So, the unimaginable happened.
A Russian military transport plane landed on the runway at Ramstein Air Base, headquarters for the U. S. Air Force in Europe and a key element of NATO’s defense system.
The crew of that plane was flabbergasted as they were greeted by American school children offering them flowers. Almost immediately our Air Force people, using mechanized equipment, began loading the cargo while the Russian crew was whisked off to their visitors’ quarters.
That night at a banquet hosted by both Americans and Germans, Jim Murphy offered a toast, saying in part, “When you work together, you become friends and when you become friends, there is peace.” The spokesperson for the Russian crew, most of whom did not speak English, in his toast offered sincere gratitude and then brought the house down by adding, “In our military academy we learned over and over how to bomb Ramstein. Today, we were greeted with flowers.”
Although many, many people had worked very hard at making JET-HI happen, and many would have dearly loved to be on that plane as it returned to Russia with EIGHTY TONS (!) of donated goods, only six were allowed to do so. I was lucky enough to be one of the six, for I needed to finalize plans for my students to go to Ivanovo in April. It was cold and snowy as the plane landed at an air base near Ivanovo, but never in your life could you imagine the warm hospitality with which we were welcomed. While the Russian ground crew unloaded the plane using strictly manual labor, we six were ushered off immediately for a “little snack”—tables laden with food and drink and, of course, many toasts! And it was that way everywhere we went. In the next few days we visited in Russian homes, schools, an orphanage, and a military hospital (where many veterans of their war in Afghanistan were still being treated). We saw very clearly just how great the need was.
In April when I returned with my students for the other half of the student exchange, Marina gave me a folder with several sheets of single-spaced lists of names and signatures of people who had received any portion of that cargo. (I should have looked for my jacket, eh?)
Never underestimate the power of the Boltushski!
As I said earlier, our experience with that one community of people in a former enemy nation not only spread good will for America, but for me it was a clear demonstration of the generosity, compassion, and optimism of the American people.
[Thanks for sticking with me—if you did.]