BRAIDWOOD – Dozens came out to Top Fuel Saloon in Braidwood on Saturday to welcome home a soldier after she graduated from basic training.
The party at the bar was preceded by what was basically a small parade through Braidwood with a large escort of emergency vehicles and some 30 or so motorcycles. They were greeted when they got to Top Fuel with a line of people holding up American flags.
Cheyenne Caulfield, 17, had just returned from 10 weeks of U.S. Army basic training. Her family collaborated with Project Patriotism, a local veterans network of organizations, and the owner of Top Fuel Saloon to organize the party. Caulfield said the turnout and amount of support and appreciation was unexpected.
“I didn’t think it was going to be like this,” Caulfield said. “This was a surprise.”
She said for as long as she can remember, she’s always been fascinated with the military. It’s been a lifelong dream to enlist. Caulfield officially joined in July and she graduated from basic training in November.
It took a lot for her and her family to go through the experience. Since Caulfield is 17, she needed her parents’ consent to join the Army. Her mother, Elizabeth, told her daughter she needed to graduate high school, which she did, a year early.
“She busted her butt,” Elizabeth said. “She handed me the diploma and I had to keep my end of the bargain and sign the papers. Believe me, [it was] the hardest thing I had to do.”
Caulfield’s mother said it was hard mostly because of the very limited amount of contact she had with her daughter. Caulfield did her boot camp at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and is now at Fort Lee in Virginia for her advanced individual training.
Elizabeth said she was grateful for the new big network of support her family has received through her daughter’s enlistment. At Caulfield’s basic training graduation, her mother said, she realized her family became a lot bigger because they now had connections with other military families.
That support network also helped with welcoming Caulfield home. While the family is from Morris, veterans and supporters from all over the area came to greet Caulfield. Several stopped her to take photos and thank her for her service.
Caulfield’s mother described the day as “overwhelming” and said even she did not expect it to be as big as it was. The family said they were very grateful and appreciative of the community for their support.
“Bringing my soldier home was definitely a highlight,” said Caulfield’s mother. “I wanted her to be able to see the people that she’s missed. I’m very humbled.”