One local not-for-profit rang in the New Year perhaps the best way they knew how – with a surprise homecoming for a soldier. Throughout each year, the group “Operation Welcome You Home” embraces many active duty military men and women with open arms upon their safe return home. And they’ve continued to do so in 2013, starting from day one.
They planned a New Years Day motorcade for Sergeant Joe Riehle of the United States Army. A fire truck, motorcycles, and dozens of other cars escorted Riehle to the Judd Kendall VFW in Naperville where family, friends, veterans, and even Mayor George Pradel gathered to honor their hero.
“They just started coming up, thanking me and hugging me,” said Riehle. “It’s a great feeling and then an even bigger surprise, I saw most of my immediate family here. So it was great to see them since I haven’t seen them since before I left.”
“It’s just surreal. I can’t even explain the emotions of doing this,” said Donna Morsovillo, Founder of Operation Welcome You Home. “And when mom first came to me and said, “January first,” I’m like “hmmm?” but what better way to start the new year than welcoming home a soldier from Afghanistan.”
Riehle says it’s a breath of fresh air not only to be at home after 9 months overseas but also to know that for all of 2013, he’ll most likely remain on U.S. soil.
Instead of returning to Afghanistan, Riehle will be stationed at his base in Colorado during the year, close to where his fiancé lives.
“Joe is the most amazing person, probably one of the strongest people I’ve ever met in my entire life,” said Angela Houlihan, his fiancé. “Having him means the world to me and gives me more of an appreciation for having the military here and what they do for our country.”
As for Riehle’s mom – to see her son out of harms way with her own two eyes was a relief as well.
“When he’s physically here, you know that he’s okay. You can hear that he’s okay on the phone but you don’t actually know for sure until you get A hold him & give him a big hug hello,” said his mom, Georgianne Williams. “It’s the best Christmas present and best new year’s present ever.”
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