By Lt. Col. William ThurmondJune 13, 2007
DALLAS, Texas (Army News Service, June 13, 2007) - Linda Tinnerman, 66, of Grand Prairie, Texas, estimates she has kissed tens of thousands of young military men and women in the past few years.
But the kisses she planted on 151 troops today were extra special. That's because the rest and recuperation flight into the Dallas Fort Worth Airport from operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom marked the arrival of the half-millionth traveler in the program's three-year history.
"I try to come out every time they arrive," said Ms. Tinnerman. "I've been doing this over two-and-a-half years. I bet I've hugged more than 300,000 guys."
As part of the DFW's "Welcome a Hero" program, she and more than 100,000 fellow North Texans have made sure that every planeload gets a Texas-sized welcome.
Each ceremony starts on the tarmac, where arriving planen gets a "shower of affection" from the airport's fire trucks as it taxis into the international arrival terminal.
However, for the troops, the real "shower" starts when Ms. Tinnerman and her friend, Connie Carman, gets hold of them. And for these "huggin' and kissin' grannies," their very personal gesture of affection is serious business.
"We've been here in the middle of the night, like at two or three o'clock in the morning when flights have come in," said Ms. Tinnerman.
Despite a recent surgery and 95-degree heat, she and Ms. Carman waited almost an hour to greet the latest planeload of troops.
Master Sgt. Lesley Shahan, assigned to the 245th Engineers, an Army National Guard unit based in Bristol Okla., was one of those honored yesterday. After passing through a gauntlet of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, dignitaries, shaking hands and smiling faces, he reached the end of the line - and there he found Ms. Tinnerman and Ms. Carman, arms outstretched.
"I've heard about this from people before, but this was overwhelming," said Master Sgt. Shahan. "You can't believe it until you see it. The support we're getting today from the people of Dallas and the surrounding areas really shows me what we're fighting for.
"It's a tear-jerker ... those ladies are doing a great job."
Asked why she does it, Tinnerman responded simply: "Because they're so important to us. They're our heroes."