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Winter Park military pilot gets a Super Bowl-worthy welcome

Winter Park native Lt. Chuck Nadd received a surprise parade after he returned home from Afghanistan last week.

Winter Park native Lt. Chuck Nadd received a surprise parade after he returned home from Afghanistan last week.

Brittni Larson

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Winter Park’s Lt. Chuck Nadd received a welcome home fit for a hero last week.

Nadd and his girlfriend Shannon Cantwell sat atop the Budweiser wagon pulled by the brewery’s famous Clydesdales as confetti puffed through the air and a marching band trumpeted their arrival.

Spectators decked in red, white and blue cheered, holding signs of welcome and pride over their hometown hero. Children waved tiny American flags and veterans donned their military uniforms or wore patches on their biker vests showing how they served. One veteran improvised by writing “Navy” on a piece of tape put on his baseball cap. And every person there made new friends over their excitement and anticipation to see the honored soldier.

“Everybody serving today is serving on a volunteer basis, and they volunteer to give everything,” said Navy veteran Jim Rushing, who traveled to see the parade from DeBary. “They deserve our respect.”

Nadd, 24, who is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, flew into town that day after an eight-month deployment in Afghanistan. The parade, called “A Hero’s Welcome” and set on New England Avenue, was a complete surprise, and was filmed and sponsored partially by Budweiser for a 60-second Super Bowl commercial spot.

It was organized with the help of Cantwell, who put him up for selection to be featured along with the help of his unit, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, Nadd said. He was under the impression that he’d be speaking to a Veterans of Foreign Wars group, but became suspicious that something a little more special was going to happen when Cantwell met him at the airport when she wasn’t even supposed to be in town. But he couldn’t expect what would happen next.

“I was shocked and honored,” Nadd said.

That was clear to see as Nadd waited on stage to speak to the crowd. When he wasn’t smiling, an expression of sheer amazement struck his face as he looked over his community, and as he spoke, the emotion of the moment could be heard in his voice.

“First of all, so many have given so much more than me so … remember all the folks out there who are still out there, who come back injured or who might not come back,” he said to attendees. “They’re the real heroes.”

Nadd, who graduated from Trinity Prep in 2007, enrolled at West Point and put on a uniform for the first time on his 18th birthday. He knew from a young age that one day he would join the military to protect his country and the rights his parents sought out when they emigrated from Europe. They’d always instilled in him a sense of pride and appreciation for the freedoms they enjoyed by calling the United States home.

“When we were attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001, I was determined to one day serve the country I love so much in uniform,” Nadd said. “I am passionate about serving my country because, as Ronald Reagan once said, we have an obligation to ‘preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth.’”

While gone, he had talked with family on the phone and through Skype. One of his favorite memories was sharing a package he got from his friend Ravi Sankar with his fellow soldiers – a box full of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows that made for a memorable night of s’mores over a fire pit. In Afghanistan, they were all family, he said, but he’s certainly happy to be home, where he can feel safe and be with the people he loves.

“Not having the threat of being hit with indirect fire every night is certainly the best comfort.”

Next, Nadd will head to his home station of Fort Drum, N.Y., for about the next year and a half, serving as a platoon leader and flying Black Hawks. He’ll always come back to Winter Park, though, to teach a day of 8th grade Civics back at Trinity Prep, which he does every year.