My wife and I were available this Thanksgiving to host five airmen, hair down to their shoulders, from Keesler Air Force Base. We decided to make this privileged gesture about a week before. I emailed the appropriate Sergeant over the Home Away from Home Program website and was informed to pick them up at the Fishbowl (Levitow Training Center) at 8:30 am on Thanksgiving Day morning. I figured this meant 8:30 sharp, having been militarily commanded, more or less, so I made sure I was there a little ahead of time.
Since this was the first year we’ve ever done this, and not really knowing what to expect with regard to protocol and such, when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see about a dozen people ahead of me in the waiting area to pick up their airmen guests as well. A few minutes after making the Sergeant aware of my arrival, and confirming my prior registration, I heard my name called and turned to meet our honored guests.
I had expected or anticipated seeing five burr-headed young men, only because I suppose there are many more men in the Air Force than women. But as I turned, I was pleasantly surprised again to see five young women, shoulder-length hair, in civilian attire, appearing eager to get off the base and relax for the day.
Their ages ranged from 18 to 26 and they were from California, Arizona, Minnesota, Maine and Florida. On the drive back to our home they informed me this was their first time off base since arriving at Keesler from San Antonio, Texas where they had completed boot camp several weeks ago.
None had eaten breakfast, having slept in and taken advantage of the day off, routinely having to arise at 4:30 am on most mornings, and 3:30 on others. My wife prepared breakfast, which quickly vanished, in addition to the dinner and supper later in the day. Angie, by the way, is remarkably efficient in the kitchen, something of a one-lady orchestrated symphony, when it comes to meal prep for a group. I see her do it and still don’t know how she does it.
Even though they didn’t need to be told, they made themselves at home, very much at home. They were very relaxed and talked almost nonstop. Angie later confessed that upon seeing their small, lean frames on arrival that she had reservations about them eating much at all. They ended up eating, more or less, like men -- ladylike mind you but steadily and heartily.
We all shared a little bit of our lives and laughed over family stories, personal experiences, and so forth. Most came from military families but two were the first in their families to join the military. Each were from varied backgrounds and had a different technical training pursuit.
It was a great new experience as well as a privilege and pleasure for my wife and I to host these airmen, and new friends. If you have the means, space and are available next Thanksgiving day, consider sharing your home with those who are charged with protecting and securing our country. You will learn new things, have a great time, and will enjoy, and receive, a sense of appreciation that will make a memorable Thanksgiving. It did for us.