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Guardsman gets a bright red welcome

It wasn't a five-alarm fire -- or even a cat stuck up a tree -- that the convoy of Cottage Grove fire trucks rolling down 80th Street was after last Friday.

Nope, just a homecoming.

Cottage Grove volunteer firefighter and Minnesota National Guard Red Bull Brigade soldier Adam Pelton got a big, bright red escort down the city's main drag after 16 months in Iraq -- one that would've made any parade-going kid a bit jealous.

"This was shocking," the 28-year-old said, standing with friends, family and neighbors that gathered to welcome him home Friday afternoon. "It's amazing to see everyone."

Whether he was sitting in the shade enjoying a glorious summer's day or enjoying some ice cream, no place was safe from well-wishers at the party thrown for him -- something the single father isn't quite used to.

"It's kind of weird to hear people say thank you," said Pelton, who celebrated his 28th birthday Sunday, just two days after returning to Cottage Grove. "I guess I really don't know what to say to it -- the support everybody shows is amazing. For some reason I just have a little trouble when people say thank you."

"It's not that I don't appreciate it. The way I thought about it is we were just going to do a job. I was just there with my guys."

Pelton's mom, Cindy, didn't find sleep easy to come by the night before she reunited with her son, not with the flood of emotions she said she was feeling. Younger brother Nick, who took the day off work in St. Cloud to greet his sibling, said it was their mother that took the news of Adam's extended tour earlier this year the hardest.

"My mom took it the worst; she's the worrier of the family," Nick said. "I guess everybody expected something like that would happen when we saw other guys got their tours extended. We were just hoping it wouldn't be these guys."

In the end, it made Friday's reunion all the sweeter.

The fire department escort "was overwhelming," Cindy said. "I think it was really good for him to know how appreciated he is."

As for thoughts on the swelling debate over the war, Pelton said he has more pertinent worries right now. Like catching up on new DVDs. Or getting used to the new Wakota Bridge.

"It's weird to think about -- right now it hasn't really sunk in, but it will in a couple weeks -- life went on without us when we were over there. In your mind, you kind of think everything just stops and is waiting for you when you get back," he said. "But it doesn't."

Jon Avise can be reached at