Floral Park neighbors decorate trees for Army vet

Stephanie Sanchez-Riffle (l.) joins with neighbors and Nassau County Girl Scouts to decorate trees with yellow ribbons throughout her Floral Park neighborhood. Photo courtesy North Shore-LIJ
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Stephanie Sanchez-Riffle, of Floral Park, has not seen her husband for 10 months since he embarked on his second deployment, this time to Afghanistan.

But what makes U.S. Army Sgt. John Riffle’s return home so special this time, she said, will be more than just familiar family faces.

More than 40 neighborhood trees decorated in yellow ribbons will welcome Sgt. Riffle back to Floral Park in what his wife said should surprise and overwhelm the Queens veteran. He is due to arrive at Fort Totten Saturday.

“He has no idea about the ribbons,” said Sanchez-Riffle, a lab associate at North Shore University Hospital. “I wanted it to be a surprise for him.”

In late October, Sanchez-Riffle joined with Nassau County Girl Scout Troop No. 3028 to decorate neighborhood trees in yellow ribbons to help welcome the returning veteran home. And over the course of one weekend, she worked with both the Girl Scouts and her Floral Park neighbors to decorate more than 40 trees throughout the neighborhood to lighten the spirits of her returning veteran husband.

“What originally started as something I wanted to do for my husband morphed into something much larger, with help from the Girl Scouts,” Sanchez-Riffle said. “I think he will be thrilled to see that so many people came out to help.”

Sanchez-Riffle worked with the Rosen Family Wellness Center, based out of North Shore-LIJ Hospital, because she wanted to become more involved with military support groups. And by coming together to welcome her husband, who already completed one successful tour in Iraq, she said a deeper message was resonating throughout her neighborhood.

“People are not thinking about the fact that there are still soldiers out there fighting for our freedoms,” Sanchez-Riffle said. “My husband is in the military and these ribbons hopefully raise awareness and let people know that there is someone in their community fighting for their freedoms. They should be mindful of that fact.”

Kelly Soel, a registered nurse at the community health nurse for North Shore-LIJ Health System, has been coordinating a networking and mentoring program of older veterans and returning veterans in conjunction with the hospital’s Office of Military and Veterans’ Liaison Services and The Rosen Family Wellness Center for Law Enforcement Personnel and their families.

She helped Sanchez-Riffle coordinate her efforts to decorate her Floral Park community in welcoming her husband home.

“The yellow ribbon campaign symbolizes the health system’s commitment to veterans and establishes a connection to service personnel who have a strong sense of duty and community,” Soel said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

And though she remained in touch with her husband of two years through online video chatting and e-mail, Sanchez-Riffle said Sgt. Riffle’s return home would be even more heartwarming when he sees how open his neighbors have been in showing their military support.

“Throughout the weekend we decorated the trees, my neighbors would say, ‘God bless you,’” Sanchez-Riffle said. “They said, ‘We love America. Thank your husband for his service.’”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 3:45 am, November 2, 2012
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