A Navy veteran and current GE Aviation tool and gage inspector, George “Buddy” Johnson knows how important it is for soldiers to receive a welcome home after combat duty. For the last few years, he has spent hundreds of hours as part of the Pease Greeters group that greets and thanks returning and deploying veterans at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire.
As military planes touch down from war efforts across the globe, George and other volunteers spend personal time, often in the early morning hours to welcome U.S. troops home. Sometimes, Buddy sleeps in his car to meet three flights in one day.
It was Buddy’s wife who convinced him to volunteer with the organization. He was reluctant to participate for fear that his own difficult memories of war would resurface and cause him pain. After one greeting, he was hooked. It serves as therapy for him and an opportunity to continue the mission he started as a U.S. soldier many decades earlier.
“I’m good at picking out the troubled people. Most of the time, after we talk for an hour or so, they are better off and more prepared to return to their families and begin their lives again, or less nervous as they head into their first deployment,” shared Buddy who says it is truly rewarding to welcome troops home, especially given that there wasn’t anyone to welcome he and his fellow comrades home.
Buddy carries the GE Aviation story with him and passes out lithographs and coins featuring GE-powered aircraft that support the U.S. and allied militaries. Marketing leader Tom Lodge has partnered with Buddy for the past several years to help share GE’s story with our customer.
“One of the best memories I have from greeting returning vets was the night 30 or 40 T700 Black Hawk Dust-off pilots told me how much they love our engines and how they credit them with helping them save lives on the battlefield and asking me to thank fellow GE employees for doing the job they do to keep them safe,” said Buddy.
On one occasion, George connected with Louis Malizia, a GE Power gas turbine production leader and Chief Warrant Officer 2 with the Army National Guard. The Black Hawk Helicopter Maintenance Test Pilot was on his way home after 12 months deployed to Kuwait. Lou remembers how overwhelming it was to see hundreds of people from a community he had never been to before welcome him home to the U.S. A chance meeting with Buddy made it even more memorable.
“What are the chances you get home from a year-long deployment working every day maintaining helicopters to meet someone who helped build those very engines?” said Lou, who made the GE connection with Buddy because he was passing out the lithographs during a Pease Greeter event.
The Pease Greeters organization has welcomed home nearly 280,000 troops since it started in 2005. For each flight, they arrange for hundreds of volunteers to cheer and clap as soldiers arrive, before hosting a reception where soldiers and volunteers can connect. They provide phone banks for calls home and basic items like toiletries to help the men and women get ready for their final flight home, elsewhere in the country. They provide gifts that the soldiers can offer to their spouses and children who welcome them home, as well as knitted hats and other stress relieving items, cards, games, books, balls and more for those troops deploying.
For more information, visit: http://www.peasegreeters.org/about.htm