Welcome home for Afghan war vets on tap

Two Vietnam War Veterans from Newberry want soldiers returning from Afghanistan to get the welcome home they never received.

Retired United States Army Sgt. Maj. Major Stroupe and former United States Air Force Sgt. Bob Watson of the Newberry American Legion Post 149 first proposed the idea of a homecoming celebration for soldiers returning from Afghanistan to the City of Newberry Commission during the Aug. 23 regular meeting.

“It’s a heartfelt thing that you guys are doing,” Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe told them. “It makes us proud.”

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Stroupe, who was named Major at birth to honor his grandfather’s nickname, said, “This is America’s longest war and we want to make sure our veterans who served in this over 20-year war feel welcomed and we have a place right here in Newberry.”

And Watson added, “When I came home from Vietnam, I got anything but a welcome. Let’s make them feel welcome, give them the resources they need and have a good time.”

For a month the plans for the events have been in the works and on Saturday at 10 a.m., a parade will run right through downtown Newberry and afterwards, a celebration will happen at Clark Plantation in Newberry.

The parade Grand Marshall is Mayor Marlowe who will be joined by the 75th Annual Newberry Watermelon Festival Teen Queen Olivia Thomas.

The Milton Lewis Young Marines and Color Guard of Gainesville will lead the lineup from the produce stand to the west side of downtown.

According to a press release about the event, “American Legion Riders, Rolling Thunder Florida, Chapter 3, Buchholz High School JR AFROTC, military and first responder vehicles from the National Guard and the City of Newberry. The Gainesville Street Rods will also have vehicles at the parade and on display.”

The gates to Clark Plantation, 3700 SW 202nd St., will open at 11 a.m. where there will be an opening ceremony and celebration hosted by master of ceremonies WCJB-TV20 Anchor David Snyder.

According to Watson, there will be information booths to help veterans out such as medical, housing, and counseling resources. Information and resources will be available from organizations: The American Legion, ForVets, Inc.’s Camp Valor, Concerned Veterans for America, Elder Care Florida, Humane Society of North Central Florida, LifeSouth Community Blood Mobile, WellCare Florida, UF’s Collegiate Veterans Society and Collegiate Veterans Success Center.

Be ready to bid on items in a silent auction and a raffle that will raise funds for military veterans.

Other activities include a Kids Zone with Eve’s Face Painting, Any Time LLC, Bounce House and Humane Society Balloon Critters.

Food truck vendors will also be serving up local favorite cuisine from Arepas Milko, Cilantro Tacos, El Punto, Fun Time, Heavy B’s Barbeque, Nacho Sweets, Piccolina’s Cakery, Buchholz JR ROTC and American Legion Post 149, according to Watson.

Ellen Bukstel - Afghanistan vet event artist

The pomp and circumstance for the event includes local bands and musicians: Branford Highway, Ellen Buckstel, Jamie Davis, Cliff Dorsey, In the Moment, Little Bit More, Moon Dog, Paco Paco and Quartermoon.

According to the press release, all sound production and musical talent are all being donated for the event.

Watson told the Newberry Commission that every business he approached for support of the event was eager to chip in and that list includes: “Clark Plantation Event Venue, LLC, Concerned Veterans for America, Alachua County, City of Newberry, AAA Porta Serve, Wastepro, Glanzer Realty, Kai New Graphic Design, Sanne Saare “The Rock Lady,” Any Time LLC, Bounce House, Bare Essentials Spa and Massage, Soap Petals and More and Ag Pro Companies to date.”

For more information on the event, visit the Welcome Home Afghanistan Veterans Facebook page.

To contribute or volunteer, contact event coordinators Bob Watson at 352-262-5068 or Lynn Reeves at: 386-365-2137.

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