SKOWHEGAN — Cpl. Robert Fickett says he enjoys Muddy Buddies so much, he can eat the snack mix by the can.

At Christmas he also satisfies his sweet tooth with peanut butter balls. He and his family celebrate with traditions, such as cooking a big lunch and opening presents. He and his brother also plan to put out a stocking for the cat.

This year, though, the best thing about Christmas is that he’s alive.

After insurgents blew up the armored vehicle he was driving in Afghanistan in July, Fickett, 20, said the best Christmas gift is being able to spend time with family and friends.

“The greatest gift I guess would be reuniting with family as a whole and coming home alive,” he said.

The Norridgewock native, who lives with his brother Douglas in Skowhegan, received the Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained July 6 in Zabul province.

After the attack, he didn’t know whether he would be home for Christmas, but because of President Barack Obama’s drawdown of troops, Fickett returned quickly and was able to surprise his family on Thanksgiving Day.

His father, Lincoln, was the only one who knew his plan and drove to the airport that day to pick up his son.

When Fickett walked through the door in Norridgewock, the turkey was ready.

“I haven’t seen that many smiling faces in a while,” he said.

While he said he’s happy to be home on leave, it will require re-adjusting. “I’m home, and I’m free. I don’t really know what to do,” he said. “You find yourself doing random things just to keep busy.”

As a personal security detail with the 716th Engineering Company of the U.S. Army Reserve, out of Somersworth, N.H., Fickett said he went on about 200 missions in the 10 months he was in Afghanistan. His job was to take U.S. Department of Defense civilians to check on construction projects throughout the country.

He was deployed as a volunteer and has already volunteered to return, perhaps in six months, though he said he knows it will be difficult with the troop withdrawal.

In the meantime, he will take online classes with the American Military University toward an associate degree in counter-terrorism. He has plans to join the Norridgewock Fire Department and is searching for a job where he can do hands-on work, he said.

His other brother, Lincoln Jr., lives in New Hampshire. His sister, Dawn, lives next door to him in Skowhegan. His father and stepmother, Nancy, live in Norridgewock with their children, Noah and Ariel. His mother, Elinor, also lives in Norridgewock.

Working in Afghanistan was often dangerous, Fickett said, but he became close to his team. No day was the same. His work there became his new normal, he said. And he wants to go back even though he knows the risks.

The day his armored truck struck a roadside bomb and flipped over, he was on a mission that had worried him and others earlier in the day. Before they left, a friend’s wife had called from Florida and expressed her concern, so the three of them prayed over the phone, Fickett said.

When the bomb went off, Fickett was knocked unconscious and suffered a severe concussion and a broken ankle. Then three insurgents began firing.

He stayed on scene for three days before the Army forced him to be airlifted out. It took rescue crews five days to get to his team, as the crews hit four roadside bombs along the way.

“After that we made it a point not to tell each other that we were worried,” he said.

Fickett was bedridden for a month, and he still doesn’t remember anything from the morning before the blast. He has some lingering effects, he said. Sometimes when he’s talking to someone, he forgets that he’s in a conversation.

His time abroad has also given him a better appreciation for his home state.

“Nothing comes close to Maine.”

He missed Fonzos pizza place on Smithfield Road in Norridgewock, he said. He missed going to pump gas and running into the people he knows at the gas station.

“No matter where you go, you always know somebody. You always have friends,” he said.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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