WONDER LAKE – Dawn Sheffield was happy to have her "garage buddy" back Saturday.
After 9 months in Afghanistan and nearly 2 years away from home, Matthew Johnson returned to Wonder Lake on Saturday to the warm reception of family, friends, neighbors and the Warriors' Watch Riders – a troop support group that frequently provides motorcycle escorts or surprises to veterans who return home.
Sheffield, who lives next to Johnson on Balsam Drive, said she was relieved to finally see the now 27-year-old she has known since his childhood again, but was not surprised he volunteered to serve his country. After all, he once stayed to help her repair her flooded garage until 1 a.m.
"He was born to do it," Sheffield said of Johnson's service in the Army. "He's always been a good kid and someone you could count on for help."
Johnson was thrilled to be back Saturday, but knew his time home would be short. He is scheduled to go back to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, next weekend to serve another year, but will not need to head overseas.
Still, for a father of an 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, time apart is the toughest aspect of a job that includes the possibility of combat at any time.
"The hardest part of leaving was having to go [to Afghanistan] the day before Christmas," Johnson said. "I came here to see my family and kids as much as I can before I have to leave again."
Upon completion of his service, the Army calvary scout plans to attend college and possibly study accounting. No matter his son's next life decision, Johnson's father said he was beyond proud.
Bill Johnson, who served in the Army in 1973, said he did not know his son wanted to join the military until he was near high school graduation. The experience was much different from his own time in the military.
"I just had to hope I raised him right and he was trained right because there was not a lot of communication," Bill Johnson said of his son's time overseas. "It is more nerve-wracking."
Valeri Johnson, Matthew Johnson's mother, agreed it was a stressful 9 months with her son in Afghanistan but was soaking in the moment of the community – including fire and police officials – thanking her son for his service.
"This is more than I could have ever expected," she said. "It is amazing."