A Madison County family got a wonderful gift on Thursday. They welcomed their son home from Afghanistan.
Army National Guard Sergeant Colin Erwin is a wounded soldier sent to Afghanistan as a contractor.
As he got off the airplane, the Patriot Guard Riders got into position. Friends and family stood ready, armed with cameras and signs for Sgt. Erwin.
"I did not expect all of this to happen," he said. "It is really surreal that everybody came together for me. It's nice to know that I have so much family, friends and support."
The 22-year-old soldier returned to Huntsville from a six-month deployment to Afghanistan.
"Oh, it feels fabulous, just fabulous," said his mother, Karen Russo. "I am just glad to see him."
"Everyone is excited. It's just unbelievable how many people have contacted him through Facebook and other places," said Carl Erwin, Sgt. Erwin's father.
Sgt. Erwin was working overseas as a contractor. Even though the war veteran left his uniform behind this time, he wasn't out of harm's way.
Shrapnel from a rocket hit his arms and face, and went through one of his legs.
Strangers even came to the airport to greet him, including a soldier stationed in Huntsville.
"It's hard for anyone who has to go down range. He's in the U.S. Army and the National Guard," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Eugene Roberts. "He's going over there to support the green soldiers as well as civilian contractors."
The wounded warrior told his family to not make a big deal out his return, but they did anyway.
"Well, he is probably going to freak out quite a bit. He knows his mother probably generated a lot of this stuff," said Carl Erwin. He is kind of a quiet person in that sense."
"I don't know. That is where I am just very nervous about it. He did not want all of the attention on him," Russo said.
The soldier's family and friends weren't the only ones involved in the welcoming party.
Heritage Elementary School Teacher Anthony Graham also had something planned for the soldier.
"He told his mom that he did not want any recognition. He said he was just over there doing his job. I am prior military. I think that welcoming home veterans and troops is so important right now. They need all the respect they can get from us," said Graham.
Graham and the Wounded Warrior Foundation had the soldier's limo driver to ride past the school.
Hundreds of students stood on the sidewalk waving flags as Sgt. Erwin's limo went by escorted by police.
"It's exciting to be here waiting for an Afghanistan veteran that is wounded, said Student Alex Forrest.
"My dad was in the Army, but was before I was born. I don't really know what it is like. I bet it takes a lot of courage to do it," said Student Jackson Reece.