Marine Sgt. Nicole Chickerillo gave personal meaning Saturday to the familiar tune “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” for approximately 100 family members and friends awaiting her return from military duty.
Chickerillo was surprised by a crowd of welcome-home supporters at Midway Airport followed by an escort of Warriors’ Watch Riders, family and friends and Oak Lawn police and fire department vehicles to Krauss’ Gaslite Lounge in Oak Lawn, where a flag line awaited her.
Chickerillo was presented with a certificate of appreciation, a challenge coin and mission beads by representatives of the Warriors’ Watch Riders. U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) presented Chickerillo with a U.S. flag.
“We’re very proud of her and glad she’s home safely,” Chickerillo’s parents, Jack and Lisa Chickerillo, said.
The Chickerillos said their daughter’s safety wasn’t something they wanted to have to think about, but the reality of her seven-month deployment to Afghanistan made it a concern.
“I thought about her every day, but I didn’t think about where she was,” Lisa Chickerillo said.
At 17 years old, in the spring of her senior year at Marist High School in 2008, Chickerillo enlisted in the Marines and left for boot camp at Camp Pendleton, Calif., shortly after graduation.
She was responsible for radio communications during her deployment in Afghanistan with her unit, the 1st Marines 7th Engineer Support Battalion.
In November, Chickerillo was promoted to sergeant.
She has re-enlisted for another four years and will be a combat instructor at the Marine base in North Carolina after a short rest at home with her family in Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community.
The emotional family celebration reunited Chickerillo with her 97-year-old great-grandmother, Anna Chickerillo, and her grandfather John “Chick” Chickerillo, who said he thought the turnout was “unbelievable.”
“Anybody today who joins (the military), you got to give them credit during a time of war,” John Chickerillo said. “We’re very proud of her.”
Chickerillo said she intends to “make a career” out of her military service.
“I was looking for a physical challenge, and the Marine Corps had that to offer,” Chickerillo said. “It’s the most difficult challenge of all the branches, and I got through it with the support of my family and my dedication.”
Jack Chickerillo, a captain with the Chicago Fire Department, wasn’t surprised at his daughter’s decision to challenge herself.
“She’s small, but mighty,” he said.
Small, but mighty indeed. Welcome home Sgt. Chickerillo. Hoping you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.