GENOA – Matthew Ruchti got two big surprises Saturday.
The 1988 Genoa-Kingston High School graduate, who is retiring after 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, was driving from his base in Alaska to his new home outside of Dayton, Ohio.
He had planned to stop for a couple of days in Genoa to visit family and old friends when someone rear-ended a trailer he was towing just north of Madison, Wis., early Saturday morning.
Ruchti, who earned the rank of master sergeant, was greeted with an even bigger surprise when he finally arrived in Genoa – a military motorcycle escort that guided him to the Genoa Veterans Home, where a reception awaited.
“It was a good surprise,” Ruchti, 42, said of the unexpected welcome home. “Those who don’t always keep secrets kept this one.”
“He had no idea,” his mother, Joan Ruchti, said. “He was in Alaska and we were here, and we just didn’t say anything.”
Joan Ruchti and her husband, Richard, had flown to Alaska to help her son and his wife drive their two vehicles and trailers home.
“It was the least we could do to say ‘thank you,’ ” Mike Fogelsanger, ride captain of the Warriors’ Watch Riders, said of the escort.
It is just one of several escorts the riders have conducted for returning veterans the past few years.
Greeting the Ruchti family as they arrived at the vets’ home were about 50 well-wishers, all waving miniature American flags and shouting “welcome back.”
“I don’t know him, but I do want to support our soldiers,” June Yates said.
Ruchti, who enlisted four months after he graduated from Genoa-Kingston High School, spent five tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Primarily involved in construction and building, he said he helped build communities in the Middle East.
Referring to his unit as a “tight-knit group,” he said he spent more time with those airmen than he did with his own family.
Ruchti and his wife, Teresa, have three boys and one daughter.
Ruchti isn’t sure what his future holds.
His first priority was to find a house, which he found in February halfway between his family and his wife’s family in Virginia.
He now hopes to use some of the many skills he learned in the military to find a job.
“I have five months of terminal leave to find a job,” he said.
State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley, asked the spectators whether anyone had a job for him.
“We want to stand behind you in the next phase of your career,” Pritchard said.