Welcoming at home those brave soldiers who have been serving abroad in defense of the liberties of our nation is an honored and long awaited event. Walt Disney World Resort cast members maintained this tradition by welcoming a hero to a cast member of Disney’s Yacht Club Resort who recently returned home after a six-month deployment in the Middle East.
Gil Mercado, a 22-year-old culinary specialist at the yacht club, recently completed a second service tour in Afghanistan with U.S. Army reserves. On his first week back in the United States, Gil visited the resort to enjoy the magic of Disney that he missed while serving away from home. Walt Disney World executives and his co-stars, including members of the veteran Disney group HEALTH, welcomed him in to officially welcome him home.
“Our cast family was so happy to welcome Gil to Walt Disney World,” said Kim Marinaccio, general manager of Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts. “I grew up in a military house, so being able to welcome this brave soldier and member of the Disney cast home and thank him for his service was special to me. In fact, it was the highlight of my 31-year career at Disney. ”
During his deployment, Gil shared that he never lost sight of being a member of the Disney cast and tried to share magic when he could with those in his army unit and those who interacted in the remote terrain.
“As a cast member, we know our goal is to create happiness and try to do magic anywhere,” Gil said. “Before unfolding, I packed a roll of Mickey stickers in the bag, which I was able to share with local children while our unit was traveling. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces was priceless.
The young soldier, who is about to try his sergeant’s stripes, also reported that the food he missed most while deployed was a steak. So Kim and HEALTH welcomed him with a welcome breakfast at their home restaurant: Ale and Compass. And when the chefs knew who they were serving, they completed their breakfast with the biggest butcher steak in their kitchen.
Gil happily ate every bite.
The proud soldier is still on active duty while on Disney military leave. He is looking forward to returning to his role at Walt Disney World after the turn of the year and said he was grateful for his few hours back and liked it.
“I’m proud to be here serving in the military uniform and I appreciate Disney’s support while I’m off duty in my country,” Gil said. “It’s funny what you miss the most when you live in difficult conditions of deployment. I really missed walking barefoot through the grass, feeling the rain, and strolling through the Disney parks. Glad to be able to do all three this week! ”
We salute Gil and all the military personnel who continue to serve in our nation’s armed forces around the world.