Aircraft Accident kills crew and 3 Combat Controllers

August 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) - A search team cut into the wreckage of a U.S. Air Force plane Sunday and found the bodies of two servicemen, the last of 10 who died when their plane slammed into a mountainside.

The searchers found the bodies after opening a battered section of the cockpit using a specialized saw and other equipment, officials said.

"We have finished one of the most important missions, which is the recovery of bodies," said Lt. Col. Adolfo Menendez, commander of a National Guard unit at the crash site. "Now begins the investigation."

The MC-130H special operations plane crashed during a training mission Wednesday night. The bulky plane was flying in rain and fog when it struck Monte Perucho, broke in two and erupted in flames, witnesses said.

The crash left wreckage scattered over the mountainside near Caguas, 20 miles south of San Juan.

About 30 searchers and military investigators were working at the crash site as the two bodies were found Sunday, officials said. The area was closed to reporters.

Meanwhile, a 10-member team from the Air Force Safety Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, began supervising the investigation Sunday, officials said. An Air Force accident board also was being assembled to rule on the cause, which remained unclear.

Searchers on Friday found the cockpit voice recorder. The plane had no flight data recorder, officials said.

The two bodies found on Sunday were being flown by helicopter to nearby Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the U.S. territory's northeast coast.

The Air Force released three final names of victims on Saturday and Sunday after notifying their families.

Six of the 10 victims were from Air Force Special Operations at Hurlburt Field, Florida; one was from the Air Intelligence Agency and assigned to a unit in Florida; two were members of the Kentucky Air National Guard on temporary duty in Puerto Rico; and one was assigned to Puerto Rico for the Southern Command's Special Operations Command.

Six victims from the 16th Special Operations Wing were identified as pilot Maj. Michael J. Akos, co-pilot Capt. Christel A. Chavez, navigator Maj. Gregory W. Fritz, loadmaster Staff Sgt. Robert J. McGuire Jr., electronic weapons officer 1st Lt. Nathanial D. Buckley and flight engineer Tech. Sgt. Robert S. Johnson.

Also identified were Staff Sgt. Shane H. Kimmet, a support operator from the Air Intelligence Agency, Capt. Panuk P. Soomsawasdi, a special tactics liaison officer with Special Operations Command, and two Combat Controllers from the Kentucky Air National Guard, Tech. Sgt. Martin Tracy and Tech. Sgt. Christopher A. Matero.

The plane belonged to the Air Force Special Operations Command and was flying from Roosevelt Roads Naval Station to the Borinquen Air Station on the Caribbean island's west coast.

The accident was the second in two months involving the four-engine Combat Talon II, a special operations variant of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. The other crashed in June in Afghanistan, killing three.

The following is the decease information of three Combat Controllers who died while on a training mission as the result of the crash of a MC-130H in Puerto Rico on August 7, 2002:

Major Paul Soomsawasdi was born on 1 June 1966 in Thonburi, Thailand.  He moved to the United States at the age of 2 and grew up in Ahoskie and Windsor, North Carolina. He attended Pitt Community College, shortly after graduating high school in 1984, and then ultimately graduated from East Carolina University with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1992.  He was a very active member of the ROTC program.  Major Soomsawasdi was commissioned in the United States Air Force in 1992.  His first duty assignment was at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California in the Acquisitions field.  From 1993 to 1996, Major Soomsawasdi competed in a reserve officer military pentathlon competition involving European military allies in the reserve officer ranks.  During this same competition, he was the top U.S. finisher and was awarded the Rookie of The Year for his pentathlon team.  Also that same year, his three-man team won distinct honors along with United States military  participate in the International Military competition in South America, an event equivalent to the Olympics.  His natural athletic ability, tremendous work ethic, and mental toughness were the qualities that made him a perfect choice to become a Combat Controller. 
    In 1995, he cross-trained into the Combat Control field as a Special Tactics Officer.  He was a graduate of the Combat Control School Class 96-3 and following the completion of this arduous qualification training, he was assigned to the 321st Special Tactics Squadron, Royal Air Force Base, Mildenhall, England from 1996 to 1999 as a flight team leader.  During this assignment he met and married Caroline Whittington Soomsawasdi.  He was then assigned to the 23d Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida from 1999 to 2001 as a Special Tactics Flight Commander.  During this assignment, Major Soomsawasdi skillfully prepared his flight for combat through realistic training.  Following his time with the teams, Major Soomsawasdi was assigned as Special Tactics Liaison Officer, Naval Air Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico from 2001 to 2002 where his son, Eli was born 3 August 2001. 

    Major Soomsawasdi's awards include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal with two devices, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, and the Air Force Achievement Medal with one device.

Preceded in death by daughter Emma Soomsawasdi in the year 2000, Major Soomsawasdi is survived by his wife Caroline, son Eli, his mother Carolyn Castelloe, step-father Earl Castelloe, sisters Catherine Allen and Teresa Vaught; as well as many nieces, nephews, other extended family, and teammates.

Technical Sergeant Martin A. Tracy was a Combat Controller in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, Louisville, Kentucky,  for more than six years.  

    The Newark, New Jersey native began his military career in 1987 as a vehicle mechanic in the Army National Guard’s 50th Ordinance Battalion.  One year later, Sergeant Tracy left his position with the Army and joined the active duty Air Force, where he served as a survival instructor in the 22nd Training Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, until 1996.  During his assignment, Sergeant Tracy was instrumental in the testing of parachutist operations from the C-17 Globemaster, the USAF's premier airlifter.
Once this assignment was complete, Sergeant Tracy left active duty and joined the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123d Special Tactics Squadron, where he earned his red beret and became a Combat Controller after accomplishing some of the military’s most grueling training.  Sergeant Tracy, like many Combat Controllers, stayed deployed over 200 days a year.

    In the latter part of 2001, Sergeant Tracy was placed on federal mobility orders and deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF).  During his deployment, he played a vital role as part of an Army Special Forces team.  He regularly participated in ground combat operations to identify and attack Taliban forces.  Additionally, his efforts to assist with humanitarian aid continued to help rebuild and stabilize the war-torn region in which he operated.

    Shortly after returning from his OEF deployment, Sergeant Tracy deployed in support of Special Operations Command-South, Puerto Rico, to augment vital  ongoing operations in that region.  His contributions to the mission were lauded as exemplary.  
   Sergeant Tracy will be remembered as the embodiment of the modern special operations warrior.  His physical fitness was legendary and considered to be in the top echelon of his elite community.  Moreover, he was an intellectually superior Airman.  Sergeant Tracy’s stellar performance and accomplishments were indicative of his high level of commitment.  Further, his devotion to his family shone as a beacon in all that he did.

   Sergeant Tracy's awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with Valor, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation 
Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal with one device, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Medal with three devices, and the Kentucky Distinguished Service Medal.

    Sergeant Tracy is survived by his wife Cathy Tracy, and his two sons, Malcolm and Chad; his mother Mary Tracy, sisters Paula Tracy and Gina Brant; and a strong family support structure including friends and teammates.

In Memory of TSgt Dave Atkinson

Entered Into Eternal Rest
Monday, July 22, 1991

On July 22nd 1991, TSgt Dave Atkinson was fatally injured following a High Altitude, High Opening (HALO) equipment parachute jump from 12,500 feet on the Eglin AFB range complex. Dave was assigned to the 123rd TAW Kentucky ANG and was participating in military freefall training with members of the 1723rd Special Tactics Squadron from Hurlburt Field, Fl. He was the only Combat Candontroller in his unit with previous active duty CCT experience and was the driving force in developing viable and realistic training programs.

Dave was a person of deep religious convictions with a remarkably strong faith as a Christian. He will be missed by all of us who knew him. Dave is survived by his wife Debra and their two children Zachary and Melissa.

Technical Sergeant Christopher A. Matero was a Combat Controller in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, Louisville, Kentucky, since May 2001.  

The Lagrangeville, NewYork native joined the active duty Air Force in 1992 and went on to earn his Combat Control beret after completing the rigorous training required by the career field.  He was then assigned to the 314th Combat Control Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, until 1997, when he left to become an instructor.  
Sergeant Matero was next assigned as a Combat Control Instructor in the 342nd Training Squadron at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, where he served until joining the Air National Guard.  During his tenure as an instructor, Sergeant Matero trained many young Combat Controllers who have since served gallantly in both Operation ENDURING FREEDOM and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.

    Sergeant Matero, like other Combat Controllers, spent a good deal of his time deployed.  Not long after he joined the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, he was called to federal active duty and was himself deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation ENDURING FREEDOM (OEF).

    During his OEF deployment, Sergeant Matero ran airfield operations key to the infusion of combat forces fighting the war on terrorism and the introduction of humanitarian aid critical to the survival of noncombatants in the region.

    Shortly after completing his OEF mission, Sergeant Matero deployed in support of Special Operations Command-South, Puerto Rico, to augment vital ongoing operations in that location.  He was lauded for the impact his contributions made to the team.

    Sergeant Matero will be remembered for his excellence in every facet of his profession.  Recognized for his leadership potential, he was selected for commissioning as an officer, where his talents would have furthered the success of the 123d Special Tactics Squadron.  His dedication to maintain the utmost levels of physical fitness and attain knowledge critical to mission success was indicative of his professionalism.  Further, Sergeant Matero’s devotion to his family was reflected in all his actions throughout his career. 

    Sergeant Matero's awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal, and the Air Force Achievement Medal.

    Sergeant Matero is survived by his wife, Roneisa, his daughter Brianna, and his son Dante; his father Frank Matero, brothers Robert, John, and Michael; and a strong support network of aunts, uncles and extended family.

The Bluegrass State and the 123rd STS send a heartfelt greeting to everyone. As most of you know by now, our unit suffered the  

loss of two awesome Combat Controllers on August 7th, 2002. TSgt (Lt Select) Chris Matero and TSgt Martin Tracy, as well as all personnel aboard the MC-130H were killed. The plane was on a training mission when it impacted a mountain in a heavily wooded area near Caguas, Puerto Rico. Capt Paul Soomsawasdi (SOCSOUTH STS LNO) was also on board. It has been a tough few months for our small tight-knit unit. A memorial service was held ten days after the incident with hundreds attending from all over the globe. Both men were consummate “Quiet Professionals” who set the example for others. Both family and operators will miss them  immensely.

Each had been deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and returned safely. We would like to thank everyone who has so graciously assisted us in this time of sorrow. The STS community has been like a huge family and I can’t say enough about you all. These are truly the times that test our resolve and fortitude, a war in-progress and teammates dying in the line of duty.                     Pictured to right; Jon Rosa

Most of the squadron has returned from OEF and the training that was missed must now be accomplished. Almost the entire 123rd was federally activated in support of OEF, and subsequently deployed. Our operators sent worldwide (CCT/PJ) accomplished great things and someday their deeds will be known. A few promotions need to be announced. SMSgt Joel Hicks put on Chief while deployed somewhere for OEF, and SSgt Sean McLane became a 2Lt. Both will be doing great things for the unit and the ST community. CMSgt Hicks remains in the CEM position, while Lt McLane will slowly take over the DO duties from Capt Jeff Wilkinson. TSgt Bill Sprake returned from OEF and then 24 hours later his commander (wife) Jane, had a baby boy! Bill got home just in time. He’s got the little guy doing flutter kicks already! New additions to the squadron include TSgt Steve Elson from the 24th and SRA Tony Cortese from the 21st.  Tony is attending college full-time at the University of Kentucky, as is SSgt Chris Phebus. Phebus was activated for a few months (he was bored) and is now almost fully educated with a Bachelors Degree.

SSgt Danny Page is TDY to the Group, assisting with whatever they throw at him (STARS appearances too). I’ll go ahead and pitch the 123rd STS to all CCT/PJ thinking of becoming a civilian. We have openings on both sides; so don’t waste those years of active duty. Have the camaraderie of the team, but on a part-time basis. Jump, shoot and dive…. and still attend school, or whatever you want to do. We have world-class facilities and training opportunities are plentiful. That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Blue Skies to all. RA out.

"Losing two members of the same unit is very hard ... a very deep loss," Capt. Jeff Wilkinson, a special tactics team leader who served with both men, told the Louisville Courier-Joumal. `The Air Force and [Air Force Special Operations Command] take a strong stance in trying to mitigate risk ... but the nature of what we're doing is very dangerous."

Matero and Tracy were special tactics operators in the small, highly specialized squadron of pararescuemen and combat controllers based at the Louisville International Airport. Each was trained to guide aircraft to remote landing strips and to direct air strikes. Both had previously served in Afghanistan.

Matero had served in the Kentucky Guard for a little more than a year. Tracy spent six years in the Kentucky Air Guard after serving for nine years on active duty.

              Click Here to view a video made by the 123rd in honor of Marty Tracy and MO Matero

Eulogy for TSgt (Lt Select) Christopher A. Matero

General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” Chris Matero was one of those men.

Born and raised in upstate New York, he was a wrestler and power lifter in high school at Arlington High School. Intrigued by the Air Force and combat control, he entered active duty in early 1992. Upon completing the combat control pipeline he was sent to Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. He excelled and knew that this was his calling. He loved parachuting, and because of this love, he met Roneisa.

The story of how Chris and Roneisa met is legendary. In June of ’93, Chris’s squadron was scheduled to parachute at a drop zone next to Little Rock. After a bad landing (that Chris will never admit to) he injured his ankle. He hobbled over to the military ambulance providing medical support for that day, and there Chris saw Senior Airman Roneisa Nicholson. He told me that she looked like an angel of mercy, and he immediately fell in love.

A year later, they were joined in marriage. Soon Brianna was born as Chris traveled the globe, safely guiding our military aircraft into and out of hostile areas. It was also at Little Rock that he set a record unmatched in the special tactics community. While parachuting, Chris landed on the roof a Wal-Mart. He claims that it was a bad spot!

In July of ’97, with a one-week-old son, the Matero family moved to Pope AFB and the exciting city of Fayetteville, NC. He had accepted a position as an instructor at the Combat Control School, a prestigious assignment. Chris sought the stability for his family and the chance to attend college. He had a goal of obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree, and once he set his mind to something-it was bound to happen.

He became an awesome instructor. He really cared about the students. His moral compass was rock-solid and he possessed integrity of steel. The trainees knew that his advice would lead them in the right direction. He was dedicated to teaching and equipping our future combat controllers to do their job when bad people are shooting at you, like the Taliban. Chris was fully committed to molding and making outstanding airmen. His legacy endures in the classroom and “The Pit” with men whom he humbled and taught with his example.

He was also a committed husband and father. Seeking even more stability for his family, he left active duty for Louisville and the Air National Guard. He said that they would never have to move again. The first few months in Louisville were uneventful. While I was in Bulgaria and Chris in Morocco, the tragic events of September 11th occurred. Chris knew that special tactics would be deeply involved in our country’s new war on terrorism. 

Shortly after returning from Africa, Chris and the 123rd STS were enroute to Afghanistan. There he earned the Bronze Star. Chris returned home to Louisville safely, but duty called in SOCSOUTH. While there he realized his dream of becoming an officer, as he was selected to become the newest Lieutenant in the 123rd STS.

We are all diminished when a man of Chris Matero’s stature and accomplishments leaves us. None more so than his beloved wife, Roneisa…whom he lovingly referred to as his soul mate. His beautiful children Brianna and Dante. Yet we were fortunate to have Chris in our midst for so long, to enjoy his company (like at a Colorado Deer Camp) and benefit from his dedication and strength of character. Like all who worked closely with him, I admired him immensely.

Some people live an entire life and wonder if they ever made a difference , Chris didn’t have that problem. He was all about courage. The kind that can’t be predicted, commanded or analyzed…but it damn sure can be remembered. Hoo Ya.

MSgt Jon Rosa, 123rd STS, Operations NCOIC

5/21/2008 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, MISS. -- At 10 a.m. today, Keesler dedicates its third new technical training facility to honor a former Combat Control student who died in a plane crash in the mountains of Puerto Rico nearly six years ago. 

Matero Hall, situated south of Thomson and Cody Halls, is being named in memory of Tech. Sgt. Christopher Matero, who graduated from combat control training 15 years ago. 
His first assignment was with the 314th Combat Control Squadron, Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. Four years later, he became a master instructor at the 342nd Training Squadron's combat control school at Pope AFB, N.C. 

To better serve his students, Sergeant Matero earned a Community College of the Air Force associate degree in airway science in 1998 and a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration from Campbell University in 2001.

Sergeant Matero left active duty in 2001 to serve in the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky National Guard.
That year, he was on temporary duty in Morocco on Sept. 11, and soon after he returned, he and his unit were deployed to Afghanistan, where he earned the Bronze Star. 

In 2002, he was called to duty with the Special Operations Command-South in Puerto Rico. While there, he learned about his selection for commissioning as an officer. 

Aug. 7, 2002, while on a nighttime training flight in support of a vital classified alert mission, Sergeant Matero and nine comrades were killed when their MC-130H crashed into a mountainside 15 miles south of San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

In addition to the building's dedication, Sergeant Matero is also immortalized with the Christopher Matero Communications Award given by the 342nd TRS to a combat control graduate who demonstrates exemplary tactical situational awareness in a combat environment.

11/1/2008 - KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Tech. Sgt. Christopher A. Matero, a Kentucky Combat Controller who was killed in the line of duty, now has a road in his name at Pope Air Force Base, N.C.

From left, Senior Master Sgt. Tom Deschane, Chief Master Sgt. Jon Rosa, Master Sgt. Wes Brooks and Capt. Sean McClane stand at Pope Air Force Base’s Matero Drive.
Matero Drive, named in his honor earlier this year, is home to a new building for the Air Force Combat Control School. Before enlisting in the Kentucky Air National
Guard, Sergeant Matero was an instructor at the school.

He and eight other Airmen died in a MC-130H crash during a training flight in Puerto Rico on Aug..7, 2002.

"Chris was an excellent instructor and mentor who embodied all the qualities we seek in a modern special operations warrior," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Shoop, commander of Kentucky's 123rd Special Tactics Squadron.

Chief Master Sgt. Jon Rosa, the unit's superintendent of combat control, and other Kentucky Airmen were among more than 300 people who attended a ceremony honoring Sergeant Matero in April.

"Many of his students, now combat-hardened veterans of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, told of his exacting standards and  high ethics -- and how he
helped mold the next generation of special tactics warriors for combat against our nation's enemies," Colonel Shoop said. "His legacy lives on in those Airmen who now wear the scarlet beret."

   Letters to Brianna and Dante; "MO" Matero, a Teammate, a Friend, a Father R.I.P. Brother

To the Matero Family,                                                                                              3 July 2003  

I’m sorry this is so delayed.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and have started and restarted numerous times.  I talked to Ronnie one day and said how I wanted to make it perfect even though perfect is unnecessary.  I wanted to make sure you knew what Chris meant to me.  I sent Ronnie a copy of the speech I gave during the 352 SOG’s celebration of the AF’s Birthday on 18 Sep 02.   

One night I was home watching the movie Armageddon in Sep 02.  To me the movie is pretty patriotic and emotional.  Tammie and Meaghan were in the States visiting her family so I was alone.  I knew that our commander wanted someone to speak at the AF birthday and never really intended to be picked or selected.  But something inside of me said, people needed to hear what I had to say.  I knew a large part of the speech would center on the theme: “What the AF means to me;” but knew MO was a big part of that.   

It took me about 20-30 minutes to write the entire speech.  I was pretty moved and the words came out effortlessly.  I spent some time afterwards tidying it up, but the meat of the speech was on paper.  As I read it and started to practice it, I found myself crying on numerous occasions.  I realized a while ago that I’m a crier.  I cry at patriotic movies or when I see something sad or whatever, but anything that moves me inside.  And thinking about MO moves me. 

A lot of people would say that I’m emotionless, but those that truly know me, know that I’m emotional.  MO’s death has saddened me knowing what a precious family he has left behind and also a country that is in his debt.  Also I will never again get to share time with him as he was one of the most precious people I’ve ever met and am privileged to have known. 

When MO came to the Combat Control School I didn’t know anything about him; except that he was pretty young, had a family and was stationed at Little Rock.  MO was pretty quiet and reserved as a matter of course.  MO only raised his voice or expressed an opinion in public when he thought it was truly necessary.  MO truly cared about what he did.  He loved CCT, the AF and the USA.  He truly loved his family and would talk about you guys all the time.   

Tammie and I had Meaghan late in our marriage compared to when most people have children so I never could really appreciate what children mean to a father until I had my own.  One time, I don’t know if you remember, MO and I went to Raleigh to watch a hockey game.  I came over and picked him up and before we left, Dante started to cry because he didn’t want his Daddy to leave.  My daughter does the same thing now.  It breaks my heart, especially before a long TDY.  We went to Raleigh, watched the game and came home.  When I pulled into the driveway, both Bri and Dante ran out to meet their Daddy.   

It was a beautiful moment to watch the love of a father and his children expressed the way you guys did.  MO truly loved you guys and I loved MO because of it.  I wish I was like him at that moment, and am grateful that I have a daughter that loves me so much.   

Kids don’t understand what their Dad does for work or whatever.  They don’t have to know and it really doesn’t matter.  The only thing that matters is that Dad loves his kids and the kids love Dad.  Kids don’t care if we can jump out of planes or that we’re good at our job or that we’re cool or what we do when we’re TDY.  All they care about is being with them.   

MO was one of the best troops I’ve ever had.  To say troop means that I was his supervisor, I was his boss.  I didn’t really have to tell MO what to do.  MO knew what to do, because he was so squared away.  He was one of the best in CCT.  MO was unlike most guys.  He didn’t have to be told what to do he just did it.  MO and I saw eye to eye on so many things.  We used to believe that if your name ended in a vowel, you were a cut above most people.  Because guys like MO, Lamonica and me all end in a vowel.  So obviously we agreed on most issues.  MO wasn’t as vocal as I was but I knew where he stood on most issues. 

I knew MO (like most of us) sacrificed a lot of family time for work.  One thing I realize is I have to make it up to them when I retire. 

I think MO (like most of us) did the best he could, always wishing we could do more with our families.  I don’t know why we spend so much time a work, that’s just the way it is.  One thing I know for sure was MO loved his family and would try to find time to be with them.  

I talk about movies a lot and quote a lot of lines from movies.  MO would sing the songs from Disney movies, because that’s what he watched at home.  He knew practically every movie by heart, I guess because he watched them a lot with Bri and Dante.  MO would practically always bring his lunch to work, and it was normally a great looking lunch.   Whether it was big sandwiches, some left over pasta, or sausage and peppers; it was always a great lunch. 

MO and I would bring sausage and peppers to the field during the FTX at CCS.  Actually MO is the reason I cook sausage and peppers so much today.   MO and I had the ability to not say much to each other but knew what the other meant or was up to.  We fed off each other at CCS.  Meaning he would do something and I could naturally pick up where he left off and continue and vice versa.  We could look at each other and know what the other was thinking without saying a word. 

When I left CCS I gave 4 guys two books each; one about leadership and one about management.  One of them was MO.  I don’t ever do that to anyone I don’t truly care about, trust, respect or love as a brother and friend.  There’s a group of guys that I keep in contact with and try to mentor and nurture even when I’m no longer in their unit.  MO was one of those guys.  I tried to be there for MO, to be an example, like my AF Birthday speech said. 

The Matero family is always in my thoughts and prayers and I wish the best for all of you. 

Ronnie:  I ended the part before this before I went to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM.  I’m back now and want to finish this letter for you and your family.  Once again, I apologize for the delay, but this was harder than I thought. 

During our time while deployed on Iraqi Freedom, I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things.  I was also in contact with most of the career field, since most everyone was over there.  We were, interestingly enough, with the 123 STS.  They were attached to us in Iraq.  They all speak of you, your family and MO.  I know they miss you and think about you often.

I will never be able to truly understand what you have gone through or what you’ll go through.  I want you guys to know that you have friends forever in Tammie, Meaghan and me.  We think about you guys a lot.   

As you go through life, know that Chris Matero was loved and respected.  I can’t say enough about him.  He was a large part of my life (even though most of it was at work).  Your husband and dad was a great American, was great at his job, but most importantly was a great husband and father.   

I hope you read this to Bri and Dante when the time is right and keep it so they can have when they’re older.   

Vinnie Venturella

Brianna and Dante,                                                                                                                    15 August 2003     

               Almost a year ago your mother asked me to write down my thoughts on your father so you would have something to reflect on as you grow and have questions about the type of person he was.  I have found this to be one of the more difficult tasks I have had anyone ask of me.  I feel this way for a couple of reasons, 1) In the last year since your father passed I have been deployed twice in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2) I have not fully wanted to face the fact that he is gone and 3) It is hard to sum up all of my feelings and experiences in such a two dimensional forum as a letter.  I could talk to you for days about the kind of person your father was and not even scratch the surface, that is the kind of soldier, friend, teacher, motivator, husband and father he was.  I guess I should start off when I met him.           

               In November 1993 I attended a school run by the Navy SEALs in Coronado California to refresh my skills to perform combat diver operations.  On the first day of the course each person attending had to take a physical training test to ensure we were in top shape for the course.  As I looked around the group of guys, I was sizing each person up as competition (most of us are very competitive and don't like to come in second).  I figured I was sure bet to beat most of the guys on the evaluation.  When it was said and done with, I was right, only a couple of guys came in ahead of me.  One of those guys was Chris Matero (your father).  He didn't just beat me; he crushed me, which is why I automatically took a liking to him.  He was just out of our initial training program (a two year pipeline of schools designed to push men to their physical limits).  Although he was a relatively new guy he continually proved himself to be at the top of his class in any given event.  He wasn't just in good shape, but he was also dedicated to do his best and a skilled diver with an extremely sarcastic sense of humor.  The course was only 2 weeks long, but my short experience with him told me he was an up and coming performer in a career field made up of the Air Force's best people.  Well we parted ways, but I kept my ear to the ground to see how he was working out.  As I figured, every time I heard something about him it was reference to how well he was doing.  

We went about 5 years without seeing each other, but in a community as small as ours it was inevitable that we would finally link back up and on 1 September 1998 we did just that.  I was just accepted to fulfill a position as an instructor at the Combat Control School on Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.  When I arrived I had a good friend (Paul "Vinny" Venturella) who was running the school.  He was my predecessor in charge of the school, so when I arrived he gave me a rundown of all of the instructors that would work for me (about 12 of them).  As he went down the list I recognized your fathers name and asked how he was doing.  Vinny told me that without a doubt your father was his best instructor and described him as the "total package".  This surprised me, not because I didn't think Chris was squared away, but because instructors were suppose to be the best of the best and your father was fairly young so I knew he was being rated against some top notch guys.  Also Vinny was a very harsh judge of character and rarely thought highly of anyone.  Well over the next four years your father showed me everyday why Vinny considered him the total package.  He grew to be my #1 guy, a great friend and a confidant who I could trust with anything.   Quite frequently he would out perform all of the students, his fellow instructors and even me.  I am not a great person by any means, but I expect a great deal out of myself and at every turn of a new day your father proved to me that I can expect and accomplish more than I thought.  The course we taught was 13 weeks long and was physically and mentally demanding on the students, which meant it was more demanding on the instructors who expected a lot from the students.  No one expected more than your father and he backed it up with superior performance.  At the end of each course we would receive critiques from the students and your father almost always was voted the best instructor; not to be confused with the nicest instructor (that was me and he always made fun of me for it).  

              About a year into my tour as the Sergeant in Charge, I was moved to a management position in the school and we had to pick the person who would take my place.  Vinny and I looked at the people available and we had some quality people to pick from, some who had more rank than your father, but there really was little to discuss.  Your father was the man for the job.                 

This is a pretty big deal in the sense that the military is made up as a very structured environment where rank has its privileges and placing someone of lower rank in charge over someone of higher rank is unheard of, but Chris was just that good.  Your father was coming up on his time to reenlist or get out of the military and we talked a great deal about it.  I wanted him to reenlist and try out for a special unit that only took the best Combat Controllers out there.  I thought he would be a perfect fit and would excel there.  Although he wanted to do that, he had other ideas.   

The one thing that he loved more than his job was his family.  The two of you and your mother meant more to him than anything in the world and he didn't want to go to a unit that expected so much of someone when he knew it would pull him away from his family. He made a bold move; with 10 years in the military (he could retire at 20 years) he decided to get out so he could spend more time with all of you.  Your mother had just graduated from Nurse Practitioner school and your father had just finished his Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice (no small accomplishment since he was working long hours and he and your mother were both attending school).  With that they decided to move to Indiana where your mother found work, your father joined the Air National Guard they bought a house.   

Your father always trying to improve himself decided to apply for a program that would convert him from an enlisted person to an officer, where he would eventually be responsible for Commanding a unit.  Not surprising to anyone he was accepted and was waiting for his time to go to Officer Training School (merely a formality for someone of his caliber).  While he was waiting our country was devastated by the worst terrorist attack on our soil in history.  Al Qaeda terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania killing thousands of innocent civilians.  The world mourned and the US military prepared to fight a war that it had no idea how to fight.  Your father immediately volunteered to go.  Not knowing how long he would be gone, where he was going or the type of people he was going up against he was ready to go.  I know it hurt him deeply to leave his family, but someone had to go and defend America and the ideals we stand for and he was at the front of the line, a true patriot with great ideals and values.  It was important for him to defend your future and that is exactly what he did.   

I was not with him, but I do know that he worked in Northern Afghanistan helping Special Forces soldiers and Northern Alliance personnel defeat the Taliban and liberate the Afghani people.  After he returned we talked on the phone and he told me some of what he did and that he was proud to have served, but was even happier to be home with the two of you and your mother.  Over the next 9 months we kept in contact writing emails back and forth and I was looking forward to seeing him again so we could have a beer and talk about our experiences.   

In July of 2002 I deployed to Bagram Afghanistan (south of where your father worked) to continue the fight against terrorism.  While I was there I heard of a special operation aircraft that crashed in Puerto Rico.  At first I didn't think much of it, until I heard there were some Combat Controllers on it.  For the next 3 days I was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear who was on it.  When word finally came down and I heard Chris Matero's name was on the list, I felt like I was hit in the chest with a pile of bricks.  This couldn't be! We were supposed to get together, and tell war stories.  I wanted a picture of us since we had both gone on real world missions.  I wanted to see him at reunions.  He was the type of guy who was supposed to be around forever.  Things like this don't happen to good soldiers who do all of the right things for the right reasons and who love their families as much as he did.  How are Ronnie and the kids?  Because of my deployment I was unable to contact your mother for almost 3 months and when I finally did I felt helpless.  What could I do to help?  Well over time I realized he would be around as long as I have memories of him and can tell them.  

Whenever Vinny and I get together we talk about your father and remember the type of man he was.  On September 19th 2003 we will place your fathers name on the memorial at the Combat Control School in North Carolina and his teammates will have the opportunity to wish their final farewells to a great soldier, friend, teacher, motivator, husband and father.  Please know that I will never forget the kind of person you father was, he continues to inspire me everyday and if there is ever anything I can do for you, I will always be available (your mother and I stay in contact through phone calls and email) please call anytime.  I am honored to be here for you.

 Michael Lamonica