SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A group gathered to dance and wave signs, hoping to get President Biden’s attention and remind him to “Bring Ridge Home” during his visit to Salt Lake City on Thursday morning.
Ridge Alkonis is a Navy Lieutenant with family ties to Utah who is currently one year into a three-year prison sentence in Japan. Alkonis was sentenced after he was involved in a deadly car crash that resulted in the deaths of two Japanese citizens while serving in Japan.
A Japanese judge determined Alkonis had been sleeping behind the wheel during the crash but U.S. Navy investigators determined he had suffered from acute mountain sickness and loss of consciousness.
The group, Bring Ridge Home, made sure to remind Biden of his promise to Ridge’s wife, Brittney, to bring her husband home.
Tia Stokes, Ridge’s cousin who was part of the group attempting to get Biden’s attention, said they had been waiting and dancing for over an hour.
“We’re out here to bring Ridge home,” said Stokes. “We love him, we want him home with his family. We need him to come home to his family and we want President Biden’s attention.”
Stokes told ABC4 they were successful. Through their blue and white colored signs, energetic dance moves, Stokes said Biden noticed and gave them a wave as his motorcade drove by.
“It was a miracle that we got to see him,” said Stokes. “He drove through here with all of his amazing staff. We were able to dance and smile and hopefully he got the message that we want to bring Ridge home.”
The demonstration comes while Biden was in Utah to give a speech on the successes of the PACT Act, a veteran support bill for those affected by dangerous toxins while on active duty.
During his speech, Biden said there is one “truly sacred” obligation to America which is to equip military servicemembers that are sent into harm’s way and to care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.
According to the Associated Press, Biden had spoken with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida about Alkonis during a meeting in January. The details of the discussion have not been disclosed.
In December 2022, Utah Senator Mike Lee submitted amendments to the 2023 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which extended support for the Alkonis family. Prior to the the amendment, pay and benefits to Lt. Alkonis was scheduled to stop on Dec. 28. The amendment continues pay and benefits for the Alkonis family until the Secretary of the Navy “makes a determination with the respect to the seperation” of Alkonis from the military.
Lee took to social media a few months later, telling Prime Minister Kishida Lt. Alkonis needed to be back on U.S. soil “no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on Feb. 28, 2023.”
After the initial tweet demanding Alkonis’ release, Lee threatened Kishida with the renegotiation of a long-standing military agreement. His tweets eventually got his personal twitter account temporarily suspended, though it was reactivated later the same day.