Russell Surdi Jr., a 23-year old U.S. Marine from Hazlet who survived three roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan, returned to his hometown Thursday night in a loud convoy of flashing fire trucks and EMS vehicles that travelled from the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Lincroft through Holmdel and Hazlet.
This was Lance Corporal Surdi's kind of welcome. Until the reservist was sent on a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan, Surdi worked as a Hazlet Township Police Dept. dispatcher and volunteered with the Hazlet Fire Company No. 1.
In the dark foggy night, the young soldier was illuminated by the flashing lights and stood out with his desert fatigues, cap and big, happy grin.
"I'm so happy to be home. This is incredible!" he said, in between hugs and handshakes with friends in the festive homecoming at the fire station at Holmdel Road. "I expected to see my family and have a beer. But this is overwhelming."
A table was set for a little party in the station. His fiancee, Michele Calavano, 21, of Hazlet, said the family would prepare his favorite linguine with clam sauce for his first home meal. "He looks skinnier," she said.
His mother, Debbie Foley of Howell, traveled with him in the firetruck convoy, which involved members from Middletown, Union Beach, Holmdel, Keansburg, Keyport, and Hazlet. She said she was so moved by the well wishers along the route that she was wiping away tears.
This Marine Mom is immensely relieved to have her son home, she said. "I can breathe. I can sleep. I don't have to worry where he is. He'll answer his phone," she said.
His dad, Russell Surdi Sr. said his namesake looked very well, and that he was "very, very proud" of his son.
Surdi was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in the Helmand province in southwest Afghanistan on July 1, 2011. As a Lance Corporal attached to the Sixth Motor Transport Battalion out of Red Bank, he was tasked with clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs). On that day he was a machine gunner in a convoy, rolling in open dessert. Two booby traps exploded and his head was injured. He was taken by medevac back to base for treatment.
"I still get some headaches. Otherwise, I'm okay. I'm not brain damaged or anything like that," he said. About a month ago, he was injured again in a similar situation.
Surdi said he has no plans to go back to the desert for more. "No, I wanted to get the hell out of Afghanistan," he said. He is anxious to resume his suburban life. "As soon as I get off orders, I'm going back to work," he said.
There's much to look forward to. The Raritan High School Class of 2006 graduate is planning to marry his St. John Vianney sweetheart on August 12, 2012.