Fishtown “warrior” welcomed home

Warriors’ Watch Riders escort Fishtown native home after retirement from the Air Force

John Matecki poses for a photo in his early days in the Air Force. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN MATECKI

By Lindsey Nolen

A Fishtown native who grew up on Gual Street, John Matecki has spent the last 19 years of his life serving in the United States Air Force. Thus, when his father’s old classmate, Dennis James, a coordinator for the Warriors’ Watch Riders, heard that Matecki would be traveling home for the last time as an active duty serviceman before retirement to attend his best friend’s wedding, he offered to help organize a welcome home celebration fit for this hometown hero.

A troop support group, the Warrior’s Watch offers motorcycle escorts for military units returning from war, for units deploying and for individual warriors coming home or going off. Throughout his time serving in the Air Force, Matecki recalls having seen quite a few of these heroes’ welcomes, but had never imagined one being done in his honor.

Yet, as he advanced past airport security on the morning of Sunday, July 16, there stood members of his family and two men from the Warriors Watch organization inside the airport. Additionally, approximately 25 other Warriors’ Watch members waited outside on motorcycles, ready to escort Matecki back to his Fishtown home.

“When I got through the airport, [the members of the Warriors’ Watch] were standing there with my parents and with a welcome home sign, American flags and with patriotic music playing in the background when,” Matecki, who will officially be retired from the Air Force on Sunday, Oct. 1, said. “I was shocked they were all there for me. It was humbling.”

John Matecki’s military retirement photo taken in July 2017 at Edwards Air Force base, his final duty station. PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN MATECKI

To successfully set up this “humbling” surprise, James had reached out to one of two Warriors’ Watch state coordinators, Tom Jones, who contacted Matecki’s family for more information on his return home. Learning that Matecki’s family and friends wished to celebrate the end of his long career in the service, the organization agreed to come together in support.

“When we get to a house after the escort from the airport, we usually take 5 to 10 minutes of the hero’s time to welcome him or her, give a few rounds of applause, present them with a coin and certificate of appreciation and to snap a photo,” Jones said. “We also gave [Matecki] an envelope with stars from a donated American flag and a poem in it.”

Jones continued that, because Matecki has dedicated so much of his life right out of high school to the service, he was more than deserving of this honor. Even after spending the past two decades as an active duty serviceman in the Air Force, Jones highlighted that even after retirement, Matecki still plans to give back to his country through testing new technologies for the Air Force in Centerville, Ohio.

“Imagine having to give up 20 years of your life not knowing where you’re going and putting your fate in the American government’s hand,” Jones said. “The fact that he did this is an amazing thing to us.”

Understanding this long-term commitment almost as well as Matecki, his wife, Jennifer, who has been with him for 19 years 3 months of his military service, was also “completely shocked being able to experience the private escort from the airport to [Metecki’s] house.” Despite having coordinated her and her husband’s arrival time with Matecki’s father for the Warriors’ Watch members, and having had to distract Matecki upon arriving, Jennifer still remained in awe of the heartwarming experiencing of receiving a hero’s welcome alongside her husband.

“Being appreciated for all you have done for your country is, unfortunately, usually overlooked,” Jennifer said. “Our military families work so hard for your freedom and the lack of support from a lot of people is disheartening. However, [the Warriors’ Watch] giving my husband this unique event will always bring a smile to my face.”

As a family, both Mateckis added that although they are very proud to have served their country for 20 years, they are excited to be moving on to a new chapter of life. Yet, the military will always have a special place in their hearts, both solidified and concluded by this Warriors’ Welcome experience.