Soldier gets surprise welcome
GIBSON CITY — Seth Dickey received a hero’s welcome when he arrived in his hometown of Gibson City on Monday after a year of service in the U.S. Army, including six months in Afghanistan.
He was picked up at an airport in Bloomington by his parents — Gibson City Mayor Dan Dickey and Paula Dickey — who, like Seth, was unaware of the planned welcome prepared by Seth’s brother, Jacob, and the Gibson Area Chamber of Commerce.
When Seth, Dan and Paula Dickey arrived at a curve three miles outside of Gibson City, they were pulled over by Gibson City Police Lt. Eric Hyatt — a far cry from a hero’s welcome, the trio thought.
“I was kind of mad at first,” Dan Dickey said. “When I saw the lieutenant, I knew something was up.”
They were instructed to follow a police car and met Jacob at the Gibson City Bible Church.
The trio can be forgiven for feeling less than thrilled about being stopped by a squad car driven by Hyatt — with Jacob in the passenger’s seat — as the parade and party that followed was planned as a surprise.
“We didn’t expect this. That’s for sure,” Dan Dickey said. “We just came back from the airport. I had no idea. Neither (Seth’s mother, Paula) nor I did. Jacob did a good job.”
Prior to arriving at the Gibson City Meat & Deli for the welcome-home party, Seth and his parents were escorted by police cars and firetrucks through a parade that went up Illinois 47 and made a stop at Railside Golf Club, where they were joined by the American Legion’s honor guard. They went past Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School and headed downtown, a scene that featured multiple U.S. flags and attendees.
“It’s great seeing everybody out and a lot of support. It means a lot not only to me, but to all the veterans who have been overseas,” Seth Dickey said. “I know it would mean a lot to them to see this.”
Seth Dickey is home on leave until Saturday, when he will fly to Oklahoma to meet his girlfriend, who is stationed in Fort Sill. On April 28, he will return to his base in Fort Polk, La., where he is part of the 10th Mountain Division.
His service in the Army will last five more years.
“I’m glad to have him back home,” Dan Dickey said. “I think he might get some more time off in July.”
The 25-year-old Seth Dickey volunteered for the U.S. Army after graduating from GCMS High School in 2007 and from the Illinois State University ROTC program.
“I was excited. I saw it as not only an experience to grow up and develop on my own, but to serve,” Seth Dickey said. “That’s my job, and I volunteered for it.”
“I was worried and concerned like any parent would be, but we let him do what he wants to do. He’s been wanting to do this his whole life,” Dan Dickey added. “I like being the mayor, but it’s hard when they’re gone. Any parent will tell you it’s tough when you’ve got a son or daughter overseas.”
In Afghanistan, Seth Dickey was stationed in the Forward Operating Base Gamberi in eastern Afghanistan, helping the Afghani citizens start, as Seth Dickey said, “start to take over all the missions, giving them the assistance and advising them — teaching them how to be their own country and how to defend and protect themselves.”
“It’s really different. It’s its own place. The culture and society is just so different — it would take me a long time to explain,” Seth Dickey said. “We’re really making a lot of headway. They’re starting to become their own force. We’re making a lot of progress and doing a lot of hard work.”
Jacob Dickey said his idea of planning the surprise hero’s welcome for Seth started with a simple police escort.
“It just kind of snowballed,” Jacob Dickey said. “Before long, it turned into this big thing, and they were all on board. I’m always thinking of things to do, and I think doing things like this is just a great way of showing our troops and our veterans that we care. We had a lot of people out.”
While Seth Dickey serves in the Army and another Dickey brother, Nathan, is in the Air Force Academy, Jacob is studying to be an agriculture teacher at the University of Illinois.
“It just wasn’t for me the way things worked out. My mom and dad always say, ‘We have three great children that are growing up to be an Air Force fighter pilot, an Army general and a poor ag teacher,’” Jacob Dickey said.