Sergeant Benjamin Stehman, of Prospect Heights, was injured in an explosion back in August. Friday, dozens of area residents and veterans came out to welcome him home.
Sergeant Stehman has a fractured foot, severe leg wounds and needed stitches on his head from the explosion. He returned to his base in Kansas in September. But he only arrived to his hometown Thursday night.
A visit home was supposed to be low key. But not Friday morning. Wearing his Blackhawks sweatshirt, Sergeant Stehman was greeted by friends, but then it became clear there were a few more friends giving this returning soldier special treatment...and he better get in uniform.
Stehman grew up in Prospect Heights. He graduated from Hersey High School, where he met his wife in a world history class.
Stehman's homecoming comes after two tours in Iraq and a third tour in Afghanistan, where he was injured by an improvised explosive device returning from a mission in August.
The mayor of Prospect Heights issued a proclamation in Stehman's honor and offered him a key to the city.
"I just want to say thanks for coming out, thanks for supporting the troops, and don't forget about the guys still over there," said Stehman.
There were many gestures of gratitude big and small for Stehman, his wife and two boys.
"While he was in the hospital, and while he was waiting and when he got back, it's really nice to know people really support you," said Becky Stehman.
Stehman's father still lives in Prospect Heights. He was in on the surprise and still amazed to see the support.
"I'm very proud -- very, very proud," said Benjamin's father, Robert Stehman. "I'm sorry, not only for Ben, but for men and women in military."
But the mastermind is Brian Gallagher, Stehman's high school friend who knew a quiet return wasn't in the cards.
"He hasn't changed at all even, all the things he's been through, he's been the same person the whole time," said Gallagher. "And he's selfless and not afraid of anything. I just wanted everyone to have a chance to say thanks."
"It's good, it's a little overwhelming, but it's good to see everybody," said Stehman.
Sergeant Stehman and his wife asked those attending to keep Sergeant Brian Jergens in their thoughts. Sergeant Jergens was driving when their vehicle was hit. He lost both legs and has brain damage. He recently spoke his first words in California.
As for Sergeant Stehman, after the holidays with family and friends, he and his family will return to base.