ROCKVILLE – The 70 members of Montgomery County’s Urban Search and Rescue Team got a hero’s welcome Tuesday as they returned home after a week of digging — in vain — for survivors in the rubble of the Pentagon.
About 200 friends and family members broke into chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A” as the team members stepped off buses at the county Public Safety Training Academy, where children held “Welcome Home Dad” signs and many waved American flags.
“His kids are proud of him. We’re all proud of him,” said Tina Dean of Laurel whose husband, Mike, works with the search and rescue team.
The team was dispatched to the Pentagon last week, hours after terrorists flew a hijacked American Airlines jetliner into the building, killing everyone on board and leaving 125 in the building dead or missing.
“It was horrific mess,” said rescue team member Stephen Jones of the scene at the Pentagon. Jones, who lives in Pasadena, said the scene was “a whole lot bigger magnitude” than anything he had ever seen.
The team is made up of firefighters, paramedics and civilians who are trained in highly specialized areas of rescue, particularly building collapse, and it has been called to disasters such as hurricanes and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Team members worked 12-hour shifts for a week digging through the rubble of the Pentagon, which was still burning for days after they showed up.
Mike Dean described the time at the Pentagon as “up and down. We had good days and we had bad days. But we had to do what we had to do.”
Some of the rescuers — dressed in navy blue jumpsuits with American flag patches, knee-high black combat boots, blue hats and sunglasses — choked up when they talked about their experiences and admitted it was hard being there.
“But we’re all here because we love doing it,” Dean said. “The work itself takes you away from why we’re there.”
Those who greeted them Tuesday hailed the team members as heroes.
“You did Montgomery County proud, you did yourselves proud and you did the nation proud. Thank you for everything you’ve done,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas Duncan.
They also made family members proud, said Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda.
“They (families) are so filled with pride and grateful to have them come home,” said Morella of the team members, who she called “extraordinary people. They really are heroes.”
Most family members brushed aside any worries they may have experienced during the week, admitting it was hard but nothing compared to the losses other families experienced.
Joyce Jones described how she had to explain to her young son that it was part of his father’s job to be in such a dangerous place.
“He saw the Pentagon on TV. He said, `I think my Daddy’s there,'” she said.
But while she acknowledged that she did fear for her husband’s safety throughout the week, she recognized that it could have been worse.
“I feel bad for the wives whose husbands won’t come home,” Jones said.