WOODSTOCK – American flags waving and many of the riders clad in leather despite temperatures around 90 degrees, about 20 motorcycles rumbled in to the Woodstock Culver’s on Sunday afternoon to welcome a McHenry County soldier home from Afghanistan.
The Warriors’ Watch Riders, along with a Woodstock Fire Department fire truck and ambulance, were followed by 24-year-old Army Spc. Nick Brain of Woodstock in his red Mustang.
Whistling and blaring their horns, the motorcyclists circled the lot and parked, cheering Brain along the way.
Standing in front of the crowd, Brain looked overwhelmed. The entire event had been a surprise that he didn’t know about until it was already happening, his family having kept him from looking out the windows as the motorcycles gathered outside his parents’ house.
“You can either thank or blame your brother,” rider Rich Kern told Brain, whose younger brother Chris works at the restaurant and helped planned the party. “We’re here to welcome you home. We know what you have done for us, and we thank you for it.”
It was an honor, Brain said.
“I’ve heard about all you guys before and never thought I’d be a part of it,” he said.
After nine months in Afghanistan, Brain returned to Fort Hood, Texas, on Aug. 1, where he was met by his family like a scene out of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” said his father, Steve.
The soldiers got off buses that separated them from their loved ones, and when the buses moved, the volume erupted and the two sides ran to each other.
“There wasn’t even a dry eye in the house, not even mine,” Steve Brain said.
It had been Nick Brain’s second deployment; he also spent a year in South Korea.
“When I first joined [the army], I expected it to be hard, but I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was. It got easier as it went. I guess you could say it was a culture shock when I first got to basic training,” he said.
On Aug. 10, Brain returned to Woodstock and has been mostly relaxing, spending time with friends and family and going to a few concerts.
He enlisted in the Army about three years ago and still has six months left on his contract. He hasn’t yet decided if he will re-enlist; he may attend college, perhaps studying fire science.
In the meantime, Brain is enjoying his basic freedoms.
“Being able to go anywhere I want, drive anywhere, go get this kind of food,” he said. “Just the basic amenities I missed the most, aside from family and friends, of course.”