Sgt. Robert Bradford came home to a sea of red, white and blue last Friday afternoon, as local members of motorcycle charity Patriot Guard Riders lined Brookhaven Boulevard in Port Jefferson Station outside his home to welcome him and thank him for his service to the United States.
Bradford, 24, was returning after seven months in Afghanistan on his first deployment with the U.S. Army.
Terryville Fire Department trucks draped an American flag over Route 112 and set off sirens as the minivan Bradford rode in made its way down the street and turned onto his block. The roughly 15 members of the Patriot Guard Riders raised their own flags and stood at attention as the van entered the driveway of the Bradford family’s home.
When the soldier stepped out of the car, the guard erupted in cheers and claps and shouted, “Thank you for your service.”
Bradford showed his appreciation for the gesture, going up to each member to shake hands and share a hug.
“I appreciate all you guys,” he told the guard, before sharing a group hug with his family in the middle of the road.
His mother, Pat, said the Port Authority police escorted the family to the gate at LaGuardia Airport to meet the sergeant, and there was an announcement on the loudspeaker for everyone who wanted to greet him. The people “came in droves from everywhere,” she said.
When she saw her son again, “My heart was beating.” Asked to describe what it was like, the mother said, “Every good word in the book.”
She turned to Pete Jepson, an East Moriches resident leading the guard, and said, “I have my son home.”
According to Jepson, the welcoming group was made up of volunteers, some of whom are veterans. Local members of the national nonprofit Patriot Guard Riders attend similar homecoming events as well as funerals for fallen military members, first responders and veterans.
“We love doing it. It’s an honor for us to do it,” Jepson said.
Bradford, who is with the 338th Military Intelligence Battalion based in Shoreham, said everyone from his squad came back, which is good because “I wasn’t going to leave without all of them.”
He said, “It’s very exciting, overwhelming and weird” to be home. “It’s a whole different lifestyle.”
There’s not as much to worry about at home, he explained, adding with a laugh that the air is fresher on Long Island.
One thing that’s already different is that while he was overseas, he carried his rifle with him everywhere, including to the bathroom, to “chow” and to sleep. When he was on the plane to LaGuardia, he said, he fell asleep and when he woke up, someone’s phone rang and it sounded like “the alarm for incoming,” and he jumped and didn’t have his gun.
Bradford, who first enlisted in 2008 and re-enlisted on Veterans Day, said he is proud to serve his country.
“It’s nothing special that I did.”