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MailTribune.com
  • Friends, family provide secret service for Guardsman from Central Point

    Friends and family surprise Central Point soldier with refurbished truck
  • Two-dozen years in the military and a tour apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't made Sgt. 1st Class Mike Walker a big fan of surprises, but that's just what he got on Friday.
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  • Two-dozen years in the military and a tour apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't made Sgt. 1st Class Mike Walker a big fan of surprises, but that's just what he got on Friday.
    Walking into Bob Thomas Automotive with his wife Christa, Walker was expecting to drive out with his old Chevrolet pickup that he dropped off months ago to get the four-wheel-drive switch fixed.
    Walker took his old Chevy back to his Central Point home — with a bumper-to-bumper, wheels-to-roof overhaul thanks to nearly 20 local businesses that donated time, labor and materials to spruce up the truck as a "thank you," for his service.
    Bob Thomas led Walker from the front office to the shop where about 50 people and the made-over 2000 Chevy were waiting for him.
    "I am a first sergeant and I am speechless. That's not supposed to happen. I get paid to yell at people," said a stunned Walker. "I am just so grateful, humbled, a little embarrassed. ... Thank you."
    The reupholstered pickup was sprayed with fresh paint, sitting high on a new lift kit and shiny new wheels and tires, sporting a new custom-made front bumper and winch and ready to roll with an engine tune up. Oh, the four-wheel drive switch was fixed too.
    The back window displays a design to memorialize Capt. Bruno Giancarlo de Solenni, a Southern Oregon University student who, along with Walker, served with the Oregon Army National Guard in Afghanistan's Helmand Province in 2008.
    De Solenni, a Crescent City native, was killed Sept. 20, 2008 by a roadside bomb. The 32-year-old and Walker were working on an anti-drug task force near Kandahar when he died.
    There are a lot of service men and women who deserve a favor like this one, Walker said.
    Walker, who is deploying for his third tour overseas to Afghanistan in June, said he's looking forward to driving the truck.
    "My son used to make fun of me, calling it a 'grandpa truck,'" Walker said, laughing. "Not anymore."
    The surprise was organized by Walker's lifelong friend Steve Banry of Central Point. The pair wrestled together at Crater High School.
    In addition to Bob Thomas Automotive, Burns Auto Upholstery, Dave's Autobody, Quality Tire, Ed's Tire Factory, Line-x of Southern Oregon, Advanced Truck Body & Equipment, Big John's Fabrication, Jacked Up Priorities Offroad, Monster X Tour, Clyde Moore Co., American Industrial Door, Oregon Light Truck & RV, Inc., JT Electric, WestPac Medford, Hands On Detail, 4 Seasons Marine and the Danny George Family all worked to complete the truck.
    "It has been kind of hard to hide it from him. His wife has really helped out to play it off," Banry said. "Everybody has stepped forward in such a huge way and they did an amazing job. ... It went off perfect."
    Thomas said he didn't hesitate when Banry approached him to donate whatever it was going to take toward the truck.
    Thomas and Burns Auto Upholstery owner Dough Burns, both lent a hand on a similar project organized by Banry in 2010 for Oregon Army National Guard Spec. Chris Robertson, of Central Point.
    "I would do it again tomorrow if there was another one," said Thomas. " They give so much and they don't ask for any recognition. For me, it's about just trying to give something back."
    Walker's high school friend and Dave's Autobody owner Dave Lach repainted the truck with the help of Walker's son.
    "He donated his life and time for our freedom, I think it's the least I could do," Lach said. "I was happy to do something for him. He deserves it."
    Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.
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