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Neighbors welcome soldier home: After serving, veteran starts new chapter at age 22


Photo By: Photos by Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Photo Photos By Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier

Osage Avenue neighbors and a pair of proud grandparents, top, welcome home Bobby McLean.

A worldwide helium shortage didn’t hold back Osage Avenue in Los Altos last week as neighbors wrangled balloons, ribbons and banners to welcome home a local son.

Los Altos resident Bobby McLean returned home after serving three overseas deployments with the U.S. Army Rangers. The 22-year-old enlisted while a senior at Los Altos High School. After basic training, he traveled from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Ga., to Iraq and Afghanistan with the First Battalion, 75th Regiment.

His parents, grandparents, siblings and friends met McLean at San Francisco International Airport accompanied by two members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle club that greets homecoming vets. The riders hefted a large American flag and saluted. Minutes later, McLean arrived in his childhood neighborhood to find the streets lined with cheering neighbors, old and new. He said it felt good to be home.

“Right now, a big thing for me is transitioning out of the military and establishing a productive lifestyle as a civilian,” McLean said. “For the first few months, I just want to come back to my hometown, stay active, wake up, work out, do the things a soldier needs to do when he’s trying to reassign himself back to being a civilian.”

One of McLean’s first tasks will center on baseball. Because he’s “been out of the picture” for his family for a few years, he said that being present for them was a priority – particularly finally getting to watch his younger brother, Steven, play for Los Altos High School. The star shortstop started his senior year already committed to Baylor University.

“I haven’t been able to see him play the last four years,” McLean said of Steven. “I’m planning to take some time working out and training with him and watching him play.”

McLean doesn’t know which career comes next for him, but he knows where his skills lie.

“I want to work with people,” he said. “One of my big ideas was to be into physical fitness and a personal trainer, or to work with teenagers – anybody who wants to better themselves. That’s one thing I had when I was in high school. I wanted to push myself, which was why I signed up for special operations.”

McLean signed with the Army the day after he turned 18 and left for basic training nine days after graduation. Asked what she thought at the time, his mom, Lisa, laughed and said that nobody was going to change McLean’s mind.

“Halfway through his junior year he said, ‘I’m joining the Army,’ and we said, ‘Really?’” she remembered, fondly describing his self-certainty. “Bobby’s a determined guy – he sets his goals and he reaches them.”

After being seriously injured during a training jump with the new T-11 Parachute, McLean’s third deployment involved training Afghan soldiers rather than combat.

McLean said he never anticipated that he’d make a career out of Army service, but as a teenager in a country at war, he felt that “if someone needed to volunteer and go fight, I was probably one of the best candidates.”

“I thought when I got out, after all I’ve been through, I’d be jumping and cheering. But I’m trying to just take things slow, enjoy life, think about what I’ve accomplished,” he said. “When I was in high school, I told this country that I’d do four years and 19 weeks as an airborne ranger – and now I’ve completed that.”

The enthusiasm of the dozens of people gathered along Osage Avenue with signs to wave and horns to toot signaled a desire among the community to salute McLean, but also to take a moment to honor and participate in the ongoing service of Americans abroad. At the airport’s baggage claim, a stranger sought him out to say thank you.

“It’s nice to see people show their support for the troops,” Lisa said. “One thing that bothers me in the campaigns right now – no one’s talking about the war in Afghanistan. There are people dying over there. It should be at the forefront. To me, it’s an awfully big deal.”

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