Lieutenant Colonel Matt: “Human beings are better and stronger than you think”

The 2016 Marine Corps Marathon, held in the fall in Washington, D.C., is far more than just the 26.2-mile marathon itself. There’s also a 10k run, which is where Army Lt. Col. Matt and his wife Megan made their Marine Corps Marathon debut.

“Last year we ran the Army 10 Miler together, and it was a great accomplishment for both of us,” says Matt, who lost his right leg during his 2013 deployment to Afghanistan. “Running next to my wife is fun. Before I was injured we never exercised together, so having her with me and seeing her try her hardest was very motivating for me.”

When the 10k was complete, there were no bragging rights to be had: Matt and Megan both ran the event in precisely the same time, finishing together.

“Anytime I get to run with Megan is special for me. She was the one who challenged me to get back into running, and she was the one who ran beside me every day until I relearned how to do it.”

Born and raised in the Philadelphia suburbs and later the Chicago suburbs, Matt became interested in joining the Navy while he was a senior in high school.

“I worked at Radio Shack after school,” he recalls. “There was another guy who worked there that I looked up to. He was 24 years old and had just finished an enlistment with the Navy. He had the best stories and seemed wise beyond his years. I told him I was interested in enlisting in the Navy and he said, ‘Wait a minute, you’re in school and you’re doing well — you should look at getting a ROTC scholarship!’”

Matt applied and was accepted two months later. He enrolled at Norwich University, then switched over to Army ROTC shortly after arriving on campus.

In October 2006, Matt deployed to Fallujah as a battery commander (“our mission was to provide all of the guided surface-to-surface fires throughout theater”) and redeployed in January 2008. In January 2013, he deployed again to Afghanistan — and came home in June after being injured.  

“It was Saturday, June 8,” he recalls. “Our unit was halfway through our deployment and we were starting to evaluate where we wanted to focus our collective efforts during the second half of the deployment.”

“That morning I was scheduled to fly to Zarghun Shar province to meet with our senior advisor to the Afghan Army Brigade. Our task was to lay out recommendations for future operations based on the intelligence we learned over the past 4-1/2 months. After a two-hour meeting with the Afghan Army, they agreed to some of our recommendations and asked us to remain a few extra hours to help them develop a tentative plan. We decided to break for lunch and meet back at their headquarters in 90 minutes.”

“As we were deciding whether or not to go back to the American side of the compound or remain on the Afghan side, a truck drove up and stopped right in front of the building. An Afghan Army officer exited the passenger side of the vehicle and opened fire on all of us. I was the first one shot, so I didn’t see anything that happened the next few seconds. I was hit in my right leg in the upper thigh. I fell to the ground immediately and was trying to figure out if it was a lone gunman or a more complex attack. After a few seconds, I realized it was just one guy.”

That one guy claimed the lives of three people — Lieutenant Colonel Jaimie Leonard, Lieutenant Colonel Todd Clark and Mr. Joe Morbito — and injured three others, including Matt.

Immediately after Matt was shot, field doctors tried to salvage his leg using veins from his uninjured leg. Unfortunately, too much time had passed and they were forced to amputate his leg at the knee joint. Once he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, he needed several more surgeries; approximately eight more inches of leg were removed.

After the amputation wounds healed, Matt began an extensive 10-month physical therapy program at Walter Reed. While he was still inpatient at Walter Reed, Matt and his wife were approached by the Semper Fi Fund. What did the Fund do for them?

What didn’t they do?” Matt says. “Whether it was a gift card to Subway, or night out on the town, or gas coupons to drive back to Fort Drum, or social events that allowed my wife to make new friends, or extra money to help us buy a new car or money to help us close on our house, the Semper Fi Fund was there. It’s an amazing organization, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

“Human beings are better and stronger than you think,” Matt observes. “While recovering at Walter Reed, I was floored by watching people relearn how to do the simple things most of us take for granted. I feel grateful that I have a wonderful team of prosthetists and physical therapists that gave me back my mobility.”

“Most of all, I learned that life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to it. And if you’re surrounded by good people, chances are you’re going to respond well.”