Men and women of the U.S. Army expect the unexpected.
Veteran Andrew Fiumano did not expect Saturday’s top secret operation at American Legion Post No. 1092 in Niskayuna. The 26-year-old Niskayuna native walked right into it — a surprise “welcome home” party.
About 45 people gathered inside the post on Union Street to toast Fiumano’s service in Kuwait and Afghanistan, a nine-month tour of duty that started in spring 2018 and ended earlier this year.
“I’m still half-speechless, opening the door and seeing everyone, that was not expected, it was just incredible,” said Fiumano, who deployed as a satellite communications operator. “I was three months in Kuwait, three months in Afghanistan and then three more months in Kuwait, so they kind of broke it up a little bit.”
Fiumano entered the front door of the post minutes after 3 p.m., passing rows of American flags held by post Patriot Guard members. The veteran then was honored during a 25-minute ceremony that included salutations from town and state politicians. A buffet lunch followed.
Maria Struys, one of Fiumano’s friends, helped organize the party. She had help from her father, Michael Struys, past commander of Post No. 1092.
“I had a welcome home party planned,” Maria Struys said. “My dad definitely helped me bring it to what it has become today. I was not particularly expecting this, though.”
“We got it done,” Michael Struys said. “It’s the right thing to, that’s why it’s important. In the past, people weren’t treated this way, they weren’t treated with respect when they came home.”
Fiumano, who served with Bravo Company, 101st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, never suspected.
“Maria was telling me I was helping out with some event,” Fiumano said. “I expected to be doing dishes or helping with the bar.”
Instead, there were bottles of Heineken, plates full of salad and meatballs, homemade chocolate chip cookies and red, white and blue balloons all over the small post hall.
Niskayuna residents Laura and Drew Fiumano were glad to see so many people visit the post to honor their only child. Guests included a large contingent of veterans, state Sen. James N. Tedisco (R-Glenville), U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-Amsterdam) and state Assemblyman Phillip Steck (D-Colonie). Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed and Councilman John Della Ratta also welcomed Fiumano back home.
Syed is engaged to a veteran who served in Kuwait.
“I understand how much of a sacrifice it is both for the soldier and for the family,” she said. “Having Corporal Fiumano back home safe is just such a blessing.”
Della Ratta was glad to be part of celebration.
“It’s important to express the gratitude and commitment that families of veterans and current military personnel are doing on a daily basis,” he said. “The sacrifice many times goes unnoticed, unrealized.”
“We’re overwhelmed,” Drew Fiumano said. “We had no conception what was going on. It’s a great tribute and it’s a great tribute to the people who are here, the members here who served like our son did. You can’t lose sight of that. We’re humbled we’re in the presence of these people and our son is going to be part of it.”
Fiumano, who graduated from Niskayuna High School in 2010, studied para-medicine at Hudson Valley Community College. He joined the U.S. Army in 2012 and currently works for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation as a park ranger and peace officer instructor. He lives in Manhattan.
Ron Pucci of Scotia, a U.S. Navy veteran from the Vietnam era, was glad to be part of the welcome home party.
“When we got back, they chewed chocolate and spit on our Navy whites,” Pucci said. “This, it’s a wonderful thing to do.”
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124