The Curry Coastal Pilot

Michael Ruegsegger is home andndash; safe and sound.

The 21-year-old Brookings man returned Wednesday afternoon after a six-month stint in Afghanistan.

The soldier, a specialist in the Army, was welcomed by a group of about 30, including the Brookings-Harbor Red Shirts and his family, parents Cathy and Logan Couch and sister Kierstyn.

The crowd waited, waving flags and peering out the window for his plane's arrival in Crescent City. Ruegsegger was the first to disembark.

He smiled broadly, hugged his family and modestly shook hands with people before his family quickly whisked him from the gate.

Ruegsegger, a Brookings-Harbor High School graduate, isn't allowed to speak much about what he's done overseas.

"It's all secret clearance and above," he said. "All I can say is that I was in Uruzgan province."

"It makes it very nerve-wracking," his mother said. "You're watching TV, and something goes on and you hope he's not there."

She said it's been tough on everyone involved.

"He's got to be ready 24/7 if there's any problem," Cathy said of his scouting duties. "It's probably one of the worst jobs, but that's what he wanted to do."

Ruegsegger joined the local Search and Rescue team six years ago and the U.S. Army three years ago.

"That's probably what got him started," Cathy said. "That's what they do. It's kind of in his blood."

Ruegsegger has been emailing and writing to family, friends and Red Shirt members since he arrived in Afghanistan.

"He's definitely looking forward to coming home," Cathy said Tuesday. "He definitely needs a break. But he'll be pretty busy when he gets back."

He will head back to Afghanistan in two weeks.

Now, he's enjoying time with family and looking forward to fishing.

"It's definitely different being home after being gone for so long," he said. "It's tough coming back from being in a combat zone and carrying a weapon and looking over your shoulder all the time."

A celebratory barbecue, open to the public, will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at the VFW Hall, 206 Pacific Avenue in Brookings.