Another Routt County man has returned home safely from Iraq.
John Rezzonico, a Marine Corps Reserves sergeant and intelligence specialist deployed to Fallujah, was greeted Saturday by friends, neighbors and schoolchildren lining the street of his Heritage Park neighborhood, waving flags and homemade signs as he drove up his road for the first time in eight months.
"It's something that we should be doing for someone who fought for our freedom," said Heritage Park neighbor Keri Couchoud, who helped organize the homecoming. "They deserve a hero's welcome. Especially being in Fallujah, my gosh, that's one of the most dangerous places of all."
The neighborhood greeting was the final step in a carefully planned welcome.
Although it took Rezzonico two weeks to travel from Fallujah to Denver, Saturday's final leg of the journey home happened in style:
TIC, which employs his wife, Jackie, offered its corporate plane to bring Rezzonico from Denver to Hayden. And although the Marine knew he was getting a private plane ride, he had no idea that Jackie and their son, Joey, who was 3 weeks old when Rezzonico left for Iraq, would be on that plane to escort him home.
When they hit the ground in Hayden, they were greeted on the tarmac by a small group of family and close friends. Finally, they rode back to the Rezzonicos' neighborhood in style, in the back of a stretch Excursion limousine donated by Black Diamond Limousine co-owner Tim O'Brien, who volunteers with Rezzonico on Routt County Search and Rescue.
"I've been traveling for 15 days, so to be greeted like this and to ride home like this, it's great," he said.
The overwhelming reception was a time for joy, but also a time for reflection about the differences between life in America and the lives of the Iraqi people.
"Coming back to the U.S. was very weird," he said. "I went to the mall to buy clothes, and I was looking at all the people. Just to be able to walk around, to do their own thing -- for me to be able to say what I think and not worry about having my head cut off -- they don't realize how lucky they are."
Being stationed in Fallujah, Rezzonico saw how the Iraqis lived there and how they responded to the changes taking place in their country. It only strengthened his belief in the validity of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
"I feel stronger about the situation now than when I left," he said. "We're doing exactly what we should be doing to prevent (another Sept. 11, 2001)."
Iraqis are very receptive to the U.S. troops, he said, and are beginning to come forward to help them and tell them where insurgents are hiding.
Rezzonico had harsh words for the way the media has covered the situation, saying that much more good is coming of the U.S. military involvement than the public is led to think.
"The media is absolutely absurd in what they report. They do nothing but try to make the decisions we make look awful. ... But we're doing way more good than bad there."
Being there during the elections was proof of that, he said.
"I felt very proud to see people showing up. They know there's a 70 percent chance they'll get killed by mortars fired by their own people, but just as many of them showed up for their election as in the U.S. What does that tell you? They want to be free and live their own lives."
"Everybody here should appreciate what they have," he said. "Hopefully, they never need to see what it takes (for them) to appreciate it."
There is no doubt that Rezzonico is appreciating his Steamboat life right now. Although he was able to come home sooner than expected because replacement troops showed up early, his tour has been extended stateside, and he will return to work at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora after a month's rest in Steamboat Springs.
For his month at home, the Marine has very simple plans:
"I'm going to do nothing, just relax and stay with my family."