Northbrook provides hero’s welcome home

Northbrook provides hero’s welcome for returning soldier

BY PAT KROCHMAL | pkrochmal@pioneerlocal.com June 23, 2013 11:30PM

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Major Christopher Hillman, left, receives a special welcome home from Northbrook police officer Chip Hulne, upon his arrival at his home in Northbrook Friday evening 6-21-13. | Kevin Tanaka for~Sun-Times Media.
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Updated: June 28, 2013 1:17PM

NORTHBROOK — Amid blaring sirens, honking horns and flashing squad car lights, Major Christopher Hillman returned Friday from Afghanistan to his Northbrook home.

Warriors’ Watch members and Northbrook police provided the hero’s escort, which was only magnified by neighbors who greeted him with American flags, yellow-ribboned trees and applause.

“This is outstanding! I couldn’t ask for more. After being away for a year from my family, friends and community, you want to know people remember what you’ve been doing. It’s been a tough year,” Hillman said.

“And it’s awesome to have a wife who can arrange all this with less than a day’s notice.”

Kristine, Christopher’s wife, had only hours to pull it off, but she totally surprised her husband from the time he stepped off the plane at O’Hare International Airport to the time he was chauffeured to their home on the 1900 block of Milton Avenue.

When Christopher arrived, he was saluted by members of the Chicago Fire Department. Then, in typical VIP fashion, he was whisked past the airport’s endless lines instead of waiting in them, Kristine said.

And when Kristine and their children – Jake, 8; Ryan, 6; Amy, 5; and Colin, 2 1/2 – drove Christopher to Northbrook, Kristine said she had to stop for diapers and pulled their SUV into the a shopping center parking lot at Phingsten and Willow Roads.

There Christopher found several members of the Warriors’ Watch Riders and Northbrook police waiting to accompany him on the last leg of his journey.

Christopher warmly embraced each of the Warriors, and they hugged him back, not one having to say a word.

The Warriors may not have met Christopher before, but they knew everything they had to know to be there.

Christopher was born in Chicago and grew up in the

Rogers Park neighborhood. After attending Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles, he graduated from Loyola University in 1995, then enlisted.

He served as a non-commissioned officer until 1999 when he went to officer candidate school. He served briefly in Iraq in 2003, then left the Army to begin a career.

Four year ago, while working for Grainger, he joined the Reserves. And on June 7 of last year, he was sent to Afghanistan, where he earned the Bronze Star – the fifth highest combat decoration – awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Mark Grothe of Rolling Meadows, a founding member of the Road Warriors, said he was part of Hillman’s welcoming committee because it was important for the American people to recognize and honor the military after they’ve fought to maintain the country’s freedom.

U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Steve Michaels of Hoffman Estates, another Road Warrior, noted that a proper welcome is what every returning military man deserves.

“These guys need to know they are appreciated. That’s why we are here,” said Dennis Pignatari, who lives in Gurnee.

Steve Mosias, president of EMS ROADDOCS of Illinois, noted that it’s just the right thing to do. Nancy Wells of Lake Villa, a retired member of the army, said she didn’t want a member of the military coming home again to be disrespected.

“Never again will an American warrior be scorned or ignored,” said Matt Wodzinski of Lake Bluff. “It’s Americans helping Americans. For some of us who haven’t served, it’s our way of giving back.”

They were all pleased when the entourage pulled up in front of the Hillman home, which was decorated with a large, welcoming banner.

Neighbors came from everywhere recording Christopher’s arrival on their cell phones.

Kristine, a seventh and eighth grade math and science teacher at East Prairie Elementary School in Skokie, especially thanked her parents, Bernadette and Carl Carlson of Northbrook, and everyone else who helped her while Christopher was gone.

“Thank you, Northbrook!” she called out as the crowd began leaving quietly. “I’m looking forward to a whole month just being with my family.”