Usually behind an information desk, decked out in their cowboy hats and pin-laden vests, San Antonio International Airport Ambassadors also have welcomed home hundreds of troops over the past decade.
“It fills you up. It totally fills you up,” said Wilma Heberling.
She and her husband, John, have been on-hand whenever asked, offering hugs and smiles.
He said it is the least they can do in light of their sacrifices.
“It’s a very small part that we can do to be here,” Heberling said.
More than a dozen ambassadors, along with airport employees, had American flags at the ready, awaiting the arrival of Navy Petty Officer Kevin Bruehler, returning on Monday to his duty station after six months in Afghanistan as an analyst in Kandahar.
He was greeted with cheers and applause, including those from several other Navy personnel.
“I did expect something, but this is incredible. This is inspiring. I appreciate it very much,” Bruehler said.
He said his parents are in Arizona, so the next best thing were the hugs from a couple of the ambassadors.
“To see it shown so vividly, it’s just amazing,” Bruehler said.
Elaine Loehlein, a longtime airport ambassador, said she knew little about Bruehler.
“I don’t need to. I know he’s protecting me and my family and the United States. That’s all I need to know,” Loehlein said.
Remembering all the lives she has touched as ambassador, Loehlein wiped tears from her eyes.
She said, “I love it. I will do this hopefully till the last one comes home.”
Rich Johnson, airport spokesman, said the frequency of military arrivals has slowed down, unlike during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“For a few years, they were weekly occurrences,” Johnson said.
Johnson said families and friends can still request ambassadors for military arrivals, and the airlines also notify them whenever possible.