As many as 12 service members will be welcomed back to Long Island Monday night as they cross through the gates of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip.
The members of the New York Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing out of Gabreski Airport in Westhampton are returning from a six-month tour in Afghanistan and will be welcomed by family and friends, members of local veteran organizations, fire and ambulance personnel and airport staff.
Catherine Green, airport communications director, said the number of airmen returning home is between six and 12, including Staff Sgt. Scott Walsh, 29, of Miller Place; and Staff Sgt. Brian Hammel, 43, of W. Babylon.
“It’s really a nice idea,” said Bonnie Walsh, Scott Walsh’s mother. “Scott has a group of people coming, but some of them may not, and I think that’s what makes it really special.”
Town of Islip Councilman Gene Parrington, who spearheaded the Hometown Hero Welcome Program about two years ago, said nearly 150 veterans and active service men and women have been welcomed home.
As a Vietnam War veteran, Parrington said he has made the program a priority based on personal experience.
“I saw too many people come home that were just dropped off at the railroad station,” he said. “A lot of them didn’t have any family at all.”
Parrington said family members are brought to the terminal to see the plane land and to greet the service members at the gate. Then they are brought to the main lobby of the airport where they are often greeted by a crowd waving flags and holding up banners.
Green said as many as 200 people - including people who have no connection to the returning servicemen -- have shown up for the welcomes.
The airmen are expected to arrive at the airport around 10 p.m. Monday night. Anyone interested in attending should be at the airport by 9:45 p.m.
Green said airport staff was made aware of the arrival late in the day and has had less time than usual to organize. She invited the public to participate in the Hometown Hero welcome.
Walsh said she will be at the gate tonight to welcome home Scott with her husband, daughter, Scott’s girlfriend and other family members. This was first active tour of duty.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s a great relief. We’ve missed him a lot.”