His name is Philip LoBiondo Jr, but his family calls him Dude, and on Thursday, July 18, Dude came home.
The Town of Henrietta lined the street with American flags near his family’s house on East River Road, and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department sent cruisers to park nearby with their lights flashing.
“It looks like the president’s coming home,” Dude’s stepmother, Carla LoBiondo, said in an interview the day before his return.
“The president is coming home,” said his father, Philip LoBiondo Sr.
Dude, who turns 24 on July 25, attended Sherman Elementary and Burger Middle School in Henrietta before moving in with his biological mother in Minnesota. In late 2010 he enlisted in the military, and last September he was deployed to Afghanistan as a US Army sniper specialist.
“When he was a kid he used to play in the woods all the time and make tents all the time,” Carla said. “A sniper is pretty much invisible in the woods, and we knew he’d be good at it.”
LoBiondo said that the most difficult thing about being a sniper specialist was passing the tests. To earn the position, he had to hit 14 moving targets from a quarter-mile away and seven standing targets from a half-mile away. He was then sent to a location in Louisiana for a test mission, where his assignment was to locate a pickup truck with the “enemy” (two US snipers) in it and “kill” (shoot with a laser) the passenger.
“He told me that one time [during the test] he heard talking,” Philip Sr. said. “It was somebody on a walkie talkie. He said to me, ‘Dad, this guy’s knee was right next to my forehead.’ This individual who was keeping track with the two snipers in the pickup said ‘I can’t find this kid.’ Then he knew he was close. He got on his belly, got up to the pickup truck, and hit the passenger and was cleared.”
LoBiondo said the difficult tests were worth the rank.
"It's a sense of pride really," he said. "There are only two snipers out of the 1,000 people in my battalion."
Once in Afghanistan, LoBiondo was unable to communicate with his family for months. When they finally did get in contact, he wasn’t allowed to share information about what he was doing.
“He did tell me a couple times that his job was to sit on mountains that overlook villages and not worry about what the Americans were doing down in the villages, worry about what the Afghan soldiers were looking at,” Philip Sr. said. “He froze on those mountaintops looking down at villages through his scope.”
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“He said it was one of the most beautiful places he’d ever seen, though,” Carla said. “He said it was breathtaking waking up in the morning on top of those mountains, and I’m sure it was.”
Philip Sr. works as a painter at the University of Rochester, and he said the college was happy to have a specific soldier to send care packages to. Dude would receive the packages of supplies, snacks, and toys and, after receiving a Santa Claus hat and beard in the mail, distribute the goodies around the barracks in costume.
The good cheer wasn’t easy to come by, however — even on holidays.
“We would Skype him on Christmas and stuff and the whole family would be in the living room crying,” Carla said. “It was hard being away from him. you don’t realize it until it’s your own family.”
The LoBiondos recently had a pool installed at their Henrietta home, and while the entire family is there to celebrate Dude’s return on July 18, Carla and Philip Sr. said they expect he’ll want to jump in right away. After spending a couple weeks in town, he and his sister will go south for a brief vacation before he begins training new snipers at Fort Stewart, GA.
“I always told him, ‘Keep your head down, keep your eyes sharp,’” Philip Sr. said, "and he did."