Navy officer receives warm welcome home
By Lynn Robbins
When Dan Cullen arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport on Aug. 5, the first thing he noticed was a group of very excited people.
“I saw all these people, and I asked myself, ‘What’s going on?’” he said.
Within a few seconds, Cullen found out.
“I saw my Mom and Dad and everyone, and then people started cheering,” he said.
They had come to welcome 22-year-old Petty Officer 3rd Class Dan Cullen home from a nine-month deployment in the Middle East, where he served on the USS Abraham Lincoln supporting the war effort in Afghanistan. The party at the airport included family, friends and the Warriors’ Watch Riders, a group dedicated to welcoming men and women home from war.
After congratulating Cullen, the Riders escorted him and his parents, Dan Sr. and Judi Foy, to their Ward Avenue home in Bordentown. He arrived in a convoy of motorcycles and police, fire and emergency vehicles.
As they pulled up the driveway, additional first responders, family, friends and veterans greeted Cullen with applause and American flags.
Cullen received awards from Dave Silver from the Yellow Ribbon Club, another group that supports service men and women, and Deputy Mayor Michael Dauber, who called Cullen an all-American hometown hero.
Cullen’s grandfather, Asher Pfieffer, who is a navy veteran of the Korean War, told Cullen how relieved he was to see him safely home.
Decorated World War II Army veteran and Bordentown resident Harry Havens congratulated Cullen and told the audience that there are things going on “over there” that shouldn’t be happening.
“God bless Dan, and may he enjoy a good life here,” Havens said.
Cullen, who was happy, but a bit nervous from the unexpected attention, thanked everyone, saying he was taken by complete surprise.
Described by his mother as a humble person, Cullen did not talk about himself. But in a quieter setting during a later interview, Cullen was willing to answer questions about his experiences overseas.
On the USS Abraham Lincoln, he was a green shirt “catcher.” The work of a green shirt is to bring a landing aircraft to a safe stop. The team secures cables across the aircraft landing area which will be caught by the approaching aircraft’s tail hook. During the landing process, green shirts communicate with the pilot through a system of visual aids.
Cullen described the work in a matter-of-fact manner. Later, his mother shared another perspective.
“Next to the job of the captain, it’s known as the most dangerous job in landing a plane. If the cable snaps, you could get killed,” she said.
Although Cullen didn’t express fear about his duties as a green shirt, he said that going through the Strait of Hormuz earlier this year was scary for him and the crew.
In spite of warnings from Iran telling the U.S. not to enter the Strait, the U.S. ship proceeded.
“The ship was so close to land. It could have been easily attacked,” Cullen said.
Cullen’s mother was anxious the entire time.
“It was a scary time for Mom,” she said.
What Cullen likes most about being in the Navy is the opportunity to travel. Some of the places he has visited include Malaysia, Singapore, Bahrain and Dubai.
But Navy officer and world traveler Cullen is still a Jersey boy. During his 21-day leave, he is spending time at Wildwood, one of his favorite shore resorts. He’s also spending time working on his prized Dodge SRT 4. Cullen, who loves cars and motorcycles, plans to buy a Harley-Davidson with money he earned in the Navy.
After his leave, Cullen will complete the remaining year of military service at the Norfolk Naval Station performing maintenance on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
As a Navy officer, he is continuing his family’s tradition of military service. His uncle, grandfather and great grandfather are Navy veterans. His paternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army. Serving in the Navy has been a long-time goal of Cullen’s, something he wanted to do since he was five years old.
Cullen says the Navy has helped him become a more committed person.
“I’m more motivated than I was before serving,” Cullen said.
He expects this motivation will serve him well in his next endeavor. After completing his military term, Cullen plans to attend college, probably majoring in business.
The Warriors Watch Riders and the Yellow Ribbon Club encourage others to recognize individuals’ military service and organize welcome home celebrations.
The Yellow Ribbon Club ships care packages overseas, participates in welcome home events for local veterans, and provides monetary assistance to U.S. military hospitals and care facilities. Email: info@ yellowribbonclub.org. On the web: yellowribbonclub.org.
Warriors’ Watch provides motorcycle escorts for U.S. military units or individuals who have been deployed to war or are returning home. The group includes “everyday” citizens, veterans and bikers. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. On the web: warriorswatch.org.