Leon Worden, SCVNEWS.COM
The SCV Chamber of Commerce paid tribute Thursday to three “Returning Heroes” – one each from the U.S. Army, Air Force and Marine Corps – who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the war on terror.
Santa Clarita Valley residents Jeremy Thorpe, Christopher Carr and Willie T. Ward III were greeted with thunderous applause from the luncheon crowd at the Hyatt Valencia as local businessman Fred Arnold called them to the stage.
“We must always respect, support and express our gratitude to those American heroes who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to so bravely defend and support the ideals that make this country so great – freedom, justice, opportunity and liberty for all its people,” said Arnold, who led the committee that organized the tribute.
It was the first of what are expected to be recurring chamber events to honor local veterans.
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First to be recognized was Thorpe, an Air Force veteran attached to the 366th Fighter Wing who served an eight-month tour in Afghanistan following 9/11, earning Achievement, National Defense and Outstanding Unit medals.
Today he is a part-time air ramp supervisor for UPS at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. He lives in Santa Clarita with his wife Diana, daughter Emma and son Jack.
Carr joined the Louisiana Army National Guard in 1993 while in high school and served until 1998 when he joined the regular Army. While assigned to the 40th Transportation Company at Fort Lewis, Wash., he deployed twice to Iraq for a total of 26 months. From 2006 until his retirement in 2009 he was a decorated Army recruiter in San Luis Obispo.
Along the way he earned the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Gold Recruiter Badge, Army Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon,
Non-commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon and Army Good Conduct Medal.
In 2009 he moved to Santa Clarita where he lives with his wife Tanya and 2-year-old son Devin.
Marine Sgt. Maj Willie T. Ward III enlisted in 1986, made corporal in 1990 and was selected “NCO of the Quarter” for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade in 1991. Beginning in 1994 he served as a drill instructor, training many warriors who would serve in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As an officer in 2005 he was assigned to the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and deployed to Iraq with Delta Company. In 2008 he was promoted to sergeant major and again deployed to Iraq with the 1st Marine Logistics Group. He earned the Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon and Marine Corps Drill Instructor Ribbon.
Father to 5-year-old Tommy, Ward lives in Santa Clarita and will complete his AA degree in December.
“Your commitment and loyalty is an inspiration to us all and the reason we are free,” Chamber chairman-elect Chris Angelo said to Thorpe, Carr and Ward.
Arnold said: “Since the first shots were fired in the beginning of our land in Lexington and Concord, Mass., to the current war on terror in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world, there is no greater sacrifice than the citizen and soldier who will give his life for this great country.”
Arnold read the names of the SCV residents who made that ultimate sacrifice since 9/11, in chronological order: Army Pfc. Robert Michael Wilson, Army Pfc. Stephen E. Wyatt, Army Sgt. Dean Glenn Todd Jr., Marine Lance Cpl. Richard P. Slocum, Army Pfc. Cole W. Larsen, Army Pfc. Jose Ricardo Flores-Mejia, Army Sgt. Dennis L. Sellen Jr., Army Spc. Stephen E. Colley, Army Sgt. John Michael Conant, Army Sgt. Ian Timothy D. Gelig, Marine Pfc. Jake W. Suter and Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta.