As journalists we deal with information regarding the wars on a near-constant basis. Usually we approach what we see with stoic eyes -- a function of our mission to bring you the news as objectively as possible -- but occasionally that's impossible.
This morning I received an email from the local chapter of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association with the tragic news that Capt. Matt Freeman, USMC, had been killed in action in Afghanistan.I met Matt during my last tour on active duty, when he was a plebe at Annapolis and I was on the faculty teaching English, among other subjects. He knew that I was a Tomcat guy and asked if I had heard of his dad, Gary, callsign "Freeperson." I had. I'd flown on Freeperson's wing when I was going through the F-14 RAG for the first time. He was the kind of fighter pilot student RIOs wanted to fly with during syllabus events -- calm and competent during briefs and in the air. And more than that, he was a Tomcat community icon with a great reputation. When I related that to Matt his face lit up with a proud smile, the kind only a son can offer when someone says something good about the father he loves.
Matt graduated with the USNA Class of 2002, and his graduation ceremony at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium was the last official function of my career. I had a warm spot in my heart for his class. My time on the faculty had coincided with their time as midshipmen. I'd watched them grow from clueless plebes to poised junior officers. They were the first class to graduate after 9-11; their Annapolis educations would be put to the test.
Although Matt went on to become a Marine Corps Harrier pilot, this tour he was serving as a forward air controller -- the guy on the ground who tells pilots where to drop their bombs. It's tough duty, proof that when they tell young second lieutenants during The Basic School that they'll always be riflemen first, regardless of warfare specialy, they mean it.
Matt had been in Afghanistan just over a week when he found himself as part of a 5-man team patrolling the Kapisa Province accompanied by Afghan National Army forces. Air Force Master Sergeant Rex Temple's blog describes the details of the battle:
While traveling through one of the village hamlets lined with thick stone walls and mud brick houses, the insurgents unleashed a furious attack. The insurgents were well prepared and it was almost as they were informed and anticipated their arrival. Approximately 60-100 Taliban insurgents fired RPGs, AK-47s, PKMs, and Ditska (equivalent of US 50-cal.) and other weapons at the approaching forces. [Army SPC Chris] Lowe along with his team sought shelter in a kalat (mud-stone house inside a walled in compound). Captain Freeman crawled on top of the roof looking for advantage points and was fatally hit by a bullet. Doc the medic was trying to provide assistance and recover the body. Doc yelled out for some help and Lowes reflexes took over as he scrambled up a ladder to the roof. Doc was tugging on Captain Freemans body and Lowe apparently sensed the danger. He grabbed Doc and threw him down. About the same time, Lowe took a bullet to his upper right thigh area. Both he and Doc fell off the roof to the ground. Doc apparently fell on top of Lowes leg and thought he broke it because Lowe was yelling My leg, my leg." But when the Doc saw the spurting blood, his medical training kicked into high gear and he applied a CAT tourniquet to stop the bleeding.
The femoral artery was nicked, but Doc was able to stabilize the bleeding and Lowe was transported out of the battle space to a helicopter landing zone. Meanwhile the fierce fighting continued until the Air Force F-15s armed with a 500 lb bomb along with a pair of Army Kiowa Attack helicopters arrived. The ANA counter-reacted by methodically blowing up the kalats where the Taliban was hiding. The insurgents retreated and ran for the hills. The next few hours were small tactical engagements as the Taliban disappeared. Tragically that day during this 6.5 hour battle, the ANA lost 4 soldiers, US 1, and the French had 3 soldiers wounded. The body count of the insurgents was 6-fold including one prominent Taliban area commander.
The staff of DT wishes a speedy recovery to SPC Lowe, a true hero. And we also pass our deepest sympathies to Freeperson and the entire Freeman family. Matt's death is a great loss to the Marine Corps and the nation. He had much more left to do with his life.