By Hadas Kuznits
STRATFORD, N.J. (CBS) — The community of Stratford, New Jersey came together Saturday to welcome home a local soldier from Afghanistan.
29-year-old Caleb Speer thought he was celebrating his mother’s birthday at the Stratford Diner along the Whitehorse Pike, but as it turned out, he got a surprise welcome home ambush from his community.
“All of sudden people began to showing up,” Speer said. “They surprised me big time and then we all went outside and got a police and motorcycle escort in the fire truck all the way back to my house. It was great.”
Speer served in the military for nearly five years, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said the most challenging part of serving in the military was the instability.
“The commitment of knowing at any point in time you can be deployed around the world,” Speer said, “and not know when you will be back.”
That was also the most difficult part for his mother Elaine. She called it a relief to have her son back home and safe.
“Anytime you heard about anything awful you would be dragging out the maps looking for where’s your son,” she said. “Was he anywhere near there? Are they ok?”
So when Caleb came home for good from Afghanistan his parents wanted to make a grand gesture of welcoming him home.
“Yeah, we ambushed him,” said Mike Perez, a volunteer firefighter for Stratford who helped organize the hero’s welcome. “I kind of arranged it with his mother to take him to breakfast at the Stratford Diner and we went it, grabbed him and everyone in the diner stood up and applauded”
“At the moment of surprise, we were sitting in the restaurant,” said his mother. “He turned to me and Caleb said ‘what did you do’?”
Caleb’s father Tom hopes the celebration for his son brings attention to others, as well.
“There are a lot of families that are dealing with this,” he said, “(dealing) with their children still overseas and struggling with this, as well. They need the support to.”