National Guard troops return home

Michael Speacht grasped an American flag in one hand and wrapped his other arm around his father, who was dressed in a desert camouflage uniform after he stepped off a charter bus Wednesday afternoon outside the Armed Forces Reserve Center on Grove Street.

It has been more than nine months since the youth had seen his father, Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Speacht, of Montoursville, and he was quiet, reserved but tearing up a bit when the troops exited the bus.

Robert’s wife, Karen, and others swarmed him as he and about six other soldiers returned as part of the 1st Battalion of the 109th Infantry of the National Guard. They had been deployed with the 55th Armor Brigade to Kuwait, an oil-rich Middle Eastern country on the Persian Gulf, bordering Iraq and near Iran.

The parking lot of the huge training center at 1307 Grove St. filled with shouts of “welcome home!”

The bus arrived in Williamsport about 4 p.m., some three hours after it was expected to arrive, because of a flight delay, according to Staff Sgt. Matt Jones, a National Guard spokesman in Fort Indiantown Gap.

Four of the soldiers were dropped off at Lewisburg and two more were headed toward Lock Haven.

In all, some 89 soldiers returned on Wednesday, according to National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Scott Alleman.

“He hasn’t seen his dad in about a year,” Karen Speacht said of Michael as she approached the bus.

It was the elder Speacht’s second time in Kuwait. The first time was during Desert Storm in the early 1990s. He was fresh out of high school then and signed up to be a gunner.

Unfortunately, the helicopter he was in crashed and he suffered an injury that required a spinal fusion, according to Karen Speacht.

Speacht joined the National Guard in 2010 and, despite having the ability to choose not have to go overseas, Speacht’s wife said he wanted to be with his troops.

He opted to go back into the heat, she added.

“He didn’t feel right sending them over and him staying back,” she said.

Speacht, who works in Lock Haven at a recruiting office, also is skilled as a heavy diesel mechanic.

Instant forms of communication were a blessing that kept Amber McCauley in touch with her fiancee, Sgt. Frederick Rote, 40, of Wellsboro.

It was Rote’s fifth deployment overseas, she said. He had been sent to Afghanistan and served at a military base in Germany.

The nine-month deployment to Kuwait, done for unspecified security purposes, was yet another nerve-racking time of waiting and keeping in touch for Amber and others.

After some much-needed rest, Amber said her fiancee told her he plans to return to his housekeeping job at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hospital. Rote appeared to only want to see his children, ages 3, 9 and 13, and gave out hugs.

“I’m happy to see him,” Amber said. “He’s been doing this his whole life and he turned 40 in July over there.”

Not to miss the birthday, Amber and her family came up with a webcam party.

The homecoming also was the time for a mother awaiting her son’s return to relax again.

“I’m anxious to get him back, but I wish no one else would have to go,” said Rose Newcomer, mother of Sgt. Joe Fioretti, 51, of Williamsport.

Joining her was Fioretti’s 3-year-old grandson, Cael Dexter, whose face was painted in green and tan camouflage.

Fioretti said the 18-hour flight was rough and he suffered some ant bites at Camp Shelby, Miss., but he was glad to be able to hand Cael a toy deuce truck he picked up at the Camp Shelby gift shop. A truck driver for a natural gas company, Fioretti has a secure job and won’t lose it thanks to the employment law.

“It’s two weeks of rest, and I’ll be back to work,” Fioretti said.

On Oct. 23, 1983, a truck filled with explosives crashed into a Marine barracks building in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors and three soldiers. Fioretti joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Beirut to be among the peacekeepers during the Lebanese civil war and he later signed up two years ago with the National Guard, his mother said.

Fioretti told his mother he wanted to kick off his shoes and sit on the front porch of his East End home.