PORTLAND, Ore. — Ten days ago, Oregon Army National Guard specialist Alek Skarlatos helped stop a terrorist attack on a high-speed train traveling through Belgium. On Sunday night, he returned to Oregon, looking weary and dressed in plaid and khakis.
He described the international attention he's received in the meantime as "pretty unreal," reported The Oregonian.
Skarlatos, a 22-year-old Roseburg native, said he's looking forward to "relaxing and a little bit of normalcy."
"I'm sure it will happen eventually," he said at Portland International Airport. "Just not sure how or when."
Skarlatos was with his childhood friends Spencer Stone, a U.S. Air Force Airman, and Anthony Sadler, a Sacramento State University senior, on a Paris-bound train when the three helped subdue Ayoub El-Khazzani, a man with ties to radical Islam who was carrying a handgun and an assault weapon.
Since then, he has been awarded France's highest honor, made television appearances and learned that the city of Sacramento plans to hold a parade to honor him, Stone and Sadler. The U.S. Army also plans to award him a medal for his actions.
It's all been a little overwhelming, said Skarlatos.
"If you were thrown in a ridiculous situation like that, and you just want to survive, you'd be surprised if everyone wanted to give you attention about it, too," he said.
Anyone in a similar situation, he said, should "do something, because you're probably going to die anyway, so you might as well give it a shot."
On Sunday, a spokesman from the Oregon Military Department met Skarlatos at his airport gate and accompanied him to baggage claim. While Skarlatos waited for his luggage to appeared, a man in military uniform walked up to shake his hand.
Skarlatos has been a guardsman for three years and returned from a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in July. He said he eventually wants to go back to school and pursue a career in law enforcement, a goal he's had since he was 18.
He grew up in the Sacramento area with Sadler and Stone and said he plans to keep a low profile until he is reunited with his friends.
Skarlatos did, however, reveal one thing on his to-do list: laundry.