AL ASAD, Iraq -- As a young man, Matthew Aaron Wagner loved the outdoors. In his hometown of Fort Smith, Ark., Wagner enjoyed hunting, fishing, and simply, cruising the country roads. He was by all accounts a good student growing up, but as he puts it, “I was always country, and did everything a country boy should do.”
Wagner is a 2002 graduate of Southside High School, but it wasn’t until December 2003 that he made his decision to join the armed forces. His service of choice was the United States Marine Corps.
After graduating from boot camp in early 2004, he began training as an avionics technician for jet aircraft. The Arkansan specializes in the F/A-18 Hornet, and spends his days troubleshooting communication and navigation equipment. The young Marine is familiar with 36 different systems on the Hornet, and he considers his team the eyes, ears, and voice of the F/A-18. If something is wrong, he can find it and fix it.
When many people join the armed forces they join for the education benefits. Tensions today with the Global War on Terrorism require a stronger commitment to the military, and today’s Marines understand they may deploy more than in the past. Just one week after joining his first Marine Corps unit, fresh from school, Matthew Wagner learned he was deploying to Iraq.
“It was a little crazy being thrown into the [fast paced] work schedule at first, but it helped me learn my job better and faster,” said Wagner, a lance corporal with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224.
His unit deployed from Beaufort, S.C., in January 2005. The squadron provides close air support for units fighting the enemy in the Al Anbar province and also captures reconnaissance imagery for Marines and coalition forces.
“I have a great sense of pride in being part of this operation,” said the Arkansas native. It has been tough at times, but it is worth it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There were four bombings recently in London and that basically shows the world that the war on terrorism is real, and it is going to take everyone to make things better.”
The young Marine has done well in the military. Outstanding is a word commonly used when referring to Marines of his caliber. Wagner’s performance has been recognized by his superiors, and he has reaped the benefits. He was nominated to go before several oral boards, competing with other Marines in various subjects such as Marine Corps history and current events to name a few. His confidence and pride took him to the top of not only his unit board, but of the entire deployed Marine Aircraft Wing. He was recently named the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward) Marine of the Quarter.
“There was some tough competition at the board but I prepared about as much as possible,” said Wagner. I know my performance shows a reflection of my squadron. We are some of the hardest working and best performing Marines around. It was a lot to uphold and I couldn’t let them down.”
The accolades for this young Marine just keep coming. After his hard work and success as the Marine of the Quarter, his squadron nominated him for a meritorious combat promotion board. It is safe to say that Wagner seized the day, and will soon join the noncommissioned officer ranks when he is promoted to the rank of corporal.
Wagner plans to attend the Corporals’ Leadership Course when he returns to South Carolina and later apply for a commissioning program. “Becoming a Marine Corps officer is a goal that I have had for a long time,” said Wagner. “I am going to do everything it takes to make sure that I accomplish this goal.”
As the young Marine nears the end of his deployment he remains focused on the mission as his unit finishes a seven month deployment here. His squadron has flown in excess of 6,000 hours, including more than 2,000 combat sorties. Wagner’s efforts and the team who works with him directly contributed to the unit’s success by ensuring the aircraft were ready to fly.