When Sgt. Bradley Thomas, 26, arrived at Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport aboard a private jet midday Tuesday, he was seeing home--and a massive hero’s welcome--for the first time in five long years.
Thomas joined the Army in 2006. By 2007, he was deployed to Iraq. And only one month into his deployment, a roadside bomb went off under his Stryker vehicle.
One soldier died. Several more, including Thomas, were seriously injured. Thomas, a 2004 Brazosport High School graduate, suffered a fractured skull, a traumatic brain injury, a broken jaw and numerous other serious injuries.
Reconstructive surgeries and rehab took him to hospitals from Germany to Tampa, Florida until this week, when he was finally able to go home.
And the people of Brazoria County made sure he knew he was home.
In a highly-planned and coordinated welcome home effort, hundreds crowded onto the tarmac at the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport. Thomas, aboard a private jet provided by Angel MedFlight and outfitted to carry him in a hospital bed, arrived to raucous applause.
Once he was transferred into an ambulance, he began the 20-mile trip to his home in the village of Jones Creek. Hundreds, including the motorcycle group the Brazoria County Cavalry, joined the procession to escort him home. Thousands of Brazoria County residents lined rural highways to wave flags and welcome home signs as the procession passed by.
"Everybody who serves this county and everybody who serves this country deserves what you see here today," said Terry Read with the Brazoria County Cavalry, which has helped escort hundreds of soldiers home.
"To come out here and support our hero," said Thomas family friend Lacy Rice as she began to cry, "it means a lot."
The procession, which stretched through Brazoria County for miles, ended on Stephen F. Austin Road in Jones Creek, which was lined for several blocks with American flags.
The non-profit group Helping a Hero built a brand new home for the soldier and his family. He will need 24/7 care for the rest of his life. Now, he and his family will be able to fight through the rest of his battles together.
Watching the procession, his street lined with American flags, school children and neighbors waving signs, and the Brazosport High School Band playing the Army theme, the soldier’s father Rocky Thomas welled up with tears.
"Words can’t even describe what it is," he said of his reaction to the thousands who showed up to pay tribute to his son. "I don’t even know what to say. It’s just awesome."
His service in Iraq left him grievously injured and changed his life forever. Tuesday in Brazoria County, his friends and neighbors let him know their support and devotion, in honor of his sacrifice, will last just as long.