Considering he has served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, one might think Air Force National Guard Capt. Troy Gryga had seen it all.
But he hadn’t. Take Tuesday night, when Gryga, 32, of Tinley Park, was surprised with a welcome home procession and celebration at Tinley Park Village Hall.
Gryga, part of the 182nd Airlift Wing out of Peoria, returned to base last month from his most recent stint in Afghanistan.
“You guys really outdid yourself,” he said as he climbed out of his car. “This is just ... wow.”
Dressed in a military flight suit, Gryga was barraged with hugs and by well-wishers — and even someone seeking an autograph.
“I don’t know him, but I come to as many of these things as I can,” said fellow Air Force veteran Tim Lorman, of West Chicago, who said he was in the service during the Vietnam War era.
Lorman had Gryga autograph a fatigue jacket already covered with signatures from other returning troops.
Inside village hall, Gryga was presented with awards from the village and several veterans groups.
His mother, Sue Gryga, wore a smile and shed tears.
“It was very cool that so many people support him and what he does, and what all of them (troops) do,” Sue Gryga said. “God has really blessed us.”
“What can you say? He’s proud of what he does,” said Troy’s father, David Gryga. “We don’t like to see him go. He’s coming back from his third tour already.”
Taking the podium in front of about 80 people who packed a meeting room inside, Gryga said he was humbled.
“This means so much because I’ve lived here in Tinley since 1985,” Gryga said. “I attended grade school here at Trinity Lutheran and graduated from Tinley Park High School in 1998. This just means so much.
“But I’m not the only one who’s ever come home,” Gryga said. “There will always be military members deployed; husbands missing their wives and children missing their father or mother. So whenever you see a soldier, airman, sailor or Marine, say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ ”
Gryga, a combat systems officer (which he says is a “fancy word for a navigator”) on a C-130 Hercules aircraft, signed up with the Air National Guard in 2000 and has done one tour in Iraq and two in Afghanistan.
“I make sure the airplane is in the correct place when we do the drop operations,” Gryga said of his duties.
And when he’s not busy flying missions or defending America?
“I love to cook on the grill,” Gryga said. “And I just started brewing my own beer, and I fly for recreation. I love to just get in a plane and fly somewhere for fun.”
Gryga is to report Monday back to Peoria, where he is a full-time instructor/navigator for the C-130 aircraft.