U.S. Army Sgt. Andrew Kaufman thought he was helping a friend whose car had broken down when he arrived at the Romeoville Dominick's on Friday evening.
Instead, the 31-year-old Romeoville native was greeted by a line of American flags and loud cheers from family, friends, police, firefighters and members of Warriors' Watch Riders.
"I was supposed to be having a quiet dinner at White Fence Farm with some friends and family," Kaufman said. "I had no idea they had a big party planned."
The surprise event was arranged by Operation Welcome You Home to celebrate Kaufman's return to Romeoville after eight years of service in the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart in Georgia. He was honorably discharged March 17, and returned home a week later.
"I'm a humble guy, so all of this is really crazy," Kaufman said. "But I'm honored and grateful that so many people came out to show their support."
Kaufman is the son of Romeoville residents Fran and Bob Benson and Lemont residents Dave and Therese Kaufman. He was born in Joliet, and graduated from in 1998.
He enlisted in the Army shortly after 9/11.
After graduating from basic training and advanced infantry training, Kaufman was assigned to the 3rd Infantry at Fort Stewart. He served a 15-month tour in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, and graduated from Army Airborne School in 2010.
Although he hasn't been deployed since 2008, Kaufman was rarely able to visit home, according to his mother, Romeoville resident Fran Benson.
"We're so grateful to have him back," Benson said. "It's been difficult with him away; we missed him terribly."
Benson is a member of Romeoville's American Legion Post 52 Auxiliary, and has been part of several homecoming celebrations planned by Operation Welcome You Home.
"It's the best feeling to be on the other side, celebrating the return of your own child," she said.
Following the surprise at Dominick's, Romeoville police escorted Kaufman across town to Mongo McMichael's, the restaurant owned by former Chicago Bear Steve McMichael.
Now that he's home, Kaufman plans to attend Lewis University to study radiation therapy.
"I just like helping people, so I wanted to study something that would allow me to do that," he said.
Although Kaufman is proud of his time in the service, he said he hopes to see more troops return home soon.
"People forget there are still a lot of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq," he said. "We need to get them home safe. It's time."