There is no point in planting them if you don’t water them.



O’Hare was looking good on a good-looking day.



As we started to gather, O’Hare security, law enforcement and traffic control reacted.



Randy Fagan is a reservist.  He was assigned as a driver today.



He lives in Antioch.  He does his Annual Training at Fort McCoy.  He wants to go active so he can be deployed.



I was a little early but so were others.



We continued to roll in.



Upper level between Two and Three.



Finally the brain-trust caught up to the rest of us.



And we learned the plan.



There wasn’t enough space on the Terminal Three flight, so seven soldiers would arrive at Terminal One.



New guys.



As we were briefing, a sailor bound for San Diego passed by.



We delayed his passage.






I went with the half that was assigned Terminal Three.  The American Legion was ahead of us.



The guys picked out their own stuff.



I don’t know what he has got in there….



A guitar, a flag and a long-stem yellow rose.



Dave told us, “They went to Afghanistan for us but they are back in Chicago now.  They shouldn’t have to carry their gear anymore.”



After we got them back upstairs, we walked them through the ticketing area.



One of our guys yelled, “They went to war to fight for your freedom!  They are back now!”



Photos can’t show the noise that was made.



Then we settled them back at the bikes.



Another sailor was caught in the cross-fire.



It was especially good for his brother and his mom to see.



You don’t have to go to war to be a hero.  Just putting on a uniform is enough.



We were waiting for the bus and the Terminal One contingent.



The O’Hare USO was involved at every location.



A shirt you earn:  “Our troops know I have their back.”



Their families were waiting at Fort Sheridan.



They were nearly home.



This is the 3/420.  (3rd Terminal, 420th Company.)



The 1/420 was spotted.



We had connected with them in Terminal One.



Now we walked them through Terminal Two.



Remember this TV commercial?




People want to do the right thing.



They just need to know that RIGHT NOW is the time to do it.



So we told them.



And they did it.



Budweiser gets credit for making it known, but the USO gets credit for making it happen:


The emotional “Applause” advertisement is based on the experience of a creative director at one of Anheuser-Busch’s ad agencies, DDB-Chicago, who witnessed a similar homecoming for U.S. troops organized by the USO at Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport in late 2004.



The bus had arrived and they soldiers were all present.  Time to go.



Soldiers must wear helmets. 



We wouldn’t want to damage government property.



We started out.  These bikes were ahead of me.



These were behind me.



These ahead.



And these behind.  (Followed by the bus.)



First, we were pacing a jet.



Then we were dodging under one.



We passed the “hands free” sign.



The guys gave me space when I went hands-free.



We worked our way north.



The bus following.



Debbi was watching.



Then we turned onto 22.





















Leadership is not just understanding the mission.



It is also about communicating that understanding.












And home.



Even civilians are supposed to wear a hat on base.



But there wouldn’t be any tickets today.



The 420th Transportation Company dismounted and



went inside for their stand-down ceremony.



Dave gave our gratitude to the trooper.



We confirmed where we were going next.



And then we headed there.






Simple as that.






















Postscript:  These are two letters that were written in August, 2010.


First letter:


8/29/10 - The day I was among great men and women

Ok, so many people may not care about this, but 8/29 was a day that will be etched in my mind and my heart.  

A friend of mine attended a "Keep Alive 45" event to remember those who fought in and died in World War II.  I wanted to go but because of family events was unable to.

He told me of the event and of the group that held it.  They are known as the "Warrior Watch Riders".  They are similar to the "Patriot Guard" in escorting our fallen soldiers but they also get groups of people together to welcome home soldiers returning from overseas.  When he told me of this, I signed up to be a member of the group that day.

I'm just a ordinary citizen.  I've never belonged to any group like this nor have I ever done anything like this.  But I received an email from the group informing me of 2 welcome home "missions" that were happening on 8/29.  So I planned on attending, not knowing what it was all about or what was going to happen.

We met at Veterans Acres Park just a short ride from where I live.  As we approached the park, I was soon realizing that I wasn't just hooking up with a group of motorcycle riders to go say hi to a returning soldier.  There were about 30-40 bikes, large 3x5 - 4x6 flags of all sorts attached to well over 1/2 the bikes there.  My first thought while approaching the park was, "WOW...this is really going to be something."

We (my wife and I along with my friend who attend the previous event) pulled into the lot and parked.  I introduced myself to a couple of people as we were walking into the group.

As the leader of the group gathered us together for a pre-ride meeting, he asked if there were any new members to the WWR.  I raised my hand and everyone there broke out in loud and enthusiastic applause.  Wow.  I was really speechless and could feel my heart leap up into my throat.  He then went on to list the amount of service and achievements that the returning soldier had accomplished.  To which when he completed that, the crowd erupted in loud applause.

After the meeting, he (Otto - a Veteran of the Vietnam war with the US Marines) approached me and presented me with a collection of beads on a leather strip.  The significance of the beads were explained to me.

On one end there are 4 blue beads.  They represent those currently serving in the military.  On the other end are 4 gold beads representing those family members who have had those that have died defending our country.  In the middle were 2 each, red, white and blue beads representing the United States of America and in-between were a series of black beads representing those who gave their lives and/or those still missing in action.

I will always keep this representation of our military.  I feel very honored to be presented with this and will cherish it forever.

It was at that time I felt like I was surrounded my men and women of honor, integrity and with a sense of duty to their country.  In all actuality, I felt small.  I felt out of place.  But more and more people (the vast majority of them current or past members of the military who had served in one of our theaters of conflict) came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for being there.  To me, it was the opposite.  If it weren't for their service, their sacrifice, people like me wouldn't be able to speak out like I do.  I turned around and shook their hand to thank them for what they do.  I was told time and time again from different Veterans that without support from people like me, their job would be much more difficult.

I was truly humbled to be there.

As we prepared to leave, fire trucks, ambulances, police cars showed up to give us a full siren escort to the young mans home.

By the way...this young man had no idea we were coming.  It was set up with the WWR and his mother.

So we left the park for a short 2-3 mile ride to the soldier's home.  Police and fire and medic vehicles were all blaring their sirens.  The motorcycle riders were all honking their horns, revving their engines and in general, making a TON of noise during the entire ride and it only got louder the closer we got to the young man's home.  Cars traveling in the opposite direction pulled over.  Some honking their horns, most waving and some cars all you saw were alot of hands and arms reaching out the windows and sunroofs giving us thumbs up signs and peace signs.  To witness be a part of that is something I can't put into words.  Needless to say, my eyes began to well up with emotion.

We all got off our bikes, out of the cars and assembled in the family's front yard and when the returning soldier came out of his house everyone erupted into a huge round of applause, all of us yelling as loud as we could, "WELCOME HOME!!!"

As you could easily see, this young man (Andrew) was overwhelmed with emotion, as was I.  (My eyes well up now just describing it!!)

We all got in line and every one of us (there were better than 50 people) shook his hand, gave him a hug and welcomed him home.  It was truly a very special experience.  During this time, the crowd continually broke out in applause...yelling...welcoming...thanking.  My heart pounded everytime that happened.

Otto then took the young man and presented him with the same beads he gave me and explaining the significance.  Pictures were taken of the group and people were talking to the family and to Andrew.

When people were breaking up and getting ready to leave, Otto approached me and asked what I thought of the event.  I told him that it was perhaps the coolest thing I had ever done and that my emotions had at times overtook me.

His response?  "Why do you think we all wear dark glasses!!"

He then asked if I was going to go to the 2nd welcome home mission later in the day to which I said, "Absolutely".

Fast forward to the second event.  We met at a drugstore parking lot.  At this event we were escorting a returning soldier from his grandmothers home to his home where he was having a welcome home party.  While assembling in the parking lot, a young man who was listening to what was going on had opened his trunk and pulled out his Marine Dress Blues.  He was immediately welcomed with applause and cheers.  He told stories of battles in Iraq he had been involved in, the death he saw right in front of his eyes.  The numerous countries he had been to in his young life.

Again...felt small...out of place.

So then Tom VaGundy is now going thru the list of accomplishments of the soldier we are escorting and the list was long and impressive for a man of his apparent young age.

While this is happening, two young women pulled into the parking lot going to the pharmacy.

She got out of her car and started yelling f-bombs at us and being a real douche.  One Marine Vet yelled back at her that they had defended her rights to free speech just like anyone else.  She continued into the pharmacy with hate in her voice, continuing to drop f-bombs to the Veterans assembled.

30 seconds later...a person (who I assume is the manager) led her out the door and pointed for her to leave.  Kudo's to the manager.

The marine that just happened to be there joined our rally to the other mans home.  A man came out of the pharmacy with his two young children....they also joined the convoy.

Once again, we prepare to leave for about a 3-4 mile ride to the young mans home.  Again, police, fire, medical...all blaring their sirens giving us a non-stop escort.  The convoy of bikes again honking their horns, revving their engines, making as much noise as we could and again....getting louder as we rode thru the neighborhood to his home.

And again....people waving, giving peace signs and thumbs up.  Wow.

And yes, once again, as everyone gathered in the front yard, continual applause and yelling.  It was really something.

So its all said and done.  Otto then approaches me again and asked what I thought.  Not only was it perhaps the coolest thing I've ever done, it FELT REALLY REALLY good.  (but its soooooo not about me).

He asked if I would do it again and I said unequivocally...yes.  He told me that this is truly addicting to which I agreed.

To finish the day he told me that I was now part of a family.  He gave me hand shake and then pulled me in for a big hug.  To say I was a little emotional is an understatement.

Following the events of 8/28 (the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor Rally) I felt like I was among some of the country's most honorable people.  It was a very emotional experience and one that I will gladly repeat.

For those that took the time to read this, thank you for letting me share this very special day.  If anyone gets the chance, I highly suggest doing this.  You don't need to join anything.  You don't have to be on a motorcycle.  You just need to show up and welcome home a soldier who has volunteered to give his life in defense of ours.



Second letter:


I manned the booth at the wounded warriors run. The first thing I would like to do is thank all those who showed up and helped at the booth. I was very grateful for that and thank all of you. I have a story that I would like to share that has touched me gravely.

After everyone left for the run I stayed at the booth since I didn't bring my bike. About 100 to 150 of the 750 that left for the wall came back for the concerts. We also had some locals show up just for the concerts. So I continued to hand out our fliers and tell people what we are all about.  By the time the third band started I had already been thinking about breaking down the booth since there was no one coming by the booth anymore and I knew I had to get to work early. And every time I thought about it I had a feeling I shouldn't and I would stay. Well about a half an hour later I found out why.

I was talking to a couple about our mission and I noticed a older gentleman listening in. I didn't think anything about it at the time. I fished talking to the couple and the man was gone. Once again I thought about breaking down the booth and again didn't because I had a feeling I shouldn't.  I said to myself I will give it ten more minutes. And about ten minutes went by and the older gentleman came up to the booth and asked what we were about. I grabbed a flier and told him all about our mission and what we do. He actually thanked our group for stepping up and supporting the troops like we do. He then started telling me about when he returned from war and he was told he had to change into his civies before they even landed and I instantly realized that I was talking to a Vietnam vet. He talked about how his unit was treated when they returned and started tearing up and crying. He told me about how he called his family and they weren't even going to  pick him up and when he got home there was no welcome home, no I'm glad you made it back, nothing. He was very emotional with tears in his eyes and I really could feel his pain as he spoke.


I didn't even think twice and I thanked him for his service and apologized for what happened.  He couldn't understand why I would apologize being that I am only 28 years old and wasn't even born yet. He thanked me for caring and doing what we all do. I pulled out a set of mission beads and out my last coin in my hand and I told him " don't thank me I wasn't even there. You are the one who was there defending all of us. I would like to shake your hand."  I put the coin in his hand while i shook his hand just like so many of us do and the only words he spoke was oh my god. He starting breaking down right there. I could see in his eyes that he couldn't believe what was happening right there. I held up a set of our mission beads and explained them to him and handed them to them with honor. He tried to speak several times and choked up every time. He through open his arms and threw them around me!  I embraced him as he sobbed on my shoulder saying thank you so much over and over. I couldn't help myself and I broke down right with him. I felt so hovered that just that simple gesture could mean so much to a vet. I couldn't believe it. We talked a bit more and he had to go find his wife.

It is a moment that made me proud to be part of this incredible group.  One little gesture really does mean everything to these heroes.  I have been and always will be proud to rise with each and everyone of you and I am humbled and honored to continue to do what we do as long as I am alive. I just wanted to share this story and I appreciate you listening. If you can I would like to share this with everyone if you would help. I don't have everything set up yet to send to everyone   thank you all and i will see you soon.