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‘Goodbye Girl’ comforts soldiers headed to war

At Hunter Army Airfield outside Savannah, Ga., Mary Adams is the last person to say goodbye to thousands of soldiers headed off to Iraq.   NBC's Martin Savidge reports.
/ Source: NBC News

It's not easy sending a loved one off to war. 

Just ask Mary Adams, she's done it thousands of times.

You see, after the emotional family goodbyes, soldiers are brought to a sterile-looking building at Hunter Army Airfield outside Savannah, Ga. For hours sometimes, they are left alone with just their thoughts. 

That's where Adams steps in.

She’s a USO volunteer and since 2002 has made it a personal goal to send off every soldier here. This 71-year-old never misses a flight.

Widowed, she has no children. But when you watch her work, you realize to Mary Adams every kid in camouflage is hers.

"Call your girlfriend!" she tells one soldier.

"She's got an awesome personality," says U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Darrell Foster. "She's always smiling."

"You got a family at home?" she says to another. "Call your family!"

"When you come back, we're going to have the hula girls here," Adams tells another soldier.

Has she ever heard of any who didn't come back?

"Yes, sir, I knew some," Adams says.

And she was the last to say goodbye.

It's why she and the other volunteers take this duty so seriously.

Adams is not sure how many soldiers she's said goodbye to over the years, but the Army thinks it knows — about 56,000.

After so many, maybe it’s no surprise that goodbye is not her favorite thing to say.

What is, is something she hopes to one day repeat over and over: Welcome home.