Spc. Taylor Reich smiled Saturday and chomped gum, a young soldier finally home, for now.
Back after close to a year in Afghanistan, the Army infantryman has 30 days off before he has to return to Fort Drum in New York.
Reich, 22, has no idea what his country will ask of him after that. The Papillion-La Vista High School grad whose mother, Trisha Roze, now lives in Council Bluffs, said he doesn't anticipate returning to Afghanistan.
"But things can change," he said.
Tall and lanky, Reich was met at Omaha's Eppley Airfield by about 25 friends and supporters, and his mom, who fought hard not to cry.
"And he had some scares, and he lost some friends," Roze said. "As long as we didn't get a knock on the door, we were OK."
Reich told no war stories at the airport. He didn't brag. He looked so young and lean, and yet it's on the backs and bravery of Americans like him that the nation has fought multiple wars and conflicts over the past 20 years.
"I didn't really see too much bad stuff," Reich said. They found some improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, he said. They detonated them.
"And that was pretty much it," Reich said. "We were pretty lucky."
His battalion was spread around a region of Afghanistan, and some saw harsh action. Several soldiers in his battalion died, he said.
"I knew what I signed up for," Reich said.
Members of Blue Star Moms, a support group, turned out at the airport. Some children held signs. "Thank You For Your Sacrifice," one read.
Bradley Powell, commander of an American Legion Post in Council Bluffs, invited Reich to a fish fry Saturday night.
His pal going back to second grade, Brian White of La Vista, was there. "I got my buddy back, finally," White said. They planned to go out Saturday evening and have a drink.
Roze's boyfriend, Dan Partridge, promised to tell good stories about Reich.
One involved Reich being told by the Army recruiter that he weighed too little for his height to get in. So Partridge and Reich's mother filled the aspiring soldier with malts and steaks and ice cream.
They couldn't wait to see 80-pound Rocko the boxer, the family dog, welcome his great companion home. He'll knock Taylor over, they said.
At home in Council Bluffs, two pennants hung from the porch. "We Missed You!!!" one read.
He'll return to Fort Drum in a month. Then, he said, who knows?
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