Lance Cpl. Alex Cafaro stepped through the security checkpoint at Long Island MacArthur Airport into a cheering cluster of friends, family and strangers who gathered Thanksgiving eve to welcome the Marine home.
Cafaro, who graduated from Sayville High School in 2007, has been serving in an outpost in Helmand province, Afghanistan, since March.
"I'm so happy he's home," said his father, Joseph Cafaro, 67, of Sayville. "He's home, he's a kid again. When he's over there, you don't hear from him. You wait for the satellite phone to be handed to him. You don't know what's going on."
MacArthur, which offers a Hometown Hero Welcome to service members whose families alert Islip Town in advance, has celebrated the return of more than 100 service members.
"I had no idea," Alex Cafaro said of the surprise welcome. "It means a lot to know that people back home appreciate what we do."