When William Matthaey was a freshman at Manchester Township High School, he told his parents he wanted to go into the military. Sunday, he was back in Manchester greeting family and friends after serving his first tour of duty in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Pfc. Matthaey, a 2010 graduate, is a parachute rigger who was stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan for seven months before returning to the states in February. He came home for the first time since then on March 16.
"The job I did helped everyone else trying to defend the U.S.," said the 20-year-old at his welcome home celebration at the . "My job contributed to saving the U.S. from terrorism."
Matthaey left for boot camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. in August 2010. He went on to Airborne school at Fort Bening, Ga. and then attended rigger school Fort Lee, Va. He was stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. until he was deployed.
His parents were with his younger sister, Cortney, who goes to college in Indiana, Pa. when they got the call.
"We got a phone call and he said, 'I don't have time to talk — I love you, I'm leaving,'" said Matthaey's mother, Lu Ann. "The uncertainty is the hardest part."
She said she knew that her son never wanted to sit in an office all day, so his choice of a military career was the right one for him.
"Were we concerned? Yes. Were we surprised? No," said Lu Ann Matthaey, whose family has lived in Manchester for 13 years. "He's always been a rugged type of kid and always loved the outdoors."
The soldier said going into the Army was a good decision.
"It keeps me active and keeps me going," he said. "I will probably re-up for three years and start school."
Matthaey plans to study art to become a tattoo artist. Taking his fatigues jacket off, large tattoos could be seen on both of his arms.
Red, white and blue balloons were set out for the party by the restaurant staff. Manager Jackie Koch said this was the first welcome home party they've been asked to host.
"We wanted to make sure it looked nice so he knew we appreciate him, too," said Koch.
His cousin, Colleen Stipeck, her husband, Jim, and their three small children travelled from Pennsylvania to see William. Another cousin also is in the Army and her brother served in the Navy, so the family is accustomed to the military.
"You worry about them," Stipeck said. "It's hard to explain to the kids. They don't understand war and what's going on."
Matthaey was also joined by Jenna Johnson, a young woman from the Whiting section of the township, whom he began corresponding with over the Internet while he was in Afghanistan.
His mother said they met for the first time when he came home and have since been inseparable.
Matthaey said hearing from people in the U.S. makes a huge difference to those serving in Afghanistan.
"It shows someone cares for you, you're not alone and that people back home support you," he said. "Your day gets lit up if you get a package."
Matthaey heads back to Ft. Bragg on March 29 and expects to be deployed again to Afghanistan in another year or so.
"He's grown up a lot," said Lu Ann Matthaey. "You can see the difference two years makes."