Soldier surprised by Christmas welcome

WATERMAN – It was an early Christmas present he didn’t see coming.

Saturday afternoon, Andrew Shores thought he was going to start a 30-day leave from the Army quietly at his fiancee’s home in Shabbona. What he didn’t know was there was a welcome-home party waiting for him that had other plans.

Lining both sides of the parking lot at the State Bank at the intersection of highways 23 and 30 in Waterman, 15 people - many of them members of the Warriors Watch Riders - held up flags while shouting out, “Welcome back.” Along with the Waterman police and fire  departments, Shores was then escorted to Shabbona, where family and friends were gathered.

A 2008 graduate of Indian Creek High School and now a specialist in the U.S. Army, Shores had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan two weeks early.

“It’s good to be recognized,” Shores grinned. “I’ve gotten a lot of support since I’ve been in the military (since 2011). They had a parade for us in Colorado, but this is a little more personal.”

Shores is currently stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado, where he said it’s colder than it is here.

Clad in jeans and a short-sleeve blue t-shirt, Shores admitted the reception caught him completely by surprise.

His fiancee, Lizzy Oleson, said she contacted the local groups in early December when she learned he was coming home.

“It was hard (keeping the secret from him),” she laughed. “He can be very insistent. He knew something was up, but he didn’t know what.”

“She’s very stubborn,” Shores joked.

Having him home safely, Oleson said, is her biggest present this Christmas.

Robert Halvax, Warriors road captain for the ride, said the couple was supposed to arrive in Chicago Thursday night. Due to the winter storm, he said, the flight to O’Hare Airport was delayed until early Friday afternoon, which also set back the time of the welcome-home party.

Although most of the Warriors - who normally escort a returning veteran by motorcycle - drove trucks and vans for the escort in the 16-degree weather, there was one motorcyclist. Russ Miller said he drove all the way out from Burbank to participate.

“I drove 60 miles to get here, what’s five more miles?” he joked about going to Shabbona.

Miller said he was equipped for the weather with a heated jacket and pants.

Regardless of what anyone drove, Halvax said it didn’t matter.

“You don’t need a motorcycle to say thank you,” he said. “Just come out. We may be cold, but look what he’s gone through.”

Shores, who has two years remaining in his current enlistment, said he plans to re-enlist at least once more and then he’ll see about  his future.

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