DeKALB – Sgt. Matthew Fletcher is finally home.
After serving four tours in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army ranger, the DeKalb native was welcomed home Saturday by a parade of motorcycles, ambulances, fire trucks and police cars.
“It really surprised me,” Fletcher said. “I thought we were going to my brother's house.”
The Warriors' Watch Riders helped organize the surprise that led Fletcher from Algus Packaging, 1212 E. Taylor St., to Huntley Middle School, 1515 S. Fourth St., which is just across the street from the Fletchers' home. The Warriors' Watch Riders awarded Fletcher its challenge coin and colored beads for his service.
The military does not organize homecoming events for Army rangers since their jobs are both secretive and dangerous, said Fred Fletcher, Matthew Fletcher's father.
Fletcher was deployed for four months at a time because there was a higher risk for injury or death, said Pat Fletcher, Matthew Fletcher's mother. Those circumstances made the homecoming that much sweeter for the parents.
“When we got a call that he was in the U.S., it was like an elephant had stepped off my shoulders,” Pat Fletcher said.
He was not allowed to disclose his locations in case phone calls are intercepted, so his parents never really knew where he was.
“He would call us on a secret line,” Pat Fletcher said. “It was very hard to wait for those phone calls, because you don't know [when the phone would ring].”
Fred Fletcher, who also served in the military, said his son's deployments were among the hardest things he's ever experienced.
“I'd get up in the middle of the night for a glass of water, and I'd think about him," Fred Fletcher said. "Then I'd go to work all day. You never get a break.”
DeKalb resident Helen Muleya would agree. She was Matthew Fletcher's girlfriend throughout most of his time in deployment.
“It's weird having him back,” she said. “I'm so used to him leaving and not having too much time with him. It'll take time to get used to everyone after 4˝ years away.”
Matthew Fletcher enlisted in the army after graduating from DeKalb High School. He completed One Station Unit Training at Fort Benning, Ga., as an infantryman. He was also assigned to Company C, Second Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where he served as an assistant gunner, gunner, automatic rifleman and team leader.
Matthew Fletcher doesn't plan on returning to the military any time soon. Instead, he plans to attend the College of DuPage in January to play football and study physical education.
Matthew Fletcher figures it would be hard to adjust to civilian life after spending so much time overseas.
“I'm going to keep training and get ready for football,” Matthew Fletcher said. “I can't wait to study and work.”
Note to readers: This article has been corrected to reflect that Matthew Fletcher was an Army ranger.