WESTMONT – Lifelong Westmont resident and U.S. Army Major Tom Bessler thought he was returning home June 3 for a quiet two weeks of rest and relaxation.
But when he arrived following a nearly year-long deployment in Afghanistan, Bessler, 46, was not only greeted by his sister, Tina Leonard, but also a swarm of friends and family members, local Warriors’ Watch Riders, and a cavalcade of Westmont police and fire vehicles.
He was then paraded from the Oakbrook Hills Hotel back to his Westmont family home, and along the way was greeted by several residents who had staked out a spot on the parade route.
“I had no clue that they had a surprise planned,” Bessler said. “ I then saw the police and fire trucks, and I was in total shock, completely overwhelmed and just so happy. It reinforces my love of this community, and it makes me proud to be from Westmont.”
Westmont Chief of Police Tom Mulhearn shared Bessler’s enthusiasm, applauding the village for throwing such a heart-warming welcome home celebration.
“It was like the Memorial Day Parade,” Westmont Police Chief Tom Mulhearn said. “The crowd, the parade, then entire celebration was phenomenal.”
Westmont resident Chris Svitak, a member of the Warriors’ Watch Riders, was a driving force behind coordinating a surprise welcome home. Svitak worked with Westmont police, fire, village staff and the local business community to coordinate the surprise at the hotel and parade escort through the community.
“The Warriors’ Watch Riders wear many different colors, but we are proud of what we do,” Svitak said. “Our job is to support our nation’s troops – current, past and present – and their families. Our members are men, women and children and what we have in common in an unwavering dedication to veterans and their families.”
Bessler grew up in Westmont, attending Holy Trinity Catholic School, Westview HIlls Middle School and HInsdale Central High School. Inspired by his father, Lee Bessler, and close friend and U.S. Army Reserve Officer Jim Hartigan, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1987, serving four years in the infantry and two years in reserves.
He was in the R.O.T.C from 1996 to 1998, then became a U.S. Army Officer. Bessler has earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in criminal law from Western Illinois University.
Bessler served in Panama from 1989-1990, the first and second Iraqi Freedom operations in 2003-2004 and 2007-2008, and has been deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, and is currently stationed there.
With a background in criminology, much of Bessler’s work involves intelligence. During missions, he was often responsible for providing awareness on the operation environment, terrain, insurgent groups, enemy groups, and the asymmetrical threats.
He plans to continue serving in the U.S. Army and is working to attain lieutenant colonel status.
But during his 14 days off, Bessler’s main priority was family, enjoying home cooked meals, reconnecting with old friends and spending a lot of quality time with his daughter, Mia.
“You are only as successful and as happy as the support and love that you get from family,” Bessler said. “My family has always been behind me in everything I wanted to do. It would have been extremely hard without their support. I have very few regrets because of all the love I get from them.”