Jose and Lisa Guerrero didn't just live through former President George W. Bush's policy decisions during his eight-year tenure as president -- their lives were dramatically altered by them.
Jose, a 26-year member of the Army National Guard, was deployed under Bush three different times -- in Germany as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, in Iraq in 2005 and in Afghanistan in 2008.
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"You miss the family, you miss the day-to-day stuff, all the birthdays," the Grayslake resident said. "But it gives you a new appreciation for life and the things we have in this country."
Lisa, who, along with her husband, saw each of their four sons -- Joey, Andy, Isaiah and Jesse -- also join the Army to follow in their father's footsteps, said there's no getting used to war, but having your loved ones away serving overseas "becomes your new normal."
The experience left both with a profound respect for the then-commander in chief, whom they'll get to meet tonight in Elgin.
"In this day and age, right or wrong, in my opinion, he stood firm for what he believed in," Jose Guerrero said.
As a tribute, Guerrero, now a director of operations at Evanston Township High School, has several newspaper photos of Bush cut out and tacked up along his basement walls, alongside his own boot-camp pictures.
Come tonight, he'll be able to add something new to his collection.
Thanks to a little ingenuity, and the generosity of a local company that wishes to remain anonymous, the Guerreros are among the select few who will get to personally meet Bush as he comes to Elgin as the keynote speaker for Judson University's inaugural World Leaders Forum.
Lisa Guerrero, a program assistant at Frederick School in Grayslake, read an article about the former president coming to town just a few days before her husband's 49th birthday.
"I thought, he'd just be blown away to get to go," she said.
But tickets ranged from $275 to $3,000 a pop -- far more than the family could afford.
So, months ago, Lisa decided to write the forum organizer to see if they might be able to find a way to allow her husband to attend.
"I felt like, if I could surprise him with this, that's the very small bit I can do to thank him."
Judson Trustee Kevin Noe said a corporate donor -- which wishes to remain anonymous -- came forward to pay $5,000 for the Guerreros to hear Bush's talk as well as attend the VIP session beforehand.
Along with the Guerreros, 550 Judson students and several dozen faculty members have been sponsored to attend the event that serves as a fundraiser for the school's new entrepreneurial studies program, Judson communications Director Mary Dulabaum said.
Noe, a 1979 graduate of the school and Colorado-based entrepreneur, said he first dreamed up the idea for the program years ago, after he was first named a trustee.
He said he envisioned a studies program that could help "enable incubation of new entrepreneurs" by partnering with business leaders.
To fund it, Noe suggested an annual world leaders forum that would not only serve as a fundraiser but put a national spotlight on the 1,200-student campus.
"I personally feel Judson has incredible value in the community. But I think Judson's visibility needs to be raised in Elgin and in the entire area. So this is one way of doing that."
Noe said the Evangelical university "has a fairly extensive conservative network, and early on in the process, we definitely dialogued with some of those folks to get their opinion and advice."
Luring Bush to campus -- through the Washington Speakers' Bureau -- took nearly eight months to secure a commitment, Noe said.
"Even working through his agency, he's pretty particular where he goes. It took lots of conversation and a lot of dialogue," Noe said.
Today's event is what Judson calls a "media blackout" -- meaning members of the media are not permitted to cover it.
Noe said that did not come at Bush's request but his own.
"I did a lot of research, know folks who have been to some of his events. We learned if the media were there, he would feel more constrained in terms of what he would say. We want him to be candid, want him to be open," Noe said.
The Washington Speakers' Bureau did not respond to the Daily Herald's request to speak with Bush about his upcoming visit.
Logistically, Elgin police will be assisting the Secret Service in various capacities for Bush's visit, police spokesman Sue Olafson said. The police plan to have control points at all entrances to the campus, but Olafson said there will be no disruption of traffic.
This is Bush's first appearance in Elgin. In 1997, his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his mother, Barbara, came to the city, as the former first couple were featured speakers for Money magazine's "Advising Elgin" project.
"Those eight years we were praying for him," Lisa Guerrero said of the younger Bush. "We're honored. ... I don't think you can say all the time you agree with what the president does. But I like to believe he did what he thought was best."