By BRIAN BIGELOW | Assistant News Editor
A group of three APSU staff and faculty members did their part to welcome home soldiers returning from deployment Thursday, Feb. 17, at Fort Campbell. Faculty and staff members helped by preparing and serving refreshments for the families waiting to be reunited with their soldiers.
“The best part of the experience is seeing the families get together with their soldiers,” said Dewey Browder, a Vietnam War veteran and professor in history and philosophy. “It truly is a joyous occasion.”
Volunteering at Fort Campbell homecoming ceremonies is an opportunity to thank the soldiers for their service, Browder said.
This is the first year APSU had a team of volunteers at these events, though Browder has volunteered before.
APSU will send volunteers to other Fort Campbell homecoming ceremonies throughout the year. According to Browder, over 100 flights bearing returning soldiers are scheduled from now through the end of summer.
“We have had almost 80 faculty and staff members volunteer to participate,” said Carol Clark, executive assistant to APSU President Timothy Hall.
APSU staff and faculty also welcomed a returning flight scheduled to arrive at 10 minutes after midnight on Thursday, Feb. 3. Thursday’s flight was scheduled to arrive at 9:50 a.m.
Browder and Clark are the two organizers responsible for APSU’s involvement in Fort Campbell homecoming ceremonies. Browder was one of the three volunteers to attend the Thursday, Feb. 17, ceremony.
Locally, there are nine teams of volunteers that attend the soldiers’ homecomings. One team is assigned to each incoming flight.
Up to six people from the pool of APSU volunteers are selected on a first-come, first-serve basis for each homecoming ceremony APSU is invited to participate in.
Originally, six volunteers from APSU were scheduled to attend the homecoming ceremony Thursday, but at the last minute the number was reduced to three because a company not affiliated with one of the nine teams sponsored the flight and the additional volunteers were no longer needed.
Flights come in on weekends, weekdays, the middle of the night or during the day and the volunteers are ready to meet each one arrive three hours ahead of time to prepare refreshments for the waiting families.
On Thursday, a crowd of families waited in a large auditorium where APSU’s volunteers manned the concessions table along with a group of volunteers from Charter Communications.
Approximately 20 minutes before the plane carrying the soldiers arrived, the waiting families were escorted to a fenced-in area outside the auditorium to watch the plane land.
People cheered, held up homemade signs and waved at the soldiers as they disembarked.
After the soldiers turned in their weapons, they were given 15 minutes to spend with their visitors. Soldiers could be seen embracing spouses and holding their children, some for the first time in a year.
At least 17 percent of the APSU student population is in some way connected to the military as a veteran, a retiree or an active duty military or a family member of active duty military, Clark said.
“They are our neighbors, our students, family members of our students … I’m very honored to be able to give the soldiers a warmer welcome,” Clark said.
According to Clark, the reasons for getting involved with the military homecomings for personal and institutional.
Clark spent nine years living at Fort Campbell with her husband, a retired member of the Air Force, and considers the soldiers at Fort Campbell an important part of the Clarksville and APSU communities.
“I’ve always felt like it’s important to help the military families,” Clark said.
“Nobody in America has really been inconvenienced by this war,” but we benefit from the soldiers actions, Browder said.
“I think everybody should do this once. This doesn’t cost you anything. You just need to show up and cheer for them.”
“People ask me ‘what can I do for soldiers,’ and I tell them this is one of the things you can do,” Browder said.
The soldiers’ return from deployment also has consequences for APSU, especially its Fort Campbell campus, but, “[there’s] no way to definitively say how it will affect enrollment,” said Ryan Forsythe, APSU director of Admissions.
Enrollment does not always fluctuate in the same direction, Forsythe said.
Sometimes, there is an increase in the number of family members enrolled when soldiers are deployed and fewer after the soldiers return.
However, in general “when the soldiers return en masse there is an increase in active duty soldiers enrolled at APSU,” Forsythe said. TAS