By Andrea Sutherland (Fort Carson)November 15, 2012
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Paige Lanier arrived at the Special Events Center early, Monday. The former Army officer dressed up for the occasion -- gray slacks, a blue blazer and his Veterans of Foreign Wars cap. With him, he brought a bag full of silver-colored coins with the VFW emblem on one side and the words "Welcome Home" on the other.
"I left the service 40 years ago," said Lanier. "I enjoy coming out and seeing the troops."
Monday's welcome home ceremony for troops from 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, held special significance for Lanier. The Soldiers arrived one day after Veterans Day, a time when many in the nation honor members of the military for their service and sacrifice.
"I always celebrate Veterans Day," said Lanier, who retired from the Army as a captain, serving with 2nd Battalion, 77th Field Artillery Regiment, in Vietnam.
One of 12 children, Lanier and five of his brothers served in the military, fighting in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His uncle fought in World War I.
"I have family who served going back to the Civil War," he said.
It is that long history of service that Lanier credits with his desire to reach out to returning troops.
"It's important because nobody welcomed us home," he said.
Lanier said that is the reason he and other VFW representatives make a point of attending every welcome home ceremony and greeting every returning servicemember.
"We don't want to see these guys come home to an empty house," he said.
Robert Czosnyka, a retired Air Force staff sergeant, echoed Lanier's sentiments.
"I want to tell them, 'Welcome back,'" he said. "Job well done."
Czosnyka joined the Air Force after serving in the Army. He fought in the Vietnam War.
"Nobody was there to greet me," he said. "I was just by myself. That's how it was."
"All of us should take responsibility to welcome home Soldiers," said Gloria Otwell, department conductress for the VFW Ladies Auxiliary. "In the past, when Soldiers haven't been welcomed home, it takes them years to recover and some never recover."
Otwell said her husband and brother are both veterans.
"My brother served in Vietnam," she said. "He returned feeling like nobody cared."
Otwell has served as an auxiliary member of the VFW for seven years, seeing her work as her contribution to supporting the troops. Her husband served in one of the first units to enter Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"He was the first to go, so he was the first to come home," she said. "The first welcome home was nothing like this. We stood around in a cold, damp hangar. This is so fantastic."
As the Soldiers from 4th BCT, 4th Inf. Div., filed into the Special Events Center, the veterans cheered and applauded alongside hundreds of Family members.
After the returning Soldiers greeted loved ones, Otwell and Lanier shook every Soldier's hand, pressing a welcome home coin into their palm.
"They've earned that respect from us," Lanier said. "In a way, this is healing for us."