Kristin Schaefer and Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Schaefer celebrate his homecoming in New Lenox following a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan. | Supplied photo
Updated: January 28, 2012 2:02PM
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Scott Schaefer said he “just wanted to kind of settle down a bit” when he returned to his family in New Lenox, following a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Pearl and Bob Schaefer, of Kankakee, said their son “didn’t want any hoopla” when he came home.
To that end, Schaefer was vague about his arrival date, so much so that his wife, Kristin, thought he was trying to surprise her.
That didn’t stop family and friends, including local veterans’ organizations, Scout troops, village officials, Soldiers Guardian Angels and Warriors Watch Riders from throwing Schaefer a red, white, and blue welcome in the rotunda of the New Lenox Village Hall on Thursday night.
Dan Martin, public safety division chief of the New Lenox Police Department, said he wasn’t going to let a member of the Community Emergency Response Team return from military service without a welcome home celebration when he found out Schaefer had “come into town unexpectedly.”
“By doing this, we’re trying to show our appreciation,” Martin said. “We’re all here enjoying our freedoms while he’s over there sacrificing time with his family for us.”
Schaefer said the hardest part was leaving his family at home, knowing his wife had all the responsibilities, especially in raising their son, Jeremy, 8.
“The toughest job in the Navy is being a Navy wife,” Scott Schaefer said. “She’s a trooper.”
“It’s been hard,” Kristin Schaefer said. “I’ve had the most amazing help from friends and family and neighbors.”
About 200 of them showed up to greet Schaefer when he arrived for a regularly scheduled response team meeting at village hall, clearly unaware of the celebration in his honor.
As the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, the Lincoln-Way High School ROTC escorted Schaefer down the winding stairs to a staging area where he was welcomed by Mayor Tim Baldermann. Schaefer received everything from certificates of appreciation and proclamations to challenge coins and Girl Scout cookies.
“I was very surprised,” Schaefer said.
The son of a Viet Nam Purple Heart veteran, Schaefer said “service to my country” was the main reason he joined the military.
”It was also a chance to see the world,” Schaefer said. “I’ve gotten to see all of it.”
Schaefer, 48, has served about 10 years in the Navy over three separate enlistments since 1982. His second re-enlistment came shortly after 9/11, “the tipping point” in his decision to rejoin the Navy.
After his third re-enlistment in 2008, Schaefer was trained in security forces. In 2011, he was deployed to Afghanistan as part of a Navy MP brigade with the U.S. Army in detainee operations.
Schaefer is currently a Metra employee. He plans to continue to serve in the Navy Reserves at the Great Lakes Naval Station.