On the day after Easter, Petty Officer Kevin Bruehler arrived at the San Antonio Airport at 11:15 a.m. from Afghanistan, and was greeted by American flags, banners, and the waiting arms of about 50 people, including 25 of his shipmates.
"I did expect something, but this is, this is incredible and inspiring. I appreciate it very much. It’s good, it’s good to know that you’re appreciated. I mean, you always know what you do is appreciated, but to see it shown so visibly, it’s just amazing. Just amazing," Bruehler said.
Dressed in her blue vest and straw cowboy hat, Elaine Loehlein has been greeting returning war fighters as an Airport Ambassador since the program began six years ago.
"Whether it’s one person coming back or we have a dozen coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan, it’s nice to see families greet their son or daughter or wife or husband with happiness instead of sorrow. We see too many flag-draped coffins coming back. It’s nice to see them walk off the plane," Loehlein said.
As part of Military City, the San Antonio Airport has learned to do this Welcome Home event pretty well.
Chief Petty Officer Willie Hollins said he’s returned to other cities after deployment, and San Antonio is the only airport where he’s seen such a spectacular welcome. The only thing a soldier has to do is ask for it.
"I went over there and I talked with one of those cowboy people and they introduced me to the head lady and she took the name and everything, and I was just amazed. I didn’t know we could do this," Hollins said.
Bruehler returned after six months in Kandujar, where he worked as an analyst in support of local army units. It was his second deployment, the first one on a Navy ship in the Persian Gulf.
Bruehler said he didn’t have much down time in Afghanistan, so he’s looking forward to some rest, visiting with family, and good old American food. Sort of.
"I plan to get some sushi," Bruehler said with a laugh.