Vernon Hills, Libertyville offer warm welcome
Officers from the Vernon Hills Police Department step up when soldiers return from the Middle East and pitch in with Operation Welcome Home. Commander Todd Williams has been taking the lead in the project. | Rob Dicker~Sun-Times Media
Take Our Poll
Have you attended a welcome-home for a troop in your area?
WHAT: Operation Welcome Home
WHERE: Libertyville, Vernon Hills
WHO: For local, returning service members
HOW: Alert the community to your loved one’s upcoming return by calling (847) 247-4889.
Updated: November 19, 2012 1:31AM
VERNON HILLS — According to the Department of Defense website, just fewer than 1.5 million service members were on active duty at the quarter mark of 2012.
Local law enforcement in Vernon Hills and Libertyville are doing their part to recognize local soldiers as they arrive home.
In 2003, the Vernon Hills and Libertyville Police Department started Blue Line for the Front Line. With the help of Commander Todd Williams, Sgt. Vince Utter, School Resource Officer Rebecca Foy and Deputy Chief Jon Petrillo, the program successfully sent care packages to troops overseas and the families of police officers visited veterans at local VA hospitals.
Both departments took it a step further in 2007 when they began Operation Welcome Home to honor their service members returning home from duty.
“It’s a great way to show support for our service men and women,” Williams said. “They deserve so much more, but this is what we are able to give them.”
Returning troops are picked up from the airport by a limousine and escorted home by local police and fire departments. The Public Works Department lines the military member’s street with American flags, and local political figures such as the mayor and trustees will be in attendance to greet the military members and thank them for their service.
Local restaurants also step up, donating meals for the soldier and their family. And Westfield Mall shows its appreciation by offering a gift certificate.
The need for the program began with a simple request from the neighbor of former Vernon Hills resident Lance Cpl. James Halse. A U.S. Marine, Halse returned home from his tour in Iraq with a warm welcome from family, friends and local law and fire departments.
Halse went on to become a community service officer for the Vernon Hills Police Department until his recent move to Texas. Since Halse’s return, the Vernon Hills and Libertyville departments have welcomed home a total of seven service members. The last, U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Perez, came home for a short visit in July 2011 before returning to his military duties at Fort Stewart in Georgia.
“We just want to ensure that they feel supported and appreciated. We want them to know that we recognize their dedication, and we thank them,” Williams said.
Libertyville resident James Schurr currently has a son at West Point Military Academy in New York. Nineteen-year-old Austin James Schurr, or “AJ” to family and friends, is in his freshman year as a cadet on a football scholarship. Schurr will serve five years in the Army upon his graduation.
“His graduation is still three years away and he won’t be on active duty until then, but I know my son’s level of commitment. As a parent, you have to worry about the state that our country is in and what he’ll soon face,” said Schurr. “You see families on TV whose sons or daughters come home wounded, or worse, not at all. Your heart breaks because you have to hope that won’t be you one day.”
Schurr said the Operation Welcome Home program is a great way to show gratitude, and that the amount of debt owed is immeasurable. Shurr said it would be a great program for his family to take advantage of in the future.
Vernon Hills and Libertyville residents with a service member returning home may register for the program by contacting the Vernon Hills Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit at (847) 247-4889.