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Welcome home our heroes

Chicago’s parade for veterans will be Dec. 15 noColumbus Drive.  |  Sun-times library

Chicago’s parade for veterans will be Dec. 15 at noon on Columbus Drive. | Sun-times library

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Updated: January 8, 2013 6:23AM

The first time I ever considered joining the military was on 9/11. I was only 15.

I knew then that I could — and needed to — do something for my country. So I joined the Marines right after high school, looking for a challenge, wanting to become a man. Still a teen, I was deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. I eventually made a second deployment to Iraq before I completed duty and returned to Chicago. The recruiter made clear to me that this would be the most difficult experience of my life. He was right! But the hardest thing since the military was readjusting to civilian life.

I felt comfortable when I returned to Chicago. I had all of this experience at such a young age. I knew my skills would be helpful to employers, but I struggled to find a job.

I interviewed and saw the conversation change when I mentioned the Marines. It seems to me that many employers unfairly believe that veterans are emotionally unstable, and that’s why they have difficulty making the transition back into civilian life. That’s wrong, and it’s unacceptable.

Five years in the military sharpened my leadership abilities, taught me self-reliance, made me appreciate the importance of teamwork, and fostered such qualities as honor, courage and commitment. No veteran wants a handout; we just want an opportunity to put our skills to use back here at home. I firmly believe that our returning veterans can be tremendous assets to any company or organization fortunate enough to acquire their services.

I almost cried a year ago watching the last troops leave Iraq on TV. After hearing news of different parades around the country to honor post-9/11 veterans, I searched for one in Chicago and learned that there was none. That situation changed when two civilians with no military ties secured permission from the city of Chicago to conduct a parade on Dec. 15 at noon, down Columbus Drive, from Balbo to Monroe.

It is overwhelming for me to know that there are people out there who do care.

So what did I do? I stepped forward to bring all those skills earned through my military experience — and the communications skills I’m learning in college — to volunteer to help get the word out about the parade.

What can you do? Turn out in record numbers to honor all of our post-9/11 veterans, encourage all those still fighting in Afghanistan and remember our heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Visit or to learn more.

And to my fellow veterans, especially those most recent vets who may feel disengaged, we need you, too. You owe it to your brothers and sisters who have lost their lives, those who are still fighting and to yourselves. You deserve this!

Come on, Chicago, let’s welcome home the heroes!

Shawn Riley is a former lance corporal, U.S. Marine Corps 2004-09, and a Columbia College Chicago student, class of 2015.

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