Pictured: Family members ready the case holding the U.S. flag raised in Juan Luis Alonzo's honor at the CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital - Alice Walk of Honor during a ceremony to recognized the Navy Petty Officer 1st Class' return home. Photo by MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

Navy Petty Officer returned last week

Mauricio Julian Cuellar, Alice Echo-News Journal

For Naval Petty Officer 1st Class Juan Luis Alonzo, the last week has been a whirlwind experience. After leaving for his second tour of duty to San Diego, Calif., in May 2006, and spending nine months serving in Kuwait, Alonzo finally made his way home last week to Alice, where he was honored Friday afternoon at CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice during a Walk of Honor ceremony.

"It feels great to be home. I've been away for a long time," Alonzo said. His unit served at Kuwait Naval Base.

The sense of being home is still new to Alonzo.

"I'm still trying to catch up. It's not like overnight; it's going to take awhile to get used to it. After the last tour I jumped into work. I'm just trying to take it easy for now," Alonzo said.

The Walk of Honor program recognizes the men and women of the surrounding area presently on active duty with the Armed Forces. A flag is hung at the Walk of Honor until the serviceperson returns home. Upon the return of the serviceperson, the flag is removed and gifted to them.

During his service in Kuwait, Alonzo was part of a four-man team, on a 34-foot security boat. He and the others serving with him concentrated on security, engineering and working with the weapons aboard ship.

"They wanted us to know every position, so that if a man went down, you could jump over and take care of that position. Most of the time I was the engineer on there, if something broke down on the boat, I fixed it," Alonzo said.

Mark Casanova, the Interim Chief Operating Officer for CHRISTUS Spohn Hospital Alice, awarded Alonzo a certificate at Friday's ceremony.

"This is in appreciation of your bravery and unselfish service to our country," Casanova said.

Alonzo's flag was then removed from the Walk of Honor and ceremoniously folded by his children, Patricia and JJ. He was then given his flag in a wood display case.

"These flags, as we drive by them every day, serve as a constant reminder to us that we enjoy many of our country's privileges and freedoms because of these men and women, like Petty Officer Juan Luis Alonzo," said Chief Nursing Officer Margot Rios, RN.

State Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles was on hand to honor Alonzo with a certificate from the Texas House of Representatives, as well as present him with a flag that flew over the Texas Capitol. Grace Saenz-Lopez, mayor of Alice, presented Alonzo with a key to the City of Alice. The United Veteran's Burial Association then held a march of the services and performed a 21-gun salute in honor of Alonzo's service to his country.

In November, Alonzo will have 24 years of service to his country, six years of active duty for the U.S. Navy, and 18 years in the Naval Reserve. Alonzo was originally set to retire in August, but extended his time for a few months, in order to retire with several other members of his unit in December.

Alonzo said he felt pride in the work that has been accomplished in Iraq and in helping to bring democracy to the country.

"Well it feels great to just be part of helping all those people, and doing our job. It's what we get paid for. It just feels great to help them out," Alonzo said.