Veterans Day at Midway
MES Honors Veterans, Active Military and First Responders
Midway Elementary School
Jan Fickling, Principal; Christy M. Graham, Assistant Principal;
LaQuana Aldridge, Assistant Principal
Phone (803) 821-0300 Fax (803) 821-0303
180 Midway Road
Lexington, SC 29072
Special Guest Speaker, SPC Mike Mattox, US Army
Branch: US Army
Mike was born and raised in Lexington, living about a mile from here until joining the Army in early 1991. He trained to be an Infantryman at Fort Benning, Georgia. During his time in the Service Mike served in numerous locations, including one deployment to Kuwait to provide security during the cease fire period of the First Gulf War. After his time in the service he used the GI Bill to attend University of South Carolina where he earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is currently employed by Michelin here in Lexington where he continues to apply life lessons he learned during his time in the service. He is the father to Zach, who is in 5th grade French Immersion and the husband to Jessica, who is also a veteran.
SPC Mike Mattox speaks at Midway's Veterans Day Program
Good morning. Thank you for the warm welcome. I’m honored to be here today.
Before I get started I’d like to thank Midway’s Administration and staff. Can we give them a round of applause to thank them for all of the effort that goes into organizing this event each year? I’d also like to thank the girl scouts and cub scouts for their participation this morning. As you heard in my introduction I was born and raised just across the road from here, graduating from Lexington High School in 1989. But when I graduated I wasn’t really ready for college. So, I made the decision to enlist in the Army in order to figure things out.
During my time in the military I can say truly say that I grew up a lot. There were several life skills that I either learned or learned a lot better. That is what I would like to talk to you about today.
One thing that I learned the value of persistence and perseverance. Boot camp wasn’t easy. I had some struggles and I watched as others simply quit and went home. I could’ve done the same thing, but I decided that I did not want to be someone who gave up when things got tough and this was the time and place to do it. I made it to graduation and went to my first duty station.
I was soon given the opportunity to drive a Bradley Infantry fighting vehicle. Picture a smallish tank, about the size of the open part of this stage weighing about 28 tons. Well one day I was trying to pull out of a line of vehicles and wound up “bumping” into a 5 ton truck. OOPS. By the way, a 5 ton truck really weighs about 11 tons. Let me tell you, 80,000 pounds of steel bumping together gets attention. I got in trouble and had to pull extra guard duty as punishment. After that, I could’ve gone to my sergeant and asked for a different assignment. He believed in me and I believed in myself. I didn’t quit.
Another time where persistence paid off for me came after my unit returned from Kuwait. I was told I was going to be the Humvee driver for one of the command staff. When I arrived at headquarters I was directed to a different, boring job. I was confused based on what my old boss had told me. So I got up my courage and went to the person who was supposed to be my new boss and asked if I was his driver. He told me “I was waiting to see if you really wanted the job or not.” It was a very rewarding experience that never would have happened had I not been persistent and taken the initiative.
For you students, you’re not at the point of needing to be persistent to get a job, but you might have to be one day. I know that you have things happen to you when you feel like quitting or not doing your best. My advice to you is to hang in there and to not quit. Things won’t always go your way and you will make mistakes. But, don’t let that get you down. It will get better. And where you wind up is probably going to be better than you imagined.
Another important lesson that my military service taught me was the value of teamwork. Everything in the military revolves around teams. It starts with small work teams of maybe 2 or 3 people. These can be work crews, a fire team or combat vehicle crew. These small teams get added together, resulting in bigger teams. It keeps going and before you know it, you’re talking about a ship’s crew, a brigade, a division. These teams can consist of thousands of people.
Everything that service members do is tied to their team. They live with them, train with them and ultimately trust their lives to them. Now, here’s the thing. Your teammates are different than you. Sometimes way different. They have different ideas and beliefs and I can guarantee that they do not all look like you. You may have heard America called a “melting pot”. Well, military units are the ultimate example of “melting pots”. There are folks of every size, shape, skin color, background, etc. But you have to work together to complete the mission. I learned a lot about listening and how to get along with others.
It all started with boot camp. The goal of boot camp is to convert civilians to soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. One of the first things I learned is that I needed to change my way of thinking. I needed to change my thinking from “me” to “we”. This was a bit of a challenge for me because I was an only child. I had never had to share a bedroom or a bathroom with anyone before. In boot camp I shared a bathroom with 60 other young men. A big change! Because I was training to be an Infantryman, the process continued as I learned how to fight as a part of a 3 man team. Then I learned how to have 2 of these teams supporting each other. One shoots, the other moves. What I didn’t really realize at the time was that all of the drill sergeants and instructors were operating as one giant team whose purpose is to turn out soldiers who are ready to be part of fighting units that can deploy into any situation anywhere in the world.
I persevered, graduated and was assigned to one of those units. I joined a new set of teams. More people to meet - a new squad, platoon, and company. Now everything was for real, but I was prepared because of everything that I learned in boot camp, especially teamwork. Another thing that comes with working as a team is accountability to your teammates. Every member of the team has a job to do and every other member depends on them to do it. You have to trust that each member will do their job.
In your classrooms, you have all worked in groups or teams already. You have had the chance to apply these teamwork lessons at a much younger age than I did. Before I entered college, I did hardly anything in groups. I’ll bet that you’ve noticed that when you’re doing group assignments you don’t always get to work with your friend or even in the same group each time. A huge part of teamwork is getting along with your group. And accountability means you do the part that you’re supposed to do and you do it as well as you can.
The last thing I want to talk to you about is service. You may have noticed that I’ve used the term “military service”. You might also hear people talk about the armed services, the service academies like West Point, and so forth. Veterans are often asked “when did you serve?” or “where did you serve?” I’m here to tell you that is much more than just an expression.
There are many meanings for that one word – service. The first and easiest one for veterans is of course service to our country. Veterans are following in the footsteps of those who have served to protect our country dating all the way back to the colonial militias before the Revolutionary War. We swore an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. Many have paid the ultimate price to do that.
But that isn’t all there is to service. There is service to your fellow man, as well. We talked about taking care of your teammates, but how many times have you heard about the National Guard going into a disaster area or seen the Coast Guard rescuing someone off of the coast? And not just here in the US. Our military has built schools, dug wells, provided medical care, and helped with disaster in countries all over the world. And let’s not forget our first responders. They serve every day in so many different ways. Sometimes they are called on to risk their lives in order to keep us safe.
Now you might be sitting there thinking well I’m not in the military or a first responder – I’m just a kid. You also have a chance to serve every day. You can help out at home. You can help out here at school. It can be big things or it can be little things, like helping a classmate pick up their books. I see we have Reading Buddies here today. What a great way to serve. Our Scouts do service projects in the community. It all adds up to making the world a better place.As I close, I want to say a big thank you to all of the veterans and first responders in the audience today. I want to say thank you to their families as well. My wife’s time in the military did not overlap with mine so I have been on both sides of overseas deployments. I know how hard it is to wait and worry. Thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts with you today. I hope that you have a good rest of your day.