The last thing a hostage wants to do upon returning to America is be faced with a maze of bureaucratic entanglements. But if paper work must come before families -- and it must -- then at least they can meet Beverly Jones.
Jones, who lives in Arundel, donated what normally would be Redskins Day in her house to helping the 160 returning hostages feel more at home.
"Some have a need to talk," she said. "Some just want to get settled and be with their families." Her job was to make sure family members and hostages hooked up with each other.
It's not as easy as it seems. Once the hostages -- 445 landed at BWI this weekend -- get off the plane, they are escorted through the processing center, where about 200 state workers and volunteers will help them get settled.
The hostages must go through customs and immigration, and then can select from a variety of services, including federal loans, hotel rooms, flight tickets and counseling. The hangar, which only a few weeks ago was filled with private planes, was transformed into a giant welcome station, decked out in red, white and blue and enough flags to make President George Bush proud.
But the homecoming can be hectic and exciting for the processors, half of whom are state workers in their official capacity and half are volunteers from state agencies, picked from various counties. Sunday it was Anne Arundel's turn.
It was Martha Susnowitz's first time at the center. The Pasadena resident had to meet with the hostages and determine what they needed before leaving the center. "I expect a lot of emotional things," she said. "We've had several training sessions. I think the hostages will eventually get to where they are going."
One of the biggest problems the processors must deal with is the high number of non-U.S. citizens arriving. Many families allowed to leave were Arabs, but have children born in America. Many don't have ties to this country. "Many don't know what they are going to do," Jones said.
On Sunday's flight, 106 out of 160 passengers were not U.S. citizens. There were 20 infants and 46 children on board. Iraq is letting American women and children free, as well as men of Arab descent who are U.S. citizens. That means many of the hostages are women and children who were forced to leave other family members behind.
Housing can also be a problem. Many of the non-U.S. citizens don't have a place to go, are unfamiliar with the country and are traveling alone with small children. The U.S. State Department working with local state and county housing services is doing what it can.
Four families -- 11 children and seven adults who arrived last Monday are staying temporarily at Sarah's House, a homeless shelter at Fort George G. Meade run by Associated Catholic Charities.
George Carr, the assistant director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services, said it was a problem, but not one that couldn't be solved. "There are people getting off the planes who don't have a place to go," he said. "The question is what to do?" State Department officials on hand Sunday said most of the non-U.S. citizens had contacts in America and work is being done to help locate them. The official, who asked not to named, said some will stay in area hotels until visas and other arrangements are made.
Officials also said processing went smoothly -- with some hostages going through in 20 minutes. Reporters were not allowed to witness hostages being processed. But volunteers said children seemed to attract the most attention. There is a complete play area in the hangar that contains toys and games. Each child gets a stuffed bear and there are plenty of people to play with.
"Yesterday, I checked the area and there were two paramedics, two state troopers and two people from Butler Aviation, all in the play area," said Capt. Mike Conner, an Anne Arundel paramedic. "They were all playing with the kids, helping mom get free so she could get through the center."
Conner was just one of several paramedics and firefighters from Anne Arundel helping out over the weekend. On Saturday, three of the hostages required medical attention -- one was five months pregnant, one was prone to seizures and another had two broken hips and was confined to a wheel chair.
Conner said he provides emotional support as well. "They just needed someone to talk to," he said. "Some just needed a shoulder to cry on."