NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — A Naperville family was marking the New Year on Tuesday with a loved one’s return.

CBS 2’s Chris Martinez was there as they welcomed their hero home.

Army Sgt. Joe Riehle was never expecting the welcome home he got on New Year’s Day, full of thank yous, hugs and handshakes.

American flags lined the street as he rode through the heart of his hometown of Naperville.

“Sometimes when you’re over there, you sometimes forget how many people actually do care,” Riehle said.

Ask the dozens who showed up to welcome Riehle home, and they’ll tell you it’s the least they could do.

“It’s the first day of the New Year. We’re here with a hero,” one woman said at Riehle’s homecoming.

Riehle was gone more than nine months during his most recent deployment to Afghanistan, following a previous tour in Iraq.

“It’s a breath of fresh air, definitely,” he said.

The return this time, though, was bittersweet for everyone involved.

His mother, Georgianne Williams, said she’s relieved to have her sone home, safe and sound.

“Absolutely; prayers are answered. So many don’t come home,” she said.

For other families, of some of this soldier’s best friends, the New Year wasn’t beginning with a similar homecoming.

“This is more for the people who didn’t get to come home, than it is for people like me,” Riehle said.

Riehle might return to Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but he’s not sure if that deployment will happen.

His more immediate mission is his upcoming wedding in April to his fiancée Angela.