“Hot off the phone lines,” it started. “They are currently 132 miles north of Jacksonville now – as of 4:30 p.m.”
Sent out to a network of her friends, supporters and colleagues, Cathy Haynes’ email not only captured the growing anticipation being felt by the crowd at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, but it also helped build it up.
“There was a cell phone that was on the bus,” Haynes said. “A Marine command was following their progress. The person with the cell phone was instructed to notify the command when they crossed the state line from Georgia, and when they crossed the I-4/Daytona intersection, and so on. It was reality — they were on their way home.”
What everyone was waiting for was two buses transporting 50 Marine reservists who had flown in on Thursday to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune from Afghanistan. They had served for 10 months and now were on their way to Central Florida. They arrived at the Armed Forces Reserve Center near Orlando International Airport late last night, setting up a scene that Haynes described as being absolutely electric.
“I didn’t know any of these warriors on the bus, but vicariously I felt they were all my family because of all the family waiting there for their warriors,” she said. “Also, I know there were some of these young Marines whose families could not be there, so I wanted to find them and be their family, and tuck them under my wing and thank them for serving us. It’s awful to be left out and feel lonesome in a crowd.
“But as soon as the flashing lights from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office cars turned the corner, it was pandemonium, it was electric,” she added. “So many of these folks had waited for their sons and husbands and brothers to come home. It was wonderful. It sent shivers down your spine.”
Haynes, who lives in Orlando, helped put together the homecoming and has been involved for several years in numerous veteran and military organizations, as well as being a member of the Blue Star Mothers.
“My only child, my son, is in the Navy and I’ve always felt a patriotic edge and a patriotic facet with my life,” Haynes said. “With my family history, probably every generation going back to the American Revolution has served our country in some way, mostly in the military, so I have that patriotic blood. Instead of bleeding red blood, it would be red, white and blue.”
One of her top goals recently has been to find a way to notify families when members of the Armed Services are headed back to this city.
“I was out at the Reserve Center a week and a half ago, and I have some Army Reserve contacts out there and some Navy Reserve contacts, but I did not have any for the Marines, so I went up to them and introduced myself to make sure they get included in my notifications to the community,” Haynes said. “And they mentioned they had a group coming back at the end of the month, and I said I’d love to find out when that would be, because if you’d like a domino effect back home, I have a network of people to contact.”
And contact them she did, sending out email blasts about the upcoming return. When the date got finalized, her email included this piece of advice: “Bring plenty of hugs, tissues, flags/signs/cookies/etc.”
“There are so many people that want to get involved, but the gaps in the network makes it difficult,” she said.
That’s why she made this return a great test case for getting out the word, even on very short notice, about the soldiers coming home.
When she learned about it, “I send notices to their family and friends to get out the word. I know there are a lot of people who would love to get involved in something like this. It was incredibly short notice for a lot of people to be able to participate, but the goal is to be able to get a little more head notice and let folks know, so they’ve got a choice to participate or not participate.”
The huge turnout and heartfelt welcome that the soldiers got was probably a solid boost to their morale, knowing the people back home love and support them so much, Haynes said.
“I can only hope that theirs was a sigh of relief, that in reality that they were home,” she said. “I don’t think that they had expected anything like the turnout that there was in the community with such short notice. They were choked up. Some of them just clung to people and hugged them. They were grinning from ear to ear to be told by people they don’t even know, ‘Thank you for serving, thank you for being a Marine.”
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