As more than 30 Warriors' Watch Riders mounted their motorcycles and climbed into cars with horns blaring in a 7-Eleven parking lot, the party had already begun for Senior Airman Bradley Taylor.
Dozens of family members, old college roommates and even a military buddy or two were enjoying the start of the Blackhawks game when the welcoming party thundered into his neighborhood in an unincorporated area near Bartlett. The 27-year-old Bartlett High School graduate soon was swarmed with pats on the back and cheers for his recent military service overseas.
"I love coming home," Taylor said to the gathered crowd.
It's been about 10 years since he spent much time at home. Taylor attended Iowa State University after high school, playing on the hockey team and participating in Air Force ROTC while there. After college, Taylor enlisted in the Air Force and graduated first out of 900 cadets in his boot camp class. He followed that showing by becoming the top airman in his explosives ordnance disposal training. From there, he deployed to Iraq for nine months; a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan followed. Taylor's homecoming is a brief stint before he starts an officer training program in Seattle.
"Military is what I wanted to do," Taylor said. "But my dad always said to get my education. I'm glad I did. I was young and a little out of control and probably wouldn't have made it in the military before college. I make much better decisions now."
During his deployments, Taylor served by defusing and disposing of improvised explosive devices in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the danger isn't his primary concern.
"I'm just trying to step up," Taylor said. "I want to live up to the standards that those who came before me set."
Taylor said there is a lot of camaraderie in the military, including respect between the various branches. He said he is very sure he is pursuing a calling in the military.
"I've been told by a couple people that if you don't love what you do, you need to find something else," Taylor said. "People respect what I do. And I feel great."