LUMBERTON, N.C. --
A grove of dark green slacks, ending in immaculately shined dress shoes stands at rigid attention. Vibrant dress jackets adorned with a collection of medals and ribbons add a dash of color, like budding apples in an orchard. Each right shoulder bears a patch, modest in color and unassuming, which reads, “JROTC.”
The Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets – students at Lumberton High School, N.C., stood in their campus auditorium. Their eyes rose toward a uniformed figure on stage, but he was not a student, although he once was, and wore the same outfit as the students during that time – until he graduated, and months later, donned the uniform of a United States Marine.
Matt Ellis, a former sergeant in the Marine Corps, received his second Purple Heart for injuries sustained in an improvised explosive device strike during his second deployment in 2009-2010, where he served in Marjah, Afghanistan. The ceremony took place at Lumberton High School, where Ellis graduated in 2007 before enlisting in the Marine Corps.
“I wanted the military experience and it’s helped me a lot in life,” said Ellis, who contributes much of his drive to enlist to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “I was in my seventh grade science class when it happened, and at that moment I decided I wanted to go into the military. I graduated a year early from high school and joined at 17. I wanted to go to combat and the Marines were the first to fight.”
Years later, when Ellis received his first injury during operations to clear the Taliban-held city of Marjah, he was faced with what some would view as a difficult choice: to return home to receive further treatment for his wounds or return to his unit and tough it out. Ellis chose the latter.
“It’s just something Marines do,” said Ellis. “We had a five man truck team and I was the vehicle commander - one man missing can slow down the battle tempo and it’s just one of those things where you feel you need to be there with your boys. If something happens you don’t want to feel it was because you got hurt.”
Ellis, who now serves as a Deputy Sheriff for Hoke County, says he views his military and now, civil service not as a means to an end, but a gratifying experience in and of itself.
“I wanted to find another way to continue serving,” remarked Ellis, who hopes to one day run for political office, as a means to further serve both his country and fellow man. “I feel coming from a military background, I felt that law enforcement would be a good window to transfer over. I felt I could physically do it and therefore felt it was something I should do.”
William Brown, a former lance corporal who served alongside Ellis during their deployment to Marjah, and was with Ellis through both of his injuries, commented on Ellis’ selfless nature.
“[He] provided a great service to his country and now he’s [home] and he’s still providing service, now to his county,” said Brown, who has been steadfast friends with Ellis since they graduated boot camp in 2007 and were both assigned to 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
“He’s continuing that legacy of honor, courage and commitment,” continued Brown. “I think it speaks for his character. He got blown up twice yet he still wants to serve others. It shows what kind of person he is, what kind of man he is – people should strive to be like him.”