I was excited when my editor assigned me this article a few weeks ago. Due to my involvement in the nonprofit organization, Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc., I have a very special place in my heart for all the men and women who have served this country. I say this because I have talked with many veterans because of my involvement with the organization and have a better understanding of what they have gone through, as well as what their family has gone through.
I really enjoyed talking with Councilwoman Nora Ellen about Operation Welcome Home, a program she brough to Chandler, Arizona. I was shocked and excited when she sent me this email:
Operation Welcome Home honors Chandler veterans
Published in April 19, 2014 SanTan Sun News
U.S. Army Reserves Maj. Rob Polston has left Chandler once since he moved to the area 10 years ago. It was for a 15-month activation that included six months in Afghanistan for Operation Joint Endeavor.
“It was tough to leave my wife and kids,” he says of the experience in 2012. “My son was 2 years old and my daughter was 3 months old. That was a little challenging.”
Polston is among the handful of veterans who have been honored by Operation Welcome Home, an initiative introduced by the City of Chandler last year.
When Councilwoman Nora Ellen took office in January 2013, her goal was to bring the program to Chandler. Her son, Rep. J.D. Mesnard, brought the program to her attention. She says the program is important because veterans and their families sacrifice so much for Americans’ lives and freedoms.
“I want to honor and recognize that,” Ellen says.
She says some of the soldiers do not make it back home, while others see their friends die or get injured, and face traumatic situations themselves.
“They are our heroes,” Ellen says.
The program has a special place in Ellen’s heart. There is a long line of veterans in her family, including her father, who served in World War II. Five nieces and nephews as well as a brother-in-law served in the military at the same time.
The first Operation Welcome Home took place on Nov. 4, 2013, honoring four veterans, including Polston, attracting about 300 onlookers.
“It was overwhelming,” Polston says.
He heard about the program through the Chandler Veterans Memorial; he sits on its fundraising board.
“I found out through the board that Chandler was looking for veterans who have returned from overseas,” Polston says.
Nominees for Operation Welcome Home must be a Chandler resident and a veteran who served away from home during the last two or three years or are leaving soon. Four veterans are honored during each ceremony.
“We want to make it very personalized for them, so it is not a mass ceremony,” Ellen says.
The evening was special to Polston.
On Nov. 4, he arrived at a meeting place, only to be greeted by a limo waiting for all of them. The Patriot Guard Riders said a prayer before the veterans were escorted to the Chandler City Council Chambers.
Polston was overwhelmed as he stepped out of the limo in uniform, seeing hundreds of people cheering them on and waving American flags.
“It’s something you never really expect; you don’t think you really deserve,” he explains. “No veteran chooses to go to a combat zone or deploy overseas because they think they are going to get the recognition. We go to serve our country and do something that we feel like we need to do. We believe in our country. We know we are going to leave family at home. You understand that and take that into account. To be appreciated for it publicly was humbling and unexpected.”
Once the crowd greeted the veterans, the ceremony continued inside the chambers.
Polston received more than $300 in gift cards and goodies before being treated to dinner at Floridino’s Pizza and Pasta.
“It is really cool to be honored in that way,” he says. “I want to thank the City of Chandler and the council members, especially Councilwoman Nora Ellen. I look forward to honoring more veterans for serving overseas, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Ellen says the support the council receives from the community enables the governing body to provide gifts for the veterans.
“Some of them can really use the money,” she says. “They come back and some of them have a hard time finding a job.”
Polston works at Intel as the program manager in its efforts to recruit veterans. He still serves as a major in the Army reserves.
The next ceremony, which the community is invited to attend, will start outside the chambers at 6 p.m. Monday, April 21.
Nomination forms, as well as sponsorship forms, can be found at www. chandleraz.gov/patriotism.