There’s a bumper sticker that reads, “If you can’t stand behind our troops, stand in front of them.”
That’s what a group of family members, veterans, town officials and others did for U.S. Air Force Capt. Matt Lohmer today. They gathered in front of a terminal entrance at Long Island MacArthur Airport to applaud, hug, kiss and cheer for the man who has been deployed to Afghanistan six times. He glowed as he gripped wife Emily’s left hand.
“It was amazing,” Emily Lohmer said. “It was more than expected; it was really great.”
The group was largely invited by Town of Islip Deputy Supervisor Gene Parrington, who started the Hometown Heroes Welcome program in 2009. Parrington is a Vietnam veteran who sustained two injuries during his service in the Marine Corps. When he returned home he was greeted by his family, but many of his colleagues were not as fortunate.
“We try to welcome home every vet that passes through here,” said Parrington, who has invited groups like the Patriot Guard Riders and Blue Star Mothers to participate. “When we came home we didn’t get much attention. We didn’t get a nice warm welcome or even a handshake.”
Since the program began, Parrington has presented more than 100 veterans with citations that thank them for their service.
In Lohmer’s case the citation earmarked his more than 300 combat missions and highlighted his role as a mission and flight commander during his most recent deployment, which started last November.
The 29-year-old Texas native met his Sayville-born wife at Meridian High School in Texas after Emily’s family briefly relocated there. The two lived in Texas until 2007, when they moved into a home in Blue Point to be closer to her family.
Lohmer expects to return to Afghanistan for a seventh tour in the next year or so -- he said the Air Force is shorthanded and his continued service is necessary. For now, though, he intends to spend some quality time with his family.
“It’s been great, I’ve really enjoyed my time overseas,” he said. “Every mission has been important.”
Anybody who wishes to arrange a welcome for a returning vet can do so by contacting Town of Islip Deputy Supervisor Gene Parrington’s office at 631-589-0234.