigg of Cleveland, Ga., certainly seemed to appreciate the welcome home from duty in southwest Asia that he received from his 6-year-old daughter, wife Mary and mother Mildred Trigg.

"It's good to be back," Staff Sgt. Trigg said.

Trigg and more than 200 of his fellow soldiers came home Friday morning on leave for 15 days of Rest & Recreation. Their flight that arrived just a little late at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the daily flights that started coming into the airport last week in the latest round of "Operation R&R."

The flights are scheduled to continue to run until October with other flights bound for Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport as well. The R&R program includes soldiers stationed in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

"It's excellent (to be back). I've been traveling for three days to get here," said Sgt. Damien Germscheid of St. Louis, Mo.

Travel time does not factor into the leave, said Gary Jones, media officer for the U.S. 3rd Army based at Army Garrison Fort McPherson.

"We don't start charging them with leave until midnight of the day they touch down," Jones said.

Official volunteer greeters with the United Services Organization Council of Georgia stand at the arrivals area waiting to greet each soldier with a hug and directions to the USO office in the airport's atrium, or to anywhere the soldiers want to go.

"We know how important it is to see a friendly face when you get off the plane," said USO volunteer Tammy Moore.

"I don't think they care that they don't know you, it's just the feeling of ?I'm home and somebody's greeting me," said Moore's fellow volunteer Nathalene Abreu.

Moore and Abreu are members of Military and Civilian Spouses of Greater Atlanta and both live on Fort McPherson with their husbands.

The community has been enthusiastic in its support of the R&R program, said Mary Louise Austin, USO Council of Georgia president and chief professional officer. Area businesses have been donating food and gift certificates.

"We're looking for complimentary hotel rooms," Austin said.

Most of the rooms the USO already had were booked after Thursday night's flight arrived especially late.

"The flight was delayed and a lot of the connecting flights were no longer valid," Jones said. "A lot of soldiers were in a tizzy about what they would do."

The USO proved very useful in remedying that situation, Jones said.

Also, Jones said that the USO and 3rd Army have been working with the Transportation Safety Administration to provide special passes that will allow family members of soldiers returning to duty to go through TSA security checkpoints and accompany the soldiers to the boarding gates.

"It's a big benefit to them because it means they get to see their loved ones for another hour or two," Jones said.

The passes are available at the USO office in the airport atrium on the third floor. For more information on where the passes will be available call (404) 464-4254.

Friday's flight got most of the soldiers home just in time to spend Father's Day with their family.

"We're going fishing in Minnesota," said Germscheid as he waited for his brother, Pfc. Spencer Germscheid, who serves in the same battalion in Iraq and who was on the same plane.

Sgt. Michael Boerner of St. Louis said that after five months in Iraq he was looking forward to seeing his son on Sunday.

"He's 9 months old and I'm looking forward to that," Boerner said.

The USO is also bracing for July 2, the day the soldiers from this week's first arrivals will have to return to duty.