By Joe Trost

Eleven years ago, Sal Carbajal enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps a mere two weeks after graduating from Woodstock High School.

A short two years later at the young age of 20, SSgt. Carbajal was serving the first of his three tours in Afghanistan. A framed U.S. flag hangs in the school library honoring his heroic service while in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, he returned to his former high school stomping grounds on another mission – to help surprise his 7-year-old daughter, Arianna, in partnership with the Woodstock girls soccer team. Each of the players donated $1 apiece to buy a new bike, which they built together for her.

Just after 12 p.m. in the school gym, Arianna became the latest little boy and girl from the Chicago and Northern Illinois region to be surprised with new summer wheels when her dad came riding around the corner on a new 20-inch Huffy pink bicycle.

The soon-to-be second grader smiled and hopped on the bike, giving it a quick spin as members of the girls soccer team and girls basketball team watched.

This special moment was a part of a larger effort to honor military families by the Making A Difference On AND Off The Field campaign presented by Buddy’s HELPERS and the PepsiCo Showdown – which is the largest high school sports series in the U.S. The campaign uses the power of sports to engage and educate student athletes about the importance of enhancing the lives of others.

In honor of Month of the Military Child, nearly 3,000 student athletes from the city and suburbs donated $1 apiece to purchase 100 children’s bikes in April and built them to surprise military children. More than 100 K-3rd grade students at random elementary schools throughout Chicago and Northern Illinois are being surprised with new bikes.

A bike symbolizes “freedom” for a child. The surprise presentations started in May, which was Military Appreciation Month and also National Bike Month.

But as was shown once again on Thursday, you don’t need a special day or month to honor and recognize those who sacrifice or sacrificed to help enhance the lives of others.

Contact Joe Trost at

Bio on reporter: Joe Trost was an award-winning writer at Star Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year and founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.