Monday, November 5, 2012

Veteran helps ‘America’s children’

Matthew Heatherly

     Matthew Heatherly doesn’t smile for photographers. Twenty years in the Army trains a person to be granite-faced and solemn when facing a camera. So does dealing with death and carnage as a medic in Iraq and so does helping wounded soldiers at a combat hospital.
     Heatherly retired from the Army as a first sergeant in 2010. He’s now an operations manager at the Western Regional Medical Command on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where he helps plan medical care for his “brothers and sisters in arms” in the western U.S., Iraq and Afghanistan.
     “My passion in life is soldiers,” Heatherly says. “They are America’s children who give of themselves to protect the ones we love.”
More...     Heatherly has himself given much to his country, not only as a much-honored soldier but through such efforts as donating platelets, volunteering at the Old Soldier’s Home in Orting, Wash., and organizing runs for charity. He has received the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
     Heatherly also sacrificed in another way. When he graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma in 1990, he put off his college education in order to serve his country. After enlisting, he racked up a few college credits here and there but didn’t make much progress.
     As retirement neared, the pressure grew. He needed a degree to advance as an Army civilian employee. He was urging his soldiers to get a degree, yet lacked one himself. He wanted to finish what he started. And he wanted to look his two sons straight in the eyes and say, “If I can get my degree in Iraq, you can get yours.”
     When researching online education options, Heatherly found a lot of options. But he had one crucial criterion. “I wanted a degree that state employers would recognize as solid,” he said.
     In 2004, he enrolled in the online degree program at Washington State University, “a school that I’ve always admired.”
     When Heatherly was twice deployed to Iraq, he brought his courses with him. He has studied in combat zones, and been interrupted by artillery fire. “Studying kept my mind off being across the world from my family,” he says.
     In December, Heatherly will graduate from the Global Campus with his social sciences degree. A diploma from WSU is about having opportunities, he says. “A degree means that you get to choose your life,” he says, “instead of having your life dictated to you.”
     And then he smiles.

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