The remarkable story of one man’s journey through his military career continues. The story of Matt Justice is an eye-opening insight into how today’s generation is finding direction and fulfillment with life in the military.
This part of the story starts as Justice re-enlists in the Army National Guard after taking a two-and-a-half-year break after he returned from Afghanistan.
“This time around I was more mature. I was joining for a different set of reasons. I decided I was going to take my abilities as a combat engineer as far as I possibly could.
“It was like a turning point for me because there was a difference between being in the Guard and me taking full advantage of everything the Guard has to offer,” he described.
With his new focus, he began petitioning his leadership for enrollment in the Sapper Leader Course (SLC). Sapper school is an elite military course designed to test combat engineer skills, though other military personnel can attend the course. As he described it, Sapper school is to combat engineers what Ranger school is to the Infantry.
During his senior year at UW Madison, he seized an opportunity when a chance opening in SLC presented itself. He admits he really wasn’t as ready as he needed to be but he enrolled anyway.
As a result, he didn’t earn the Sapper Tab after staying with the course for all 28 days. Justice said it was the most painful and grueling experience he had ever been through. The day after the course, he wasn’t sure he would ever go through it again.
As the pain diminished, he recommitted to earning the coveted tab and put himself through intense training for the next two-and-a-half years. He spent hundreds of hours of physical training and hundreds of hours studying.
This time, as tough as it was, it was not as arduous as the first time. This time he was prepared. It still was incredibly hard and his hard work was rewarded by being awarded his Sapper Tab. This was just two years ago.
“It really helped me refine my career,” he recalled. He is also one of the very few enlisted engineers who has earned a Sapper Tab in Wisconsin. There were several qualifying steps to gain approval to attend the first SLC, including the requirement to be an honor graduate from his basic leader course. Out of 180 soldiers in that class, he graduated top of his class and was the distinguished honor graduate.
To attend the SLC the second time, or recycle as they call it, he had to show he still was achieving at high levels. He then earned the distinguished honor graduate of his Engineer Explosive Ordnance Clearance Agent Course.
With earning the Sapper Tab, Justice had achieved as much as he could as an engineer. After being totally focused on his engineering career in the Guard, Justice was looking for a way to be exposed to different jobs and a different way of thinking. He was also looking for an avenue to help further his career in the Guard.
Once in recruiting, he found it was just what he was looking for. As a recruiter, he needed to delve into all the details about all the various branches of service. As a recruiter, he was functioning as an ambassador for the local National Guard unit.
“The biggest challenge in recruiting is dealing with the stereotype that military recruiters lie to you,” he said bluntly. Justice went on to say that there is a pretty common belief that recruiters think of recruits as just numbers to them in the Guard.
He said it was difficult to go from people thanking him for his service to not trusting him. Parents would look at him as someone who was trying to lure their son or daughter into a six-year contract they couldn’t get out of.
In truth, the recruiter’s role is to, “Manage expectations of the applicant, find kids that are enthusiastic, getting to know them, building trust with them and finding a place for them in the National Guard where they can shine and develop as an individual and as a leader,” Justice explained.
“It is incredibly rewarding. I have really enjoyed my time in the National Guard and in recruiting. It’s been a lot of fun and I have met a lot of really great people. It’s very rewarding. When you get that kid and the light bulb comes on, and you can see in their eyes the moment that light bulb comes on and they realize everything that is ahead of them and the adventure, it really is great,” he said happily.
Aside from his professional goals, he says the Guard also has satisfied many of his personal goals, covering college costs, fair compensation, insurance, medical costs, retirement and much more. “As long as the military lets me, I’ll be here!”