SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KTVU) – An Army soldier returning from Afghanistan received a special homecoming by family, friends, veterans, and the City of South San Francisco on Friday.
Private First Class Matt Zander, 19, arrived on an American Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport just before noon.
Zander's family and the USO were able to gain special access to the gate and meet him as soon as he walked off the air bridge.
Father Dirk Zander said he and his wife have been waiting for this day since they heard their son was returning to California about a week ago.
Zander has been stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas for the past few weeks following a nine month deployment in Afghanistan.
"It's been almost a year since we've seen him," his father said.
Dirk Zander rides with the Patriot Guard Riders and the group was on hand at the airport to welcome his son home.
Zander was escorted by motorcade to South San Francisco City Hall.
The USO, American Airlines, VFW, Zander's high school buddies and others were on hand to give him a proper homecoming.
"I'm still overwhelmed a bit," Zander said. "I was just expecting to see my family and friends."
Zander's father said his son's appearance changed a bit.
"He looks different," he said. "He left an 18-year-old kid and came back a 19-year-old man."
The homecoming was due in large part to the help of South San Francisco Deputy Chief Mike Brosnan.
"We knew that this was a young man that deserved to be celebrated upon returning home from Afghanistan," Brosnan said.
Brosnan gathered city officials and representatives from the offices of Congresswoman Jackie Speier and Assemblyman Kevin Mullin.
Brosnan, Speier and Mullin are all South San Francisco natives as well.
Vice Mayor Mark Addiego presented Zander with a special certificate of recognition for his service. The Patriot Guard Riders also presented Zander and his family with coins.
Zander said it was good to see many of the police officers he used to work with. Zander was a member of the South San Francisco Police Explorers in high school. He plans to join the department after the Army with hopes of joining the SWAT Team.
"It's where I grew up so I want to work here," Zander said.
"As soon as he's age ready and done with his commitment to the U.S. Army we will take the steps to put him in the police academy and get him on the streets of South San Francisco," Brosnan added.
Until then, Zander plans to relax for the time being. He gets 16 days at home before he has to return to base at Ft. Hood.
Zander's family, the veterans and Brosnan just wanted to give him a welcome home to remember in a city that he can't wait to serve.