“The Way We Get By”

By Kathy Beirne

Aging (as we saw in the Fall 2010 NACFLM Journal) is a challenge to the elderly person and to those around them. Aron Gaudet was concerned when he couldn’t reach his elderly mother on the phone. When he finally got her, she told him that she had been greeting the troops coming through the Bangor, Maine airport. She was part of a crew that meets each incoming troop transport plane, and wished departing soldiers well as they left for the war zones.

Aron, who had wanted to become a documentary film-maker, had found his subject. His film, The Way We Get By, describes the work these dedicated greeters do and was hailed as one of the best documentaries of 2009.

The greeters receive phone calls when a plane is due in. Many of them travel a long distance to get there. They provide cell phones to the combatants to call their loved ones. One volunteer told a story of a young soldier who was talking excitedly on a phone. It turned out he was coaching his wife through childbirth!

The film shows how people can support soldiers without being for or against war. More importantly, it is a wonderful tribute to the way a cause and a community can help older people feel vital and able to get up every day despite physical, emotional, and economic obstacles. It’s also a great example of ways ordinary citizens can become advocates for those who are in the military and for their families.

Just recently, a relative in Illinois had a neighbor whose son was being deployed to Afghanistan. “She’s a single mom, and Chris is her only son.” Gail told us. “The Bangor group’s kindness was as unexpected as it was overwhelming to her. They even posted his photo on their Website. There are just no words to express how grateful she was, getting to see his smiling face once more before he left the country.”

In March 2010, the Bangor group passed the one million mark for the combatants they had met. Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine said of them on that occasion, “The compassion and dedication of these volunteers is truly inspirational. Day and night, week after week, they work to make sure that the last thing our troops get before leaving home is a warm handshake and the first thing they see when they return is a smiling face.”