By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
There weren’t a hundred yellow ribbons decorating local oak trees, and no community band struck up patriotic tunes as he arrived. But the welcome-home surprise an Atmore soldier received last week likely went beyond what he expected.
When Alabama Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jacob Maholovich arrived in Atmore on May 9, he was greeted by a welcome-home message on the marquee of the Strand Theatre. City police stopped traffic on side streets as the car in which he rode proceeded down the city’s Main Street.
A few individuals and families, including an on-duty Escambia County Sheriff’s Office deputy, clapped and waved U.S. flags of varied sizes as Maholovich rode by. Several veterans of other wars stood on the roadside at attention or snapped and held salutes of respect for the returning soldier.
Atmore Fire Department units were stationed along the route into town, and both Fire Chief Ron Peebles and Police Chief Chuck Brooks were among those on hand to welcome the military veteran home.
At the Maholovich home on Forest Avenue, members of the city council and police department were on hand to greet the soldiers, as Mayor Jim Staff presented them with keys to the city.
The sergeant and his wife were reportedly spending some quiet time together this week, and neither could be reached for comment on the impact the community’s involvement had on them.
Local resident Tom Tschida took it upon himself to put the celebratory scenario together after Whitney Maholovich asked him if he could put a simple “welcome home” message to her husband on the theater’s marquee.
Tschida, who hurriedly arranged for the participation of veterans and city public safety personnel, said the low-key homecoming celebration went well.
“I think it was wonderful,” he said. “Whitney just asked if I could put it on the marquee, but you know how I am. Still, we didn’t want of ton of attention, didn’t want it to become a circus. We wanted the veterans to be there, and we had several [from VFW Post 7016 and American Legion Post 90], so that was great.”
SSGT Maholovich, the son of Vanessa Carden of Atmore and the late Glenn Maholovich, is a 20-year National Guard veteran. He had been on active-duty status since February 2017 and had served since July 2017 in Kuwait with the 135th Sustained Command (Expeditionary) unit, which stages out of Homewood, Ala. He also served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004-05.
Fellow 135th soldier Michael Ray Bailey of neighboring Bay Minette, who is a fulltime National Guardsman, accompanied Maholovich on his journey back to the states from the global hot spot. Their unit, which provides logistical support for forces within an area of operation, is one of only two such National Guard detachments (the other is the 184th, part of the Mississippi National Guard) in the country.
Tschida said any veteran returning from overseas deployment, especially those involved in the War on Terrorism, is worthy of such a gesture.
“We wanted him to come home and be with his family, but know that the people of Atmore appreciate the sacrifice that soldiers and their families have made for us,” he said. “We as a community should stand up and give all our soldiers the respect and appreciation that is deserved.”
News photo by Ditto Gorme