Matthew Claycomb grew up in Swissvale, born and raised. His father is a veteran and did two tours in Vietnam. His brother also served prior to him in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. So Matthew comes from a proud military family.
His life was changed drastically in 1992 when he was living in Miami Florida. He knew that Hurricane Andrew was barreling down his home at the time, but he decided to stay it out. He found himself trapped in the wreckage and nearly starved before he was rescued. He had dropped to 120lbs and said he was struggling with dehydration when the troops showed up. “They saw me sitting there outside my apartment and two soldiers, I don’t even know their names or ranks at the time, but they just gave me food and water and probably saved my life because it was so hot,” he said. “Right then and there, I decided that’s just a calling.”
That was when Matthew decided that he wanted to serve. His family encouraged him to pay it forward and serve proudly has been very supportive.
Claycomb said he didn’t go anywhere the first couple of years, but then once 9/11 hit he realized what was going to happen. He said, “The first thing that I thought about was anger. I was very upset with what was going on.” Matthew recalls co-worker asking him “What are you gonna do about it?”
Matthew was deployed to Iraq out of Shadyside’s 107th Artillery and he remembers getting the call, “When I was advised that I was going overseas, I was actually in my hotel room in Seattle for the Steeler game in 2003. It was Halloween and I was getting all of these calls and I just wanted to have my vacation and I took a call and here it was my boss.” He continued, “At that time I was active duty and my boss said ‘listen, we just got our orders and we’re being shipped over.'”
Claybomb said his unit was one of the first National Guard Units to go to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom II. “We left our homes in December of 2003. Wheels up in February and then we didn’t get back until basically February of the following year. So we had been training and leaving and for me it was over 400 days that I was gone from family & friends.” Their job was to act in lieu of Military police conducting convoy escorts, which he said was very scary.
Matthew talked about surviving that time saying, “Every morning you got up, you got your team together, you said a prayer and then you just move forward with the day, and I’ve always said that every morning I’ve seen the sun come up, I lived through the night. When the suns going down I’ve lived through the day. That every day went through and it’s like, ‘when am I getting out of here?’.”
Well, Matthew made it home and in the same pay it forward spirit he continues serves the men and women who serve our nation. He’s now an Operation Troop Appreciation board member and a current member of the PA National Guard.
Matthew is an extremely positive man, who loves this nation. He has struggles and talks about how fireworks are difficult for him and many of the guys. It’s not easy for any of our vets, but he’s reminded us why they fight and continue to serve.
Matthew lives with his memories and fears but he continues to be an incredibly positive inspiration to all of us and his military peers.
This 4th of July we celebrate our freedom and our American Warriors.
Ally & Andy’s American Warrior is presented by the Allegheny County Airport Authority.