It's been about 10 months since Private First Class Kenny Lockard has been in Southampton, and he received an enthusiastic welcome home when he arrived with a motorcade just after midnight Friday.
Members of the Southampton Fire Department, in which Lockard was a junior firefighter, and members of in which he is an EMT, waited with anticipation to join the motorcade as it passed on its way to his home in North Sea.
Lockard's last time in Southampton was December 2011, when the now 20-year-old Southampton High School graduate reported to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Then in February, he shipped out to Afghanistan with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He returned to Fort Bragg two weeks ago, and his family was present to greet him. But that was a brief reunion, said his father, Ken Lockard, adding that Friday marked his true homecoming.
The elder Lockard said his son independently made the decision to join the Army, becoming a combat medic, though he has had family influences.
“He chose his path on his own," the proud father said. "He’s always been a service oriented young man, with the ambulance and the fire department juniors. He’s been surrounded by relatives who have had service in previous wars, going back to World War II.”
The elder Lockard is a former assistant chief of Southampton Fire Department, and currently a North Sea firefighter. He works as the chief 911 dispatcher for Southampton Village.
He said his son "chose to serve and also to save lives as opposed to take them, being a medic, choosing what comes naturally to him," and he described him as a "go-to guy" whose friends could always rely on him. “I’d hear the door slam at 3 in the morning because someone had a flat tire and he was going to help them. He's always been very giving.”
Lockard attended high school with Southampton firefighter and fellow EMT Kyle McGuinness, and they were members of the Southampton Fire Department Juniors together. “He actually got me into it,” McGuinness said.
They also did their EMT certification course together in Sag Harbor for months, training and drilling.
Now Lockard trains, drills and serves with the Army, as a medic.
“Instead of going to college he just wanted to help out and do what he liked — he really liked being an EMT,” said David Kruckel, a Southampton firefighter and high school friend of Lockard's.
“He was a good friend of mine," Kruckel said. "Ever since I met him we hung out all the time. I became really good friends with his family.”
“He’s always the life of the party,” added firefighter Sam Price, a lifelong friend.
Even as Lockard's been deployed, he's stayed close with his friends.
“He kept in touch when he was in Afghanistan, through Facebook and he called,” McGuinness said.
Firefighters and ambulance volunteers parked firetrucks and other emergency vehicles along County Road 39 late Thursday to await his arrival. Motorcyclists with the Red Knights led the motorcade, and Lockard's sister Kayleigh got to ride on the back of a motorcycle. A few vehicles back, Lockard was behind the wheel of a car, with his fellow serviceman Private First Class Brian Swenk, of Kentucky, in the passenger seat.
As the motorcade drove down County Road 39, the firetrucks and ambulance corps vehicles joined the procession to North Sea. His other sister, Casey, his father, and mother, Caryn, waited at home for Lockard to pull into the driveway.
He is slated to be home for just 18 days before heading back to Fort Bragg.
This wasn't the first homecoming this year on the East End for an Afghanistan War vet. In June, Shelter Island welcomed back Marine Lance Cpl. Michael "Zach" Mundy. On Sept. 22, the Sag Harbor community stayed up late to greet Army National Guard Sgt. Charles Glass.