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A day of celebration and tribute to our veterans

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
November 15, 2019

The Rohnert Park Community Center was awash with red, white and blue on Monday, Nov. 11 in celebration of Veterans Day. Twenty-five flags, provided by Bob Safreno of the American Legion, who also coordinates the Memorial Day program, lined the driveway into the center. Veterans from all branches of the military and their families, Rohnert Park’s Public Safety Department, as well as members of the public gathered to pay tribute to our armed forces.

 A presentation of colors by the U.S. Coast Guard kicked off the ceremony and the Rohnert Park Vintage Choir and Rohnert Park Community Band gave performances. The Choir sang “Candle of Hope,” and the band played the Star-Spangled Banner as well as a montage of official songs representing each branch of the military. The montage was accompanied by a poignant slideshow representing the Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Army, and 

when each individual tune played, members in the audience who were part of that branch stood up to applause.

Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte introduced the keynote speakers for a panel discussion group, with Andy Durkee, the Rohnert Park Banner Program Coordinator, moderating. The panel consisted of Chris Helgren, Air Force Veteran, Ron Ciarasso, Navy Veteran, Petty Officer Bethany LaRosa, an active duty Coast Guard member, and Kyle Palmer, an Air Force Veteran. Together they discussed a variety of topics that included military enlistment, recruitment, women in the military, and the future of the armed forces, among others.

“My experience with the military is that they are definitely moving towards full force projection and full force multiplication,” said Palmer. “That is basically saying we want you to do twice as much with less manpower. That’s the path the military is going towards today. It’s good that we have programs like this that help support these people because more work is put onto each individual as more manpower is cut. As one person does the job of three people, more is being put onto their psyche and their mental state and it’s good that we have that support back home for them.”

On a positive note, the discussion on recruitment demonstrated that most of the people that are in the armed forces today are there by their own free will, unlike in decades past. This makes for a much better overall work environment. 

The one woman on the panel, Bethany LaRosa, spoke on the topic of women in the military.

“I can say as a woman serving I am fortunate because a lot of women paved the way for me previously,” said LaRosa. “They had separate boot camps; they weren’t even allowed to go on ships. Serving in the Coast Guard as a female, there wasn’t a job I couldn’t perform because I was a female and I really can’t say that for other services. I really do enjoy being in the Coast Guard and being treated fairly and equally.”

After the discussion Durkee introduced the nine new banners that will be on light poles around Rohnert Park, honoring our local heroes in the armed forces. Several are recent graduates from our local high schools included Emma Pardo (Navy) and Andrew Helgren (Air Force) from Technology High School, and Chad Bilsborough (Navy), Johnathan Wallis (Navy), and Jomel Mapa (Marines) from Rancho Cotate High School. The other local heroes include Ricky Medina (Marines), Andrew Guillory (Air Force), Eric Coats (Air Force) and Joes Madsen (Navy).

“Andy created the banner program,” said Belforte. “This is Andy’s way of giving back to all those folks who served Rohnert Park and the United States so well. A lot of cities are copying what Andy has done and that is the highest compliment to anyone – when someone copies what you’ve done.”

The celebration ended with a flag retirement ceremony put on by the Girl Scouts. Each member of the girl scouts took turns explaining the significance of each part of the flag and giving famous quotes from some of our founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry and John Hancock. The retired flag was then burned outside completely to ashes with the proper dignity and respect in a special ceremony.