“The Way We Get By”

The Maine Troop Greeters have been welcoming our troops to Bangor, Maine for over 6 years (actually, longer, since they have been active since the first Gulf War) and have earned a soft spot in the hearts of many military families:

For a town not especially known for its military presence (as compared with places like San Diego and Norfolk, Va.), Bangor is part of the military community’s vernacular because of the men and women, many of them veterans themselves, who make it their lives’ work to stand in a line and greet all the troops who pass through BIA. The airport is usually the last refueling stop for flights leaving the country and the first one for flights returning from abroad, making the landscaping outside BIA the first spot of American soil troops walk across after a year or more in Iraq….The troop greeters aren’t known for welcoming service members in a city like Norfolk. They are known for surprising the troops where they least expect it, during their brief stop at a place called Bangor, Maine.

A documentary, “The Way We Get By” (which has earned rave reviews), profiles three of the greeters and shows the import of what they do for both the troops they meet and themselves:

Beginning as a seemingly idiosyncratic story about troop greeters – a group of senior citizens who gather daily at a small airport to thank American soldiers departing and returning from Iraq, the film quickly turns into a moving, unsettling and compassionate story about aging, loneliness, war and mortality.
When its three subjects aren’t at the airport, they wrestle with their own problems: failing health, depression, mounting debt. Joan, a grandmother of eight, has a deep connection to the soldiers she meets. The sanguine Jerry keeps his spirits up even as his personal problems mount. And the veteran Bill, who clearly has trouble taking care of himself, finds himself contemplating his own death. Seeking out the telling detail rather than offering sweeping generalizations, the film carefully builds stories of heartbreak and redemption, reminding us how our culture casts our elders, and too often our soldiers, aside.

The film helps us remember that giving is a gift itself and that life requires a purpose. Most importantly, it reminds us that lasting and meaningful reward is gained when we focus on a purpose that lay outside of our own immediate needs and desires.

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