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George and Laura Bush surprise returning troops

By Steve Brusk, CNN
  • The former president and first lady met 145 troops at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport
  • Most of the service members are home for a two-week break
  • Welcoming group leader: "It was a remarkable, incredible feeling" for the troops

(CNN) -- Former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush surprised 145 troops returning home from war Wednesday, greeting them at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The service members, most returning for a two-week break, arrived on a charter flight expecting to be met by the Dallas-based Welcome Home A Hero organization.

But waiting with the crowd at the international arrivals section were the smiling former president and first lady. "We didn't tell them at all what was going on," said the leader of the welcoming group, Lt. Col. Patrick McAfee. "It was shock and awe when they walked in the double doors."

Most of the returning service members are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A spokesman for Bush, David Sherzer, said the couple was "honored" to take part in the welcome. "President Bush often says that he doesn't miss much about being the President, but he does miss being the Commander in Chief of an incredible group of men and women", he said.

"It was a remarkable, incredible feeling for them, seeing the former commander in chief taking time to greet them," McAfee said.

Bush handed each of the service members his commander-in-chief coin and posed for pictures for everyone. Photos from the event showed the surprise on the faces of many of the troops.

"For the first time in my life, I was star struck," McAfee said. "He obviously still loves the military."

The Bushes joined with more than 30 youth football players through the Slant 45 organization to take part in the ceremony. The group is part of the Super Bowl community program in advance of the 2011 Super Bowl at Arlington, Texas.

"It was just a great lift of our spirits" for the welcoming committee, McAfee said. The group welcomes troops home whenever their flights return, no matter the hour. "We sometimes have people in pajamas and robes in the middle of the night."