Prospect Hts. turns out for its military hero
Prospect Heights turns out for its military hero
After 17 years together, Becky Stehman instantly knew something was wrong from the way her husband said, "Hello" when he called Aug. 7.
Army Sgt. Ben Stehman, a native of Prospect Heights, was calling his wife from a hospital halfway across the world to let her know his Humvee had hit a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
Becky, 31, didn't get to see her husband and high school sweetheart until Aug. 14 when he arrived at a hospital in Texas -- a week that she said was the longest and worst of her life.
"I didn't sleep, I didn't eat," she said. "It was hell."
Now stationed at Fort Riley in Manhattan, KS., Stehman continues to recover alongside his wife and their two young sons.
The family was back in Prospect Heights Friday for an upcoming wedding, and Stehman was drinking coffee at his father's home in Prospect Heights when he saw several fire trucks and ambulances coming toward the house.
"He immediately started saying, 'What did you do?'" Becky said.
Before he knew it, Ben, Becky and their sons were in a Hummer limousine and leading a parade in Ben's honor through town.
Brian Gallagher, one of Stehman's closest friends since John Hersey High School -- where he met Becky and graduated from in 1995 -- planned the parade and event.
He was a little nervous Becky would spill the beans (she didn't), but he knew the parade had to be a surprise because Stehman is too modest to go along with it otherwise.
"He deserves it and I knew a lot of people would want to come out and say thank you," said Gallagher, of Arlington Heights. "It couldn't have been better."
Fire, police and local residents and Mayor Nick Helmer joined the parade to recognize Stehman with a proclamation and the keys to the city.
"This is amazing," Ben said. "I never would have expected any of this."
Following the parade, the Lions Club and the Warriors Watch Riders held a ceremony at the Gary Morava Center. Stehman, a man of few words, got up to speak.
"I just want to thank everyone for supporting the troops," Stehman said, clearly overwhelmed by the awards, cheers and long line of people who wanted to shake the 34-year-old's hand.
Stehman will add his hometown honors to his Purple Heart, received for his injury in Afghanistan and his two earlier tours in Iraq.
Becky was rarely out of her husband's arms Friday, which both said was an emotional day. With four years of active duty left, she expects he'll be deployed again before it's over.
"The hardest part (of being away) was knowing my wife was at home without me," Stehman said. "I had to be focused on the mission, but I knew they were waiting for me."
The couple met in a World History class at Hersey. They have been together since June 1995 and married more than 10 years.
Becky said the deployments have been difficult on their children, Ivan, 7, and Alec, 3, who are beyond thrilled to have their father home now.
On this last deployment, Stehman's third, his Humvee was the last in the convoy when it hit the IED. The driver, 22-year-old Brian Jergens, was thrown from the vehicle and he lost both legs. Jergens has been recovering in California and was recently just able to say his first words since the accident.
As the rest of the unit prepares to head home around Christmas, Stehman said he will be there to welcome them back and thinks of them often.
Becky said available technology makes it easier for the two to communicate across the world, and she said the two rely on their trust and love for one another to get through.
The couple was a little overwhelmed by the outpouring on Friday, but ultimately grateful to have such loving friends and family supporting them all over the country, including the suburbs.
"Everyday I wake up and I'm just so thankful," Becky said. "It really teaches you not to sweat the small stuff."