Roughly 50 people gathered at the Community Center Friday to celebrate the launch of a pilot program aimed at honoring soldiers with ties to Rohnert Park. Military banners were unveiled before an audience of family, friends and local elected officials.
When the rain lets up, the Department of Public Works will install the banners on light poles near the library and Department of Public Safety.
Rohnert Park resident Andy Durkee championed the program following a trip to visit his son in the Southern California town of Rancho Cucamonga. A similar armed forces banner program there left him inspired, he said, and now, two years later, it's become reality.
"This has been a lot of fun, and there's been a lot of community cooperation," Durkee said. "To me, this is nonpolitical, it's just a way to honor our troops."
Durkee is seeking public input into the program. Currently it's more of a trial, but he said he plans to bring it back to the Parks and Recreation Commission and the City Council to get it adopted as a citywide program.
Though it's still in its infancy, for the loved ones of local servicemembers — many of whom have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, grew up and went to school here — the effort was "incredible."
"This is pretty cool, I haven't been home in three years," said Armando Sandoval, who went to Cross and Crown in Rohnert Park, Monte Vista, Mountain Shadows and the Ranch. Sandoval serves in the Army and has been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was the only servicemember honored Friday that was able to make it in person.
Sandoval's family are the ones who got him involved.
"I'm so proud of him," said his mother Anna. So, what's it going to be like to see your face around town?
"It's going to a trip," Sandoval quipped.
Steve Gossage, who works as an electrician for the city, said he felt moved after the ceremony. His son, Daniel Gossage, who is stationed in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, works as a rescue swimmer in the military. He graduated from Rancho Cotate High School, and was active in local sports.
"These guys sacrifice so much, it's the least we can do to say thanks," Gossage said.
Officially, the program is dubbed the "Armed Forces Banner Program." The banners, which cost roughly $130 a piece, are funded completely by local donors and volunteers. The idea is to install on busy throughfares, in public parks or in City Center Plaza, commemorative banners honoring soldiers who are either from Rohnert Park, or who have relatives who reside or work in town.
Public Works is donating staff time to install the banners and for upkeep. Each display would read: Rohnert Park honors, then the name of soldier and the branch of service.
"The Rohnert Park Armed Forces Banner Program was created for the community to honor and recognize individuals on active duty in the military," Durkee said.
Donors for the first 10 banners are: J.T. Henley, of Henley and Mann Dental Offices, Chris and Heidi Helgren, Jeanette Hinton, Joy and Ed Gee, Greg Beedon, Larry Shearhart, the city of Rohnert Park and the Rohnert Park Chamber of Commerce.
If you'd like to donate or for additional information contact Andy Durkee through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 707-584-5109.