Good Luck, Jake: Ferndale Army Recruit Gathers with Friends and Family to Say Goodbye
Lots of folks marched into the Elks Lodge for a "Hangin' with the Heroes" going-away party.
When Jake Rossman was a little boy, he was totally taken with all things Army.
“Camouflage gear, toy soldiers, G.I. Joes,” you name it, said his mom, Debbie Rossman, who’s lived in Ferndale since 1985. Rossman knew from the time Jake was a toddler that he would someday, somehow, do something with the Army.
“One day, I had my three kids in the back seat, and we were driving past Selfridge Air Base (in Harrison Township) to go visit their grandma. All of the sudden, Jake, who was about 2 at the time, started screaming and kicking as he looked out the car window,” Rossman recalled. “I pulled over, thinking there was a problem. I thought he was crying, but he was laughing and yelling, 'Armies! Armies!' ”
As Rossman drove away, she thought to herself, "Wow, this boy really has a passion for the Army, even at this young age."
Fast forward 16 years
On Feb. 12, Rossman and her husband, Matt, both 47, joined dozens of friends and family members in a “Hangin' with the Heroes” surprise going-away party for Jake at the Elks Lodge of Ferndale. The 18-year-old recruit would be leaving Monday morning at the crack of dawn to begin life as a soldier in the U.S. Army Infantry, at Fort Benning in Georgia.
“I feel like he’s called to do this, like it’s in him,” Debbie Rossman said among the crowd of friends who gathered to shake Jake’s hand and give him a congratulatory and good-luck hug.
The family and "Hangin' with the Heroes" organizers planned the surprise to begin around 5:45 p.m., as Jake and his sisters pulled up to the Elks Club.
“My sisters and I were coming from C.J. Barrymore’s, and I thought I was going to drop in at my sister’s work party at the Elks," said the glowing 18-year-old Jake just minutes after everyone surprised him at the door. "She asked me to come in because she said someone there wanted to talk to me.”
Someone wanted to talk to him, all right … a whole army of school pals and family members.
Colorful balloons floated, children jumped up and down, teens flocked around a huge cake that featured Jake’s photo when he was 7 years old (dressed in camouflage, of course), Grandma and Grandpa beamed and special aunts, neighbors and more stood in line to hug the honoree.
The first hugs of the evening went to Mom and Dad. Each hugged their son in the doorway (tears were trickling) as he entered the party, and then the three savored a group hug before Jake’s two sisters joined in.
“Jake is one of the most selfless kids I know,” said Jake’s father. “He’s a very giving boy and will do anything for anyone. Now he wants to serve, to give to his country.”
Jake 'Norris' is a stand-up guy
“He’s a stand-up guy,” said Maurice Adams of Detroit, who worked with Jake at Kroger in Troy. “He’ll learn a lot, and he’ll come back buff,” he added with a laugh.
Another friend, Christian Ciambelli, shared that his friends like to refer to him as “Jake Norris,” a reference to tough-guy celebrity Chuck Norris.
Dino Valdez of Oak Park, who knew Jake through high school (they attended Ferndale High School) said Jake’s the perfect candidate for being in the Army. “He’s a stand-up guy and is always out for his friends ... anything he can do for his friends, he does.”
Enjoying slices of cake, homemade brownies, submarine sandwiches and bowls of munchies, the attendees celebrated Jake amid tiny toy soldiers, flags and banners.
Hangin' with the heroes
Ron Gilmour, a veteran and former leader of the lodge, started the “Hangin' with the Heroes” program two years ago when he and others wanted to show their appreciation and profound thanks to the men and women who serve America and to the many who were being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Hangin’ wth the Heroes” quickly became the theme for these types of events.
Like any good soldier, Jake was already pretty much prepared for departure. “I’m packed,” he said, adding that he’d likely shave his head once he arrives on base. “We don’t have to bring much, just the necessities.”
He then recalled days in the backyard of his Ferndale home, playing army with his cousin. “I’ve always wanted to do this,” Jake said. And that’s exactly why his parents are so happy for him.
“We’re ecstatic for him,” Debbie Rossman said, “because it’s exactly what he’s always wanted to do.”