Emotional homecoming for Ind. guardsman

April 11, 2012 5:20:07 AM PDT
There were cheers and smiles all around Tuesday, but it took three months to get to this point for Specialist Doug Rachowicz to come home to Hammond, Ind.

This is a homecoming that almost didn't happen. In January, a roadside bomb in Afghanistan nearly took his life and killed four of his fellow National Guardsmen.

"I lost a lot of good friends that day," Rachowicz said. "It's a blessing that I'm here to be with my family. I wish they could be here with me."

The family of at least one of his fallen colleagues was there to welcome him, along with dozens of patriot guard riders, family, friends and one man he'll never forget.

"This is the only reason I'm here today," Rachowicz said as he embraced medic Zachary Carter. "This is the medic, first responder. He saved my life in Afghanistan."

"We knew he had a kid on the way," Carter said. "So we at least knew that he would go back to his fiancée, go back to see his kid born. We at least had that good news to keep us going."

The blast broke Rachowicz's back in fourteen places. He's had multiple surgeries and wears a brace to help him walk. His family is grateful he recovered enough to make it home.

"I never accepted the fact that we wouldn't," said Rachowicz's mother, Kathy. "It's just a matter of how long it takes."

The explosion that wounded Rachowicz killed 21-year-old Brian Leonhardt, 20-year-old Christopher Patterson, 32-year-old Jonathan Metzger and 44-year old Robert Tauteris. It's the greatest number of Indiana guardsmen killed in a single incident since 2005.

"It's going to be a long road," Rachowicz admitted. "But between me, my future wife and my kids we'll figure out what's going on and continue our lives and try to help out the families of the guys that were lost over there for sure."