For some of those back for Christmas, there will be continued service ahead and future deployments. Even with the long and unpopular war in Iraq now over, troop buildups are continuing in Afghanistan, with draw downs not expected there for another two years.
Operation Welcome Home, as the local celebrations are called, has been under way since the first soldiers started coming home last week. Wednesday night, the group welcomed home Lance Cpt. Tyler Heathorn when he returned from Afghanistan to his parents' home in Danville. He graduated from Del Amigo High School in June 2009 and left for Marine Corps boot camp 10 months later. After mine sweeping and bomb demolition training, he was deployed to Afghanistan last May 5.
Celebrations have been held for Army Sgt. Jeremie Wickman, who's home in Martinez after serving in Iraq in 2003 and most recently in Afghanistan. Last Saturday, a crowd turned out at Veterans Memorial Building in Brentwood to welcome home Army Pfc. Sullivan Martin of Oakley, who is back for a short break from service in Afghanistan.
On Monday, there was another homecoming party for Staff Sgt. Roger Estrada at the National Guard Armory in Walnut Creek. Estrada, 31, joined the Marines after graduating from Galileo High School in San Francisco and has had three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. He took time off from the military to work for the Contra Costa Sheriff's department and later the Pittsburg Police Department, joining the Army National Guard and being deployed again.
At 6 p.m. tonight, Operation Welcome Home will salute Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Arbour of Concord for his service in Iraq. A 2007 Clayton Valley High School graduate, he patrolled the Iraq-Syrian border for seven months. He returns with special commendations for Water Survival training and service in the War on Terror, Iraqi campaign, National Defense and the Global War on Terrorism.
Next Wednesday, the Pleasanton Military Families Support Group and Operation Welcome Home will join in a homecoming celebration for Army 1st Lt. Thomas Murphy, who's also back from Afghanistan. Thomas graduated from Foothill High School in 2004, then went on to earn his bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering in 2008 at UC Berkeley, where he also earned his officer's bars through the school's R.O.T.C. program. Joining the California National Guard, he was deployed to Afghanistan where he served as commanding officer for the 649th Engineer Company.
His mother Jenny Murphy manages the Merry Maids' Pleasanton office in the Raley's/Oak Hill shopping center and is inviting all of us to the welcome home party at the family home at 498 Los Rios Court. Lt. Murphy is due to arrive shortly after 6:15 p.m. These reunions are, as you'd expect, tearful and joyous. By turning out to thank Lt. Murphy, we'll also be showing our appreciation for the more than 200 men and women from Pleasanton who have served in Iraq, and now a growing number who are being sent to Afghanistan. Their names continue to show on the banners posted on Main Street in their honor.