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 at his fiancee’s home in Shabbona quietly. What he didn’t know was there was a welcome-home party waiting for him.
Lining both sides of the parking lot at the First 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, “Welcome back.” Along with the Waterman police and fire departments, Shores was 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 ginned. “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.
Clad in jeans and a short-sleeve blue T-shirt, Shores admitted the reception caught him 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 said with a laugh. “He can be very insistent. He knew something was up, but he didn’t know what.”
“She’s very stubborn,” Shores said.
Having him home safely, Oleson said, is her biggest Christmas present.
Robert Halvax, Warriors’ Watch road captain for the ride, said the couple were supposed to arrive in Chicago on Thursday night. But because of the winter storm, the flight to O’Hare International Airport was delayed until early Friday afternoon, which also set back the time of his welcome-home party.
Although most of the riders – 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 from Burbank to participate.
“I drove 60 miles to get here, what’s 5 more miles?” he said 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 during his current enlistment, said he plans to re-enlist at least once more, and then he’ll see about his future.