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Frank Schmidt was enjoying a birthday party at home with family and friends Saturday evening when his mother asked to him to go with her to Brookfield’s village hall so they could pick up some extra chairs for the party.
So Frank hopped into his red Ford pickup truck with his mother and drove to village hall. There he got a big surprise.
Waiting for the Army specialist who is now home in Brookfield on a two-week leave from duty in Afghanistan were 20 members of Warriors Watch a group of motorcycle riders who volunteer to escort and honor returning soldiers. Also waiting for Schmidt in the village hall parking lot were two Brookfield fire trucks, two fire department ambulances and two police squad cars.
After initially driving by village hall because of the commotion, Schmidt was persuaded to turn into the parking lot. There he pulled up his truck between two lines of Warrior Watch members and police and firemen holding American flags. A shocked Schmidt got out of his pickup and received hugs from everyone there.
“My mom told me that we were picking up chairs from village hall,” Schmidt said. “I actually drove past there the first time, because I saw flashing lights and didn’t want to go in the middle of that.”
After handshakes and hugs, Schmidt was invited to sit on the top of a fire truck for the one-mile procession back to his home on Arthur Avenue.
With police and fire sirens blaring and motorcycles roaring, the procession slowly wound it way to Schmidt’s home. The noise and commotion surprised passersby, who stood in yards and on porches, cheering and waving as the noisy procession drove by.
“It was overwhelming,” Schmidt said. “I had a big smile on my face one moment and was holding back tears the other, because it was just so overwhelming.”
Schmidt, who turned 23 on Monday, is home on leave from Afghanistan where he is a combat infantryman with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. He has been in Afghanistan since January serving mostly in the area around Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
In 2008 and 2009 Schmidt served in Iraq mostly doing air assault missions.
On June 28 Schmidt was in a convoy traveling from Kabul to Kandahar when they were attacked by an improvised explosive device, mortars and small arms fire. But Schmidt and his fellow soldiers fought off the attackers and suffered no causalities. A week later, on July 4, Schmidt was awarded his combat infantryman’s badge.
Schmidt, who graduated from Nazareth Academy and attended Lewis University, joined the Army reserves in 2005. He liked the Army so much that enlisted for active duty in May of 2007.
“I liked it,” Schmidt said. “It’s become a part of me.”
Schmidt’s escort was the first “warrior ride” the Warrior’s Watch group has done in Brookfield. The motorcycle riding members come from all over the Chicago metropolitan area.
“We appreciate their service,” said Bob Smith, the ride leader for Saturday’s ride and a former Green Beret in Vietnam.
Smith’s wife used to work with Frank’s mom, Sharon, at the Chicago Tribune. At a reunion of former Tribune employees, Sharon was talking with another former Tribune employee who suggested that she contact Smith to arrange a special welcome home for her son.
Norman Ball, a family friend, was walking over to the birthday party when he saw and heard the fire trucks.
“We figured well maybe there’s a fire some place, and then we saw the motorcycles and everything,” Ball said. “I thought it was very nice. I’m glad they did it for him. They really deserve it.”