BEACON FALLS — Clutching tiny American flags and cheering at the top of their lungs, community first responders and dignitaries gave a warm welcome to an Army National Guard soldier who returned home from a 10-month mission Wednesday.
Fire trucks and police cruisers waited at the off-ramp of Route 8 North at Exit 24 to give a hero’s homecoming to Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Glen Francouer, who was deployed at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba with the 192nd Military Police Battalion. Several others stood in front of the headquarters at the Beacon Hose Company No. 1 headquarters downtown to cheer.
“It was a great welcome; it’s a nice small community here,” Francouer said. “I know my family had some issues while I was gone (a couple fire alarms due to boiler issues) and the fire department helped. It’s good to know that they can count on other people in our community when they need help.”
Francouer, 36, was one of 50 soldiers from the battalion who returned Wednesday. The battalion, based in Niantic, departed in March alongside the 143rd Regional Support Group and was responsible for detainee operations at Guantanamo Bay in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Army National Guard stated in a news release.
Francouer, who runs The Siding King Supply and Home Improvement Co. in Shelton with his father, has been a member of the battalion for 15 years. He was deployed in Germany between 2006 and 2007, an experience he enjoyed.
This time, however, was a little more difficult, he said. Although he enjoyed the mission, he missed his wife, Meghan (Neal) Francouer, and their 2-year-old daughter, Clara.
“Leaving them was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he said.
However, he said advances in technology allowed them to talk every day via text message, video chat or email. Additionally, Meghan and Clara visited Glen Francouer in Cuba for 10 days in November, which happened to fall on Clara’s second birthday.
“Whenever I would be upset, I would think that if I were a soldier during Vietnam or World War I or World War II, I would write them a letter and they would get it maybe in two months or so,” he said. “So I was grateful to be able to communicate with them daily.”
The technology was nice, but the face-to-face communication is what the Francouers say they missed most.
Meghan Francouer said she was lucky to receive tremendous help from friends and family. And she says she now has an elevated level of respect for single parents.
“It’s not easy, for sure,” she said.
On Wednesday, though, it got a little easier for all of the Francouers.
As friends and family celebrated with pizza and a toast at their house Wednesday night, Glen Francouer held his only daughter and stared into her eyes as if he were seeing her again for the first time.
Clara was all smiles; she was happy that Daddy was there to say goodnight and give her a kiss.
And this time, he wasn’t on the other side of a computer screen.