It is an honor this week to share Matthew’s story of adversity, sacrifice, and hope. Everyday he faces obstacles I know well, but he continues not only fighting on, but giving back. He’s a man who continues to serve his country and strives to make a difference in the lives of others. In his own words, Matthew tells us how his belief that his injuries will not slow him down has been a guiding principle. He is a living example to us all of what courage, service, sacrifice, and putting others first truly looks like.
Where does your story begin?
We are all brought into this world to serve with a purpose, in some capacity. Finding your mission in life is difficult, it’s not easily given.
As a Freshman in high school witnessing the terrorist attacks, I quickly realized that my purpose in life was to serve–to serve in the military–and do everything possible to never let horrendous acts like that occur on U.S. soil. I signed up through the United States Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program in December of my Senior year. I chose 0311 Infantry as my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) because I wanted to serve and I wanted to fight.
After completing Recruit Training in Parris Island and School of Infantry in North Carolina, I was assigned to Second Battalion, Third Marines Echo Company Second Platoon in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Exactly a year later, I was on a plane headed to an unknown city in the Middle East. The city was Haditha, Iraq, which is located in the Al Anbar Province, Northwest Iraq along the Euphrates River.
The deployment was grueling, very demanding, and challenging at some times, but our unit fought on. January 18, 2007, I was on a basic IED patrol, patrolling from the point, and I saw a suspicious item at my two o’clock thirty yards in front of me. As I alerted my squad, I turned back around and looked down to see wires entering the culvert directly beneath me. I had no time to alert anyone or react; the bomb exploded beneath me sending shrapnel into my eyes. I was blinded instantaneously.
My life went from light to dark very quickly. I maintained consciousness throughout, hearing my Marine brothers reacting to the situation and stabilizing my wounds. Our squad dealt with constant firefights, IED explosions, and indirect fire, yet we had never experienced any causalities until that day when my team leader (who had been to my left) and I suffered catastrophic wounds. The squad reacted heroically in responding to our injuries, removing the two of us from the combat zone swiftly.
I woke three weeks later to wounds greater then I’d ever envisaged. The Marines of Second Squad, and even within Echo Company, didn’t believe I would live much longer after I was medevacked from the Medical Station in Haditha.
I was medically transported from Haditha to Balad, then to Germany, and by January 21st I was back in the U.S. where I finally ended up at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. My injuries were numerous: tremendous blood loss, amputations to both legs (left leg above the knee and right leg below the knee), vision loss, a ruptured bladder, broken metacarpal bones in my right hand (including torn tendon), shrapnel embedded in my left forearm, and a piece of my small intestine had to be removed. I spent three weeks in a heavily sedated coma.
In trying times and dark moments, you tend to see a person’s true character, their true will to survive–just how much fight they have. This journey challenged my will to survive. I was twenty years old fighting for my life.
What are some of the defining moments in your life that have led you to where you are?
The easiest way to answer this question: I never truly understood how strong I was until I was tested.
This test was different than any other test. I was fighting for my life, and was living my young life, with two significant challenges: amputations and blindness.
During the earliest days of my recovery, I suffered from depression and guilt because I truly believed the only two ways I wanted to return from Iraq were either with my brothers or in a casket. I never imagined myself to be living the life I found myself living. I was so weak, I wouldn’t eat or even communicate with the nurses, doctors or my own family. I wanted to die, to vanish from this life. I felt like I let my brothers down and even to the extent, when they called from Iraq, I didn’t want to talk to them either. I was so weak, lifting my head off the pillow was nearly impossible.
I still live each day with the constant reminder of what happened on that January day in 2007. I pray every day to wake up and see my beautiful wife and our kids, yet I wake up seeing nothing but darkness.
I realized early in my recovery that there was life outside those hospital doors and I didn’t want to rely on anyone. I never wanted the insurgent who placed the bomb inside the culvert ever get the sense of victory that he defeated me.
Failure is not being knocked down, failure is staying down. I realized many things during these early days, but the one thing that kept recurring was this: I was a United States Marine and I am not a quitter. I felt if I quit this new battle, then I was quitting on my Marine Corps, my family and myself. With me quitting on myself, the insurgent would get what he wanted in defeating an American. I live each and every day because I truly understand, not every day is granted.
What or who motivates or pushes you forward?
My family is my daily motivation. They are the reason I wake up every day and the reason behind my positive outlook on life and my drive within. My mission in life is to serve, to serve others with inspiration, with motivation, and to encourage those who have struggles in life that no matter what there’s always “light at the end of the tunnel.”
Also, and more importantly, exemplifying these same valuable lessons for my wife and children is essential. By continuing to fight-on, pushing myself beyond the threshold, I can show my children that the impossible can be possible. I don’t like words such as “can’t” or “impossible” because if you will yourself and dedicate yourself to life, driven with motivation, anything in life from the simplest task to the hardest task can be accomplished. The right mindset and attitude are crucial.
If you’re faced with a very demanding or grueling objective, confronting it positively is the first step to success. If you believe it’s too hard, or that you can’t do it, you’ve already failed yourself and the mission.
These are the qualities I teach my family each and every day from stories and pictures. The one significant thing I learned in the military which has guided me throughout my rehabilitation and throughout life is this: lead by example. If you wake up every day motivated with a positive attitude and you attack the day without hesitation, people will follow.
One day in therapy while I was putting on my prosthetics, my physical therapist told me, “Matt, you don’t see it, but every day people watch you walking around and realize, if he can do it, I can.” I never truly understood or comprehended my true value in life. I live my life simply through the eyes of my wife and children. Their words and opinions are the only ones that truly matter. With my family motivating me, I am simply driven by the fact that I am a United States Marine. Every day, my amputations and blindness motivate me to wake up and do unbelievable things and to attempt to accomplish difficult tasks. I live my day like every other American. I am not a hero, just someone enjoying the freedoms and unlimited opportunities this country has given me.
What is the main mindset shift you’ve had to alter or take on as you’ve gone through life?
I live my life with the hashtag #NoLegsNoVisionNoProblem and the “No Problem” is the most important of the three. I don’t have any problems. I live my life without any regrets or worries. I am so blessed to have lived the life I did, serving this country and meeting some truly remarkable people along the way. I grew up loving athletics and I have continued loving sports, the outdoors and participating in specific events such as Spartan Races, marathons, swimming, fishing, and hunting. I never limit myself or believe I can’t do it. From the earliest days of my rehab, I believed there is nothing in this world I can’t do. I always said, “I can do everything an able-bodied person can do. I might do it a little differently, but it will be done.” I have also surrounded myself with people who aren’t afraid to challenge or push me. They have realized my injuries will never limit me or slow me down.
What is your advice for someone in the throes of hardship or significant change?
Living in the United States, we are all truly blessed. I always tell someone who’s struggling with something to stay positive, accept every challenge, and continue to live their life without hesitation or worry. Live each day to its fullest and never look further than the end of the day. Wake up each and every day, make a list of things you want to accomplish throughout the day, and do it. This list gives you a mission, or purpose.
The one thing in life that helped me was the attitude to never quit. I challenged myself daily, I worked hard and I was driven with the thought that there’s nothing in life someone with disabilities can’t do. The important thing in life, is to surround yourself with good, caring, positive people who can guide and direct you down the right roads in life. The mindset after being injured was this: “There are two roads that I could have gone down. The first road: angry at the world, self-pitying, abusing alcohol or drugs, and unfortunately suicide. On the other hand, the second road provided happiness, overcoming and defeating these hardships, living each day to its fullest and realizing that life is a mountain and the climb is enjoyable and long lasting. The second road is the road I chose because it provided me an opportunity to meet and interact with truly remarkable people who have, in some capacity, motivated or inspired me.” This journey ultimately led me to my wife, my two stepchildren, and the birth of my little girl.
Any final words for our readers?
I am very thankful for everything I have been given and what I’ve been able to accomplish. Not many people walk away from stepping on a bomb. The Lord was looking out for me that January day. As a 20-year-old, I had no path in life. I just wanted to serve my country and nothing else. I was an invincible Marine who was humbled. The Lord had my path already laid out, it was my mission in life to pursue His journey. He knew there would be a story for me and I have realized the true value behind my story and its ability to inspire others to live their life fully by never letting the smallest worries or anxieties limit them from doing unbelievable things. I know with my family beside me, and with the Lord’s guidance and direction, anything in life can be accomplished.