USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea -- They say every dog has his day, and for one “devil dog,” it is absolutely true.
Lance Cpl. Matthew J. Rodgers, currently a rifleman with Company C., Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, has a day that bears his name after being honored by his hometown for his service in Afghanistan.
Born in eastern Maryland and raised on a small farm, Rodgers eventually moved to thewestern part of the state, Gaithersburg, at the age of 12. He played football and baseball in high school, and worked at a pizza chain, rising to the managerposition by the time he was 16 years old. After working there for nearly twoyears, however, Rodgers felt his life lacked purpose and he needed to find away to fulfill it.
He grew up with aspirations of becoming a police officer, but a speeding ticket he received while at the academy put a damper on that plan. Still dedicated to a life of service, Rodgers decided to enlist in the military.
"I spoke to all the recruiters and was leaning toward the Air Force,” said Rodgers. “But when my buddy said he was deciding on the Marine Corps, I thought, ‘yea, I want to be the best.’”
Rodgers and his long-time friend Caleb Getscher enlisted together and arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. in December of 2009. The pair completedboot camp and the School of Infantry together and were fortunate to receive orders to 1/5 at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., where they became squad automatic weapon gunners.
Shortly after Rodgers’ arrival to 1/5 in the summer of 2010, the unit began preparations for an Afghanistan deployment. By March of 2011, Rodgers was deployed to Sangin, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, with a new position earned during pre-deployment training.
“I traded my SAW for a (metal-detecting) sweeper and took the lead (as a pointman),” said Rodgers. “I loved the responsibility that was placed on me as a 19-year-old in a combat zone.”
His excitement didn’t last long however, as the realities of war were thrust upon him. A few months into the deployment, Rodgers’ long-time friend was hit by animprovised explosive device. The blast wounded Getscher so badly that Rodgers wondered whether his friend survived.
“For a month after that day (Getscher) was wounded, we had no idea what happened to him and it was stressing me out badly,” said Rodgers. “We eventually heard he was at Bethesda Naval Hospital, a triple amputee.”
Rodgers was bothered for the rest of the deployment by his inability to be there for Getscher during his recovery. To help boost his spirits, Rodgers planned to surprise his parents upon returning from Afghanistan. The only person he told was his sister, but she wasn’t about to let her brother return from war quietly.
So on Nov. 19, 2011, Rodgers returned home to Gaithersburg to a parade of fire trucks, police vehicles, his high school marching band, and a very surprised mother and father. To make the joyous occasion even better, Rodgers’ long-time friend was waiting for him too.
“Not only did I see my family again, but Getscher was there as well,” said Rodgers.“It was one of the happiest days of my life, being surrounded by family, both my parents and Caleb, after such a long year.”
Also present at the parade was Gaithersburg’s City Mayor, Sidney A. Kats, who issued an official proclamation in honor of the Marine’s sacrifices in Afghanistan.From that day forward, Gaithersburg will forever celebrate Nov. 19 as Matthew Rodgers Day.
Nearly two years later, still with 1/5 and deployed with the 31st MEU, Rodgers has moved past the difficult memories of Afghanistan. Knowing that Getscher is alive and well keeps Rodgers going in the midst of the difficult challenges he faces as an infantry Marine, and every Nov. 19 he remembers as his day to celebrate life.
“It was a great surprise and an honor, but it also helped re-affirm some things for me,” said Rodgers. “Knowing that Getscher’s doing great, I have my family back home and my fellow Marines are always looking out for me - that’s what keeps me going.”