FALLUJAH, Iraq -- For many folks, Christmas Day brings to mind images of snow-covered landscapes, decorated trees and Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.
When Matthew Slade thinks back to nine years ago, his Dec. 25 consisted of more than sugar plums and Santa Clause.
“I remember my dad telling stories at the Christmas table of when he was in the Marine Corps,” stated the 22-year-old Chandler, Ariz. native. “It was one of the first times I considered joining the military.”
From an early age, the 2001 Seton Catholic High School graduate said he saw himself rendering service to his country.
“My dad was in the Marine Corps before I was born,” Slade continued. “My uncles were Marines too and my grandfather was in the Army.”
Family military history and a strange moment of random initiative finally brought Slade into the Corps.
“I remember when I was driving back from work one night and I saw the recruiting station on the side of the road,” he said. “At the next stoplight I turned around. The next day I was at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station, where future Marines’ medical and psychological fitness are screened). To this day my mom still can’t believe I did what I did.”
After attending recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, in Feb. 2002, Slade attended the School of Infantry and training with the Marine Security Forces.
As a member of the Marine Security Forces, Slade provided security for a naval complex in Bahrain.
“I had a blast over there,” he exclaimed. “We worked a lot, stood a lot of posts and did a whole bunch of convoys. Even though it was a low threat environment, it definitely prepared me for future deployments.”
According to Slade, he learned close quarters battle tactics there as well. CQB teaches Marines how to clear rooms of insurgents and operate in smaller spaces, such as inside homes. This training was beneficial in the young Marine’s future.
After his Bahrain assignment, Slade reported to the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. His first deployment with the unit was to Afghanistan from February to September 2004.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Slade said. “The worst part about it was the heat and the homesickness.”
He also said the deployment presented him with numerous challenges and great learning experiences.
“I remember climbing Afghani Ghar (mountain in Afghanistan) thinking to myself ‘I’m Spiderman, I’m Spiderman’ because it was so steep,” Slade jokingly continued.
Shortly after returning to the U.S., Slade discovered he was appointed as Company A’s armory custodian.
“I do miss my old job, because that’s what I signed up to be,” he explained. “I joined up to fight a war, but the way I looked at my new job was, ‘somebody had to do it.’ I figured I’d be the one to make sure it got done right and that the company was good to go.”
As armory custodian, he’s responsible for ensuring that all the company’s weapons and tactical optics were accounted for and properly maintained.
Six months after returning from Afghanistan, he once again found himself deployed. This time he deployed to Fallujah, Iraq where his unit is conducting security and stability operations.
Slade continues to perform his duties as an armory custodian with some additional responsibilities.
“I issue out NVGs (night vision goggles) and binoculars for the guys on the observation posts here,” Slade said.
He also continues tracking the company’s various rifles, machineguns and Shoulder-Mounted Multi-purpose Assault Weapon rocket launchers, all the while wishing he could be on the front lines.
“I’d definitely like to be dead center in the action,” he said.
Whatever tasks he performs here, Slade said he’s glad to be a part of this mission.
“I miss home a lot, but I know this is something that needed to get done. I think we’re doing the right thing by helping the people here.”
Slade estimated that he will have five months remaining on his enlistment contract once his unit returns to the U.S. later this year. Although he won’t continue his career in the Corps, Slade added that it will forever remain a part of him.
“I’m going to be a lot more disciplined as a civilian, keep my hair short and be respectful -- things like that. I plan to attend ASU (Arizona State University), get a dog, meet a nice woman, raise a family and live a simple life.”