Rows of cheering friends and family lined Longfellow Drive in Kings Park Wednesday afternoon to welcome home a National Guard airman returning home from Iraq. Nobody was more excited to see him than his children.
Both Ella, 3, and Gavin Brucculeri, 2, screamed with delight when they saw their father, Master Sgt. Jimmy Brucculeri, pull up in the family’s Dodge Ram. Ella bounded over to her dad who immediately picked her up into his arms. Gavin walked down the driveway with tears in his eyes, completely overcome with emotion.
Suffolk County police department members looking on cheered loudly in welcoming Brucculeri home. It was a surprise.
“It’s a great feeling, all of this, it’s a great feeling to be home.”
— Jimmy Brucculeri
“It’s a great feeling, all of this, it’s a great feeling to be home,” he said. ‘It’s good to see everybody come together.”
Brucculeri works as a Suffolk County police officer in addition to serving as a member of the 106th Air Rescue Wing of New York’s National Guard. In January, his unit was deployed into Iraq to assist Operation Inherent Resolve, a U.S led mission to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The 106th Air Rescue Unit lost four of its members March 15 when a H-60 Pave Helicopter crashed in Iraq during a mission for Operation Inherent Resolve. The U.S. Department of Defense has said the cause of the crash is still under investigation, but it but did not appear to be the result of enemy activity.
“It’s kind of somber, but half of my unit is still in Iraq,” Brucculeri said. “So until they get home and everyone gets home, it’s just waiting.”
Thousands of mourners traveled to King’s Park to attend funeral services for Commack airman Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso, a member of Brucculeri’s unit, who was killed in the line of duty when the helicopter crashed.
“Gavin’s birthday was yesterday, so it’s a very good birthday present to have him home.”
— Cathyrn Brucculeri
Brucculeri’s family was able to keep in contact with him while he was overseas, but said it was much better to have him home.
“We spoke daily over Facetime or texting, which was good, but it was still obviously hard,” said Cathryn, Brucculeri’s wife. “ The kids definitely felt it. Gavin’s birthday was yesterday, so it’s a very good birthday present to have him home.”
Ernie Kabelka was also there to welcome Brucculeri home.
“He’s a great neighbor, he’s a great friend. He does everything around here,” Kabelka said.
He recalled how during a major snowstorm he and Brucculeri were driving around town together, when they spotted a man whose car was stuck in the snow. Brucculeri pulled over and spent more than a half hour helping dig the man out, according to Kabelka.
“He didn’t think nothing of it, it’s just what he does,” the neighbor said.
Concetta Van Winckel, a friend of the family, helped to organize the homecoming posting messages on Facebook and social media.
“Everyone from the community really came out for this,” Van Winckel said. “It was beautiful. People were really great to come out, even in the rain.”