Matthew Benack: “Shooting is a passion of mine”

Sometimes, the health issues we deal with as children come back to affect us as adults. In the case of Staff Sergeant Matthew Benack, a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, the issue was being born premature.

“He was born six weeks early [in 1973] and was treated for a collapsed lung and high bilirubin,” says Matthew’s wife, Tina, a practicing nurse.

Fast-forward to 2009: Matthew (who spent a large portion of his service teaching other Marines how to shoot) was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. It was to be his fifth deployment and followed 2001 and 2004 deployments to Iraq, the second of which saw him receive a severe concussion as the result of an IED (improvised explosive device) blast.

“It was next to a bridge that we had to cross,” he says, recalling the 2004 incident. “The bridge was fairly long, but had it been a larger charge and actually blown the bridge, I would have ended up in a ravine about 500 or 600 feet deep into a small river.”

Two weeks before deploying, Matthew learned he wouldn’t be headed to Afghanistan.

“I was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, PTSD and a blood disorder,” he explains. The blood disorder: Hepatitis-C, contracted when he received a blood transfusion as an infant.

“I elected not to take medication, because at that time they still weren’t sure about PTSD,” Matthew continues. “The doctor said the only medicine that she could prescribe for me I probably wouldn’t like because of the side effects.”

“The first question out of my mouth was, ‘Is it going to affect the performance of my job?’ And she said, ‘You’d have to go behind a desk.’ I refused to take it, because I loved what I did, I loved teaching recruits how to shoot. Shooting is a passion of mine.”

It was around this time that Matthew, who decided to go back to school and complete his associate’s degree in information technology, learned about the Semper Fi Fund. “They bought me a computer to help me finish my degree,” he says.

The Fund, aware of Matthew’s passion for shooting, also got him involved with Team Semper Fi.

“The Semper Fi Fund purchased me an Olympic-style air rifle, what they use at the collegiate level,” he says. “One year we went to Chula Vista, California, to where the Olympic archers train to do a national archery shoot. I used a bow that the Fund had purchased for me to shoot that particular match, but I’ve also used it at the Marine Corps Trials and the Warrior Games.”

“Team Semper Fi also provided all the funding for myself and our 10-year-old daughter to attend,” adds Matthew’s wife, Tara. “Back in 2010, we were able to go to the actual competition of the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. Team Semper Fi provided everything: travel, airline tickets, the hotel stays, food at the hotel, shuttles, goodie bags and made sure that anywhere we went there were shuttles to take us to the different places.”

“Team Semper Fi made all of that possible for us. So not only did they make it possible for him to be able to compete, but also to bring his family so that we could support him like we always do in anything that he does. It also enabled us to get to see parts of the country and do things that otherwise we probably never would have been able to do.”

Matthew has excelled as a member of Team Semper Fi, and has amassed a collection of awards and accolades that is truly impressive. In Warrior Games and Marine Corps Trials events from 2010 through 2016, for example, he’s captured three bronze, four silver and 14 gold medals.

“I’ve been so appreciative that Team Semper Fi has provided those weapons for him that allowed him to go compete,” Tara said. “And for giving us the chance to show our daughter that no matter what happens to you, no matter how many bad things you go through, you can always rally and overcome your disabilities to the best of your ability and still be purposeful in life—and to reach goals and win medals and do things in competition, even when you’re disabled.”

“And that’s been an extremely important lesson for my daughter to learn,” Tara adds, “because she has cystic fibrosis.”