Soldier who spent most of 5 years in Iraq returns

March 18, 2008 9:01:35 PM PDT
Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. led invasion in Iraq. One area soldier has been there for most of it.

Staff Sargeant Richard Stanek has completed three tours of duty. He received a patriotic homecoming Tuesday.

Sgt. Stanek drove home from Fort Bragg and arrived at his Woodstock home Tuesday morning. So he was planning a nice relaxing evening with his family. He thought they were going to celebrate his father's birthday. But when he noticed a military motorcade approaching, He realized it was a homecoming party for him.

Stanek said this was the first police escort he has ever had when he wasn't in trouble, and this one was a complete surprise.

The 34-year-old Woodstock native has served three tours in Iraq with the 82nd Airborne, spending 42 of the 60 months that the U.S. has been fighting in the Middle East. He says celebrations like this one make serving in Iraq worth the dedication and time away from his family.

"That's what I love about coming home, here. I get to see you guys. And those of you that don't' know me, come up and thank you for what you're doing," said Stanek. "Any time a servicemember hears that, even if they don't know the person, it just makes them feel that much better."

They rang bells to remember the men and women whose lives were lost.

The celebration moved inside where well wishers were greeted by five homemade cakes. His mom decorated them with honor and love.

"He hasn't been home since last year, and he was home for a funeral, my mother died," said mom Cathy Stanek. "It's just great to have him home for good conditions."

Sgt. Stanek will enjoy the comforts of home, including brushing up on his pool game, for at least the next couple of weeks. But his thoughts are never too far from the battlefield.

"I just wanted to say to those of us that are still over there, we're always there for you. I'll play tag and trade places with you again in a little while," Stanek said.

The homecoming was the idea of his younger sister, who said she was inspired by her two young sons. Stanek has 30 days off. He turns 35 next month but will be celebrating in Fort Bragg.

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