SAVOY — The first thing Army Spc. Trevor Byers did after arriving home for Christmas following a tour of duty in Afghanistan was to head to a local store to buy a cellphone.
"I needed something to call my fiancee and friends," said Byers, 25, of Urbana. "I had a cellphone in Afghanistan, but none of those phones work here in the United States."
Byers came home on Tuesday afternoon to spend the holidays with his family in Urbana after serving the last year in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"It is great to spend Christmas with my family and to see friends I haven't seen for a while," he said.
His mother, Dorinda Miller of Urbana, hugged her son as he arrived at Willard Airport in Savoy.
"I was trying not to cry," she said.
Byers was originally scheduled to arrive Monday evening, but a series of delayed flights forced him to spend Monday night in Chicago.
The delay didn't keep away a team of Patriot Guard Riders who had been on hand at the airport Monday night to welcome Byers back to Illinois.
The Patriot Guard Riders, an organization that supports military personnel and their families, returned to Willard on Tuesday afternoon carrying American flags to provide a surprise color guard to greet the soldier.
"Guys like Specialist Byers have sacrificed a great deal for us, and we wanted to make sure they are welcomed home and appreciated," said Bill James of Mahomet.
"We're glad to see him come home like this, greeting his family, rather than come home in a box," said Tom Harpst from American Legion Post 1015. "We've been to more funerals for people killed in action than I can count. It is great to see him coming home to his family for Christmas, crying with happiness with tears of joy."
Byers, a 2005 graduate of Urbana High School, has been doing vehicle maintenance work on Humvees in Kabul.
"I've always loved working on vehicles," Byers said. "I was an automotive technician even before I joined the Army. I took automotive classes in high school and took the automotive technology program at Universal Technology Institute in Phoenix, Ariz."
Byers said repairing vehicles in a war zone offered unique challenges for him.
"Every now and then I found myself replacing a window that got shot through," he said.
Byers said he enlisted in the Army for financial reasons.
"My work in the Army is going to pay off my student loans from school," he said.
"The way the economy is going, Trevor decided this was a better paying job," Miller said.
Byers' stepdad, Bob Miller, said he is proud of him.
"I'm just glad he's home safe," he said.
After spending Christmas with his family, Byers plans to fly to Phoenix next week to pick up his fiancee, Denise Manseau.
The couple plans to head to Las Vegas and get married before he heads to his next assignment in Germany in January.
Byers said it was challenging maintaining a relationship with his girlfriend.
"We would communicate by way of email and instant messaging, but sometimes the Internet would go down for a few days over there," he said.
Dorinda Miller said she is planning on heading to Las Vegas to meet her future daughter-in-law and attend the wedding.
"I haven't met her, and she has three little girls, ages 3, 4 and 5," she said. "Trevor will become a daddy right away."
Byers said he believes his service in Afghanistan has been worthwhile.
"The local people in Afghanistan seem to support our mission," he said. "So much of the country had been destroyed by terrorism, and I think we have made a difference rebuilding the country."