Zach Rhodes plays with his dogs Ghost and Diamond on June 3 outside his home in Crystal Lake, Ill. Rhodes joined the military so that his mother would not have to sell their home to pay for his college. (Kyle Grillot / Northwest Herald via AP)
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CRYSTAL LAKE, ILL. — Zackery Rhodes missed his carpet.
It’s what two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan will do to a soldier.
“I remember coming home and just loving the feeling of lying on carpet again … or taking a real hot shower,” said Rhodes, a 2006 Crystal Lake Central High School graduate. “It’s the little things you take for granted.”
Rhodes recently returned home to Crystal Lake and celebrated with community members at Crystal Lake Central High School and Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub. Friends and family had plenty to celebrate about the Army infantryman’s six-plus-year career.
At 24, Rhodes was a team leader for three older soldiers during his second tour in Iraq. He also completed Ranger school, which required him to traverse deserts, jungles and mountains in extreme conditions that included as little as two hours of sleep a night and sparse food.
His combat leadership included assisting more than 300 partnered combat patrols, an air assault and multiple small kill teams that resulted in at least two enemies killed in action, 14 enemies captured and several explosive devices uncovered and destroyed, according to his military documents.
“You can’t explain in words how proud you are,” Cameron Rhodes said of her son’s service. “It’ll be an easy adjustment to have him home again. He’s a man now. I don’t have to pay attention or worry about what he does.”
The mother-son bond was an important one throughout Zackery Rhodes’ time in the Army. Not only did the two communicate frequently through Skype, but his mother was a part of the reason he decided to serve.
He did not want his single mother to have to make more sacrifices — including the potential sale of their home — to pay for high tuition costs in the college career he wanted to pursue.
Now with the help of the G.I. Bill, Zackery Rhodes plans to attend college at no cost to his mother and pursue a career in the nursing field.
Zackery Rhodes said he would make the decision to join the Army again and believes his efforts were for a worthwhile cause in both countries. He said the positive change in Iraq is noticeable, while transformation in Afghanistan is slower and more complicated.
“You see a lot of the bad stuff on TV, but there is a lot of good happening there, especially with the police,” said Zackery Rhodes, who also helped train local police officers. “They are more prepared to get control of their country again.”