SRJC Students Throw Party For Veterans

Veterans+Troy+Tsuji+and+Richard+McKee+walk+through+a+crowd+of+flags+and+friends+at%0Aa+locally+planned+party.+They+are+two+of+nine+soldiers+returning+home+from+war.

Veterans Troy Tsuji and Richard McKee walk through a crowd of flags and friends at a locally planned party. They are two of nine soldiers returning home from war.

William Rohrs, News Editor

Nine veterans coming home Jan. 20 from their tour in Afghanistan received a special welcome back when two Santa Rosa Junior College students took the initiative and threw a party when the Army couldn’t.

On Jan. 18, veteran Kenneth Bishop heard members of his old unit were arriving at the Charles M. Shultz Sonoma County Airport without the traditional Army welcome. He contacted SRJC student Emily Seder with a proposition to make sure the soldiers coming home knew they were missed.

“Typically, the Army tends to throw big welcome home parties to their veterans, but there were only nine soldiers coming in. It was too small a number,” Seder said.

“When units come home, they tend to get shipped to a big city like San Francisco about 500 strong, and the Army throws them a huge party,” Bishop said. “The 132nd was a different deal because they were sent to their home of record instead,” Bishop said.

The 132nd served in Afghanistan with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Military Wing. Bishop served in the unit and became an SRJC student after he was discharged.

Bishop and Seder immediately started organizing a location and a crowd to receive the soldiers. “We started by gathering people and making posters. From there, the idea turned into questions like ‘how bout getting a limo?’ and ‘let’s get some gift baskets’,” Seder said.

In 48 hours, Bishop and Seder threw together a crowd and reception, complete with gifts from Sonoma Sterling Limousine Company, Andy’s Produce Market, Echelon Cycle, Soco Hospitality Group, Matt and Jeff’s Carwash and Detail, Mombo’s Pizza, Lulu and Hill Espresso Bar and Dog House, Tanya Laugheed hair stylist at Endless Summer, ASMDSS.com (Awesome Things My Drill Sergeant Said), Sweet Tea and Patriot Guard Riders.

The Sky Lounge at the Sonoma County Airport stayed open beyond operating hours to accommodate the guests. “We talked to security on Sunday. They were really friendly and nice to us. They even left the bar open,” Seder said.

Six veterans were scheduled to arrive at 5:30 p.m. while the other three would come at 9 p.m. “We were wondering how we could keep all these people entertained for three hours,” Seder said. “Then we called Chris.”

When Chris Newton received the call, he gathered his band and played for the veterans until the second group came home.

Seder and Bishop don’t plan to make this welcoming a singular event. “To make this a permanent thing was kind of an afterthought,” Bishop said. “The owners of Sky Lounge even asked when we were going to throw the next one.”

Veterans Richard McKee and Miguel Correa plan to enroll at SRJC for the Fall 2013. “When you’re actively serving, it’s tough to get school work in. One day you can be in one place, the next you can get called to service,” Bishop said.

On the Facebook Page “Sonoma County Welcomes Home our Troops!” McKee wrote, “Thank you so much! The love I felt was unmatched and absolutely amazing! I really haven’t got the words. Thank you to everyone involved. You guys and gals are amazing.”

Correa also posted, writing, “Thank you to everyone who showed up! I was speechless.”

Bishop created the “Organization for Welcoming Local Soldiers (OWLS) of Sonoma County” Facebook page to help coordinate troop return schedules with local business owners so everyone can participate in a welcome home celebration for returning veterans.

“A transportation company from Fresno is coming home soon, but I don’t personally know anyone in the roster,” Bishop said.

Visit OWLS of Sonoma County on Facebook to stay updated on return dates for small groups of veterans heading home.