MATT AMOS: A NEW MISSION
By Bob Hamer
Two explosions, missing legs, and a lifetime of scars won’t prevent Marine Corps Sergeant Matt Amos, the founder and CEO of Admiral’s Pennant, from completing the next mission. “Honor, courage, and commitment,” core values he lived while on active duty remain as he transitions to civilian life.
Member of a record-setting 4 x 800 relay team, Matt was a multi-sport high school athlete. Following graduation he attended college and worked at various jobs. Dissatisfied with the direction of his life, the invasion into Iraq impacted him greatly as the nightly news featured U.S. troops pushing toward Baghdad. At twenty-three, older than the average recruit, he joined the Marines and never looked back.
On August 10, 2006, six months into his second seven-month combat deployment, he was on patrol in a small village along the Euphrates River, near the Syrian border. Their mission, the same mission they had for almost every journey outside the confines of Battle Position Vera Cruz, was to win hearts and minds, to give Iraqi citizens a chance at self-government.
The squad was about the length of a football field from the safety of their patrol base when a little girl, not much older than five, bolted from around the corner of a sun-dried brick compound and blew a whistle. The shrill sound pierced the silence and within seconds chaos reigned.
The girl had signaled that the Marines were within the kill zone. An unseen terrorist remotely triggered an improvised explosive device, commonly called an IED and the subsequent eruption rocked the patrol. Matt was knocked down and prepared for follow-on fire which never came. Within seconds he assessed the situation and saw his point man, eighteen-year-old Lance Corporal Jeremy Long of Sun Valley, Nevada, motionless on the dusty street. Matt rushed to his friend.
The night before Matt had stood post with Jeremy as the two shared their stories. When Matt examined the lifeless body he realized the platoon had suffered its first KIA (killed in action) of the deployment. Squad leader Sergeant Greg Aldred who was checking his men following the attack took one look at Matt and said, “Your face is gone.” Matt had taken shrapnel to his face, left thigh, arm, and wrist. An Iraqi patrol partner who had been with the squad provided bandages but not before Matt discovered a hole in his cheek large enough to insert his finger into his mouth. The blast had rearranged much of his face and the physical and emotional scars from that day would last forever.
Medevac’d by helicopter to Al Qa’im, an Army doctor took one look and said, “I’m pretty sure I can fix your face.” It wasn’t the confident medical decree Matt sought but rather than returning to the States, he remained in Iraq for treatment. Requiring nearly a hundred stitches, the doctor put most of the broken pieces back in place though shards of metal remain buried in his body.
On the day of the explosion, Audrie, Matt’s wife, was shopping at Bath and Body Works with Lily their infant daughter. Before the two of them could exit the store Audrie’s cell phone rang. With bureaucratic efficiency the Marine on the other end of the call asked if she were sitting down. Knowing it wasn’t good news, Audrie dropped to the floor in the middle of the store and learned her husband had been seriously injured.
With less than a month before his unit was due to rotate back to the States, Matt remained in Iraq and was meritoriously promoted to corporal. The facial battle scars set the tone for his remaining time in the Marines as stories grew about the man who survived an IED blast. Matt said little letting his silence add to the mystique.
Returning stateside had its challenges. Holding his daughter was a special treat though the bruising and scars had not healed. Lily who had been born three weeks before Matt left for Iraq was now eight months old. Like any infant she constantly grabbed at her daddy’s face when she was in his arms. The sting of her touch was soothed only by the love he had for his baby girl.
Matt loved the Corps and had every intention of making it a career, reenlisting even after the explosion. Audrie understood the life of a Marine wife wouldn’t be easy, but she was praying Purple Hearts wouldn’t be part of the medal count. Following two deployments and his first combat injury he promised to find a billet that wouldn’t put him in harm’s way…at least for a while. The family spent eighteen months in Kansas City where Matt served as the training non-commissioned officer for a reserve unit. Their second daughter, Clara, was born while stationed in Kansas City.
Upon completion of that assignment, Matt received orders to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton in northern San Diego County. In March 2011, Matt, now a squad leader, deployed for a third time.
The Helmand province had been the Marine Corps’ primary area of operation in Afghanistan. When the battalion arrived “in country,” Matt and his men were assigned to Patrol Base Wishtan in the district of Sangin.
It had been a deadly season for Marines and combat fatalities were mounting. The IED was the Taliban’s death vehicle of choice. The Marines patrolled daily in an effort to destroy the terrorist organization and bring autonomy to the Afghan people. Every journey beyond the confines of the patrol base found the men in a combat arena heavily infested with buried explosives.
On June 6, 2011, Matt and his squad were about 800 meters outside the wire. The ten foot high compound walls of the Afghan village bordered narrow streets. With every step the Marines sought visual indicators of planted lethal devices: a fresh mound of dirt, debris out of place, or wires sticking out of the ground. As the men proceeded down a constricted alley, only ten to fifteen feet wide, a combat engineer sweeping left and right with a metal detector led the patrol. The Taliban had become more sophisticated in the manufacture of the deadly yet rather simplistic devices. To circumvent the metal detectors, many parts of the finished product had been replaced with non-metal pieces and the detectors failed in locating every IED.
As Matt stepped in an area recently swept he heard the ground pop. He knew instantly he had triggered a pressure-sensitive IED. Before he could issue a warning the earth exploded, the dust and dirt of a third world country filling his lungs. Flesh, blood, and tattered pieces of uniform flooded the sky. He remained conscious as he was hurled high into the air and remembers seeing over the compound walls. As he was landing he offered a lopsided grin and his first thoughts were, “Again? Really?”
The Marine to his front, Lance Corporal Spencer Brown, had been knocked down and Matt shouted, “You okay? I’ve been hit.” Panic wasn’t part of the battle plan and Matt instructed his men to proceed slowly knowing secondary explosive devices were common. Both of Matt’s legs were attached but barely. Navy corpsman, Alexander Dove, seeking a hasty splint for the shattered legs finally broke off a piece of the mine sweeper, an innovation now taught in combat medicine courses.
Members of Alpha Company’s COC (Combat Operations Center) immediately responded to the downed-Marine call and rushed in armored vehicles to rescue Matt and transport him to the casualty evacuation site.
When the medevac helicopter was about to land the Marines encircled Matt, locked arms, and hovered over him to prevent dirt and debris from getting into the wounds. As he was lifted into the British-manned copter he heard one of the medical personnel say, “We got you mate.” Matt briefly reflected on life as the chopper rose rapidly above the dusty LZ. Without arguing, begging, or negotiating, Matt said, “God, if it’s my time. I’m ready.” Then he was hit with a needle.
He awoke briefly days later in Landstuhl, Germany without legs. It wasn’t until he arrived at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland that he was fully aware of his surroundings and all that had occurred.
As he reflects back on his Marine career, Matt smiles, “With the first IED God was telling me to do something else. I didn’t listen but the second blast sure got my attention.” Despite losing both legs Matt wouldn’t take back the injury. He has had opportunities few ever have. He has met heroes, celebrities, and politicians. He has had outdoor adventures reserved for wealthy. He knows in serving a cause greater than himself he has scars that will last until eternity, but in protecting American ideals he found a personal freedom reserved for those who have bled for this nation.
A unique opportunity occurred when Matt joined the Sportsman Channel’s TV show Chili Off the Grid. Medically retired from the Marines, Matt grew what has become known in military circles as a “freedom beard.” But he experienced a few problems. A friend on the show recommended beard oil, something Matt didn’t know existed. Every product on the market irritated his sensitive skin and he set out to find a blend that met his personal needs. After months of extensive research and experimentation, Matt developed an all-natural blend. It didn’t sting, smelled great, and left his facial hair well-nourished.
Soon friends asked him what he was using and he began bottling his blend for them. Dreaming of being an entrepreneur, he set out on a new mission. The experimentation continued with several unique blends each named after a significant date in American history. During this process he had been reading Herman Melville’s novel White Jacket. Wanting to pay tribute to the military and to separate his product from the hipster and outlaw crowds, he chose the name Admiral’s Pennant, a name Melville gave to an impressive beard. Containing no synthetic oils or fragrances, Admiral’s Pennant uses the finest carrier and essential oils. Each blend is handmade to Matt’s specifications and sealed in amber containers to maintain the integrity of the oils.
But Matt looks at his business as more than an entrepreneurial journey. Studies claim twenty-two veterans a day commit suicide. Much of the depression stems from the failure to transition back into civilian society. Missing is the camaraderie of the battlefield and serving a cause in which each has the other’s back. Some veterans have trouble finding jobs and might see alcohol or drugs as an escape. Matt envisions Admiral’s Pennant as a company helping in the transition by providing jobs in manufacturing, sales, shipping, and marketing. It will be a workplace where men and women can openly discuss their service while decompressing in a veteran-friendly environment.
Admiral’s Pennant is on its way to becoming a business success story and Matt Amos continues to live his life honoring those who have served and sacrificed for our nation. Semper Fidelis…always faithful.
Bob Hamer spent four years on active duty in the Marine Corps and twenty-six years in the FBI. He has written three award-winning books and co-authored Oliver North’s best-selling AMERICAN HEROES ON THE HOMEFRONT and COUNTERFEIT LIES.