Matt Martin: Hometown hero
Polk County Enterprise, June 2007
Matt Martin believes he survived two tours of duty in Iraq because God knew that Matt's grandmother would never leave him alone until he was home.
The 28-year-old Livingston veteran is still undergoing outpatient treatment for injuries he suffered in Iraq.
He works cattle now for Corky Cochran full-time, and he has one specific plan for the future.
"I want to wake up in Livingston every morning," Martin said. "The rest of it will take care of itself."
All the men in the Martin family have joined the military whenever the United States goes to war, according to Matt's mother Becky Martin. His father has traced their service all the way back to the American Revolution.
Matt added that his nephew — who was born while Matt was in Iraq — will never serve.
"Whenever Trey sees the flag, he says, "There's Matt's flag because the first few times he saw I was coming or going to Iraq."
Martin earned several commendations and decorations for his service in Iraq, including the Bronze Star.
He believes the military needs to be in Iraq, but he's frustrated with the political elements of this conflict.
"Many great men have died," Matt said. "We lost 22 people in my unit. Everybody dies, but not every dies for a reason."
But the combat in the Persian Gulf is quite different from the earlier conflicts Matt's ancestors fought in.
The experience is still a little too fresh to talk about, but Matt and his mother shared some details about his military career Thursday — one year from the day Matt's parents took him to the airport to return to Iraq for his second tour.
Matt spent five years, three months and 10 days with the 2nd Cavalry and 7/10 Cavalry Scouts.
During his deployment, Martin said he got more mail than everybody else in his unit. Most of his buddies were from the northern United States or California, and the packages, letters and e-mail he got from Polk County neighbors didn't escape their notice.
"All those gifts reminded me I was loved, appreciated and cared for by a great group of Americans, my family and friends," Martin said.
The greatest Americans he knows are Dennis and Pam Moore, Martin said.
Stuart Moore, Dennis and Pam's son, was killed by an IED blast near Baghdad on Dec. 22, 2003.
Their strength and faith is just incredible, Martin said.
His strong faith carried him through numerous difficult days, he said.
During one mission, Martin said he and his unit had pushed into a cemetery and were encountering strong resistance. They hadn't slept or ate in days and when a lull in the action finally came, Martin took his helmet off.
His commander immediately told him to put it back on, but he also notice Matt was praying.
"He said throw in a good word for me," Martin said. "I told him I always do."
When we first got to Iraq, some members of Martin's team said they were atheists. But after a while, Martin said many of this fellow soldiers found religion.
Martin's description of a typical day in Iraq probably won't make a visitor's guide for the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce.
"It was 156 degrees when we took the Jordanian embassy," Martin said.
Soldiers endured that heat while in full battle gear, which includes 50 pounds of flak vest, Kevlar helmet, gas mask, weapons and other equipment.
Arriving in Babylon was an eerie feeling, Martin said.
"I was in a place that my teachers always talked about in Vacation Bible School and I was standing there — holding a machine gun," Martin said.
Martin said the best sleep he got while in Iraq came during a highly classified mission.
His crew was awakened at 3 a.m. and gave them a destination. The commander said they would get the mission details when they arrived.
The convoy went to an empty air strip before dawn and were puzzled about what they were supposed to do. Then a couple of Apache helicopters flew over and a plane landed.
"They unloaded a huge crate of American money and told us if the money didn't make it to where we were going, we didn't need to show up either."
A CIA officer sent Becky Martin a picture of Matt asleep on top of the crate of money and wrote her a wonderful letter, she said.
The cultural differences between Iraqis and Americans cause many of the new challenges of this war.
Iraqi people don't place much value on human life and they don't like Americans, Martin said. They are ruled by money and fear.
In Martin's first tour, he was struck by a bullet fragment in the leg.
"It felt like I was stung by something," Martin said.
In early April 2004 Muqtada al-Sadr holed up in the main mosque in Kufa, according to military sources at globalsecurity.org.
"Hundreds of his militiamen took over Kufa, driving out Iraqi security forces as part of the uprising orchestrated by al-Sadr. During the standoff gunmen armed with Kalashnikovs and rocket propelled grenades routinely patrolled the rooftop of the Kufa Mosque. Hundreds of al-Sadr's militiamen controlled Kufa, holding its police station and the main mosque," military officials said.
"My squad got closer to the mosque than any other Americans," Martin said.
al-Sadr began with a militia of 18,000 men, Martin said. When we got through with them he had 800 men when he surrendered.
Missions in Iraq took Martin to Baghdad, Basra, Diwaniyah, An-Najif, Al-Kufa, Taji, Sadr City, Falujah and Al-Kut.
"I was in Fallujah before it was cool," Martin said.
Near al-Kut Martin said his unit was faced with driving the long way around town, or crossing a small bridge to reach their destination, but officials said the bridge couldn't stand up to traffic from heavy armored vehicles.
"We had a light-skinned humvee and my buddy Jaren Stoner of Archibald, Ohio was the first truck across the bridge," Martin said. "Those insurgents had some training because they hit the first and last trucks in the convoy and we were stuck on the bridge. All we could do was get out and fight."
"Another time they had been whipping our butts for about four hours and I asked Stoner what time it was. He told me it was about 1 a.m. and I thought, 'My mother always says nothing good happens after midnight'," Martin said.
In September 2006, Martin called his brother to wish him a happy birthday when an Iraqi man let him use his cell phone.
Thirty minutes later a blast from an IED blew Martin into a sewage canal.
"When I say something tastes like s***, I mean it," Martin said.
Shrapnel struck him in the head and injured his eye, mouth and ear.
Matt's father Greg Martin answered the phone when the captain called to tell them about Matt's injury.
Greg Martin, a Vietnam veteran himself, crumpled to the floor.
"It's different being a parent," Greg Martin said. "There were times when I was gone 13 months on a submarine and I never worried about my parents. I was crushed when he left for Iraq."
Matt was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in southwestern Germany where he remained for two weeks.
He was than transferred to Walter Reed hospital — but quickly adds that the area of the facility he saw was nice.
While Martin Brooks Army Medical Center, his mother said she was struck by the young soldiers she met there.
"I saw some severely damaged young people, but they weren't griping."
Their dedication is still apparent in how hard they work toward recovery.
"I am truly blessed that the injuries I received will not keep me from any future plans," Martin said in a thank-you letter he and his mother share with concerned friends.
"The volunteer Army is smarter and sharper," Greg Martin said. "When I was in, nobody I knew had been to college. A lot of the people that served with Matt had been to college. They felt they owed their country so they enlisted."